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When We Speak – Film Review

Behind every scandal reported in the media is usually a brave individual who is willing to put their livelihood at risk to expose wrongdoing. When We Speak tells, in a thoughtful and sensitive way, the stories of three courageous women who spoke out on some of the biggest scandals of the 21st century and shines a light on the personal effects of blowing the whistle.

The film explores the unique insights and gender discrepancies women whistleblowers face. Dr Jilly Boyce Kay, one of the film’s contributors, points out that as a society we encourage women to speak out and expect women to now have a voice yet when they challenge power, the machinery of the state and patriarchal power attempt to silence those whistleblowers.  The film, in a powerful, often searing way, gives us insight into the aftermath for those whistleblowers who feel they had no choice but to raise their concerns via the media.

We first hear the story of Katharine Gun, the former British intelligence analyst who exposed the NSA’s efforts to spy on the swing countries of the UN Security Council to facilitate a resolution validating the Iraq invasion. Her experience is followed by former aid worker Helen Evans, who blew the whistle on Oxfam’s reluctance to investigate the systemic sexual exploitation within the international organisation, and finally, we hear from Hollywood actress Rose McGowan, a figurehead of the #MeToo movement after raising sexual assault allegations against Harvey Weinstein.

Helen states during the film that “people don’t whistleblow through choice”, and the deep personal cost for each of these women explains why. In addition to the whistleblowers forfeiting their careers and future employment prospects, Katharine was arrested and charged under the Official Secrets Act; Helen’s marriage broke down; and Rose was hacked, surveilled and left alienated from her family. We also learn that all of them physically relocated to process the media whirlwind and eventually find peace after their ordeals.

The impact that whistleblowing had on these women cannot be overestimated, as the effects of these scandals continue to be felt today. Oxfam proceeded to investigate and address the culture of exploitation abroad; the #MeToo movement exploded off the back of Rose’s actions and Harvey Weinstein was sentenced to 23 years in prison; and the Chilcot Inquiry delivered damning criticism about the way Britian entered the Iraq war.

Bob Matheson, Head of Advice at Protect, noted in the film that the mental health of too many whistleblowers suffer when they blow the whistle, this devastated their lives and was unacceptable for the rest of society to ignore. Whilst the personal toll for the featured whistleblowers in When We Speak was substantial, they were adamant that they would do it again.

The film certainly fulfills its purpose of reminding the audience of the profound difference that whistleblowers make to our society, and that we should value – and protect- them more.

You can watch When We Speak on iTunes, Sky Store, Google Play, Microsoft, Rakuten TVand Amazon Prime.

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