In our last post, Amy makes a strong and valid case, as have many other critics, regarding her disappointment with the film BOMBSHELL. And while I do not disagree with their collective condemnation of Megyn Kelly, Gretchen Carlson, Roger Ailes or the Fox News Network in general, I found the film to be a brilliant and long overdue exposé on sexual harassment in the workplace.
A major argument seems to be that the film does not take the female protagonists or Fox News sufficiently to task, and some go so far as to suggest the film even lionizes them. I have two problems with this perspective.
First, I do not find it a flattering portrait of the women or Fox News and question how anybody could. From the get-go we see the women’s complicity in the inner-workings of this toxic institution. Even the liberal, closeted-lesbian democrat is painted as a pawn of the structural violence that has landed her in such an ill-suited job. If you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem—and all of these women fall firmly into the latter category.
More importantly, however, is the fact that BOMBSHELL is not a film about the evils of Fox News or the characters of Kelly or Carlson—nor does it need to be. That’s the real-life story we already know too well. Instead, BOMBSHELL is a movie about sexual harassment that masterfully uses less sympathetic characters to present its chilling points. After all, a rape case should not put the victim on trial, so why can’t we apply that same objectivity in the cases of Kelly and Carlson? Are we saying that because of their egregious behavior they deserve to be sexually abused?
They do not, and anybody who thinks otherwise is likewise part of the problem.
For this reason, I believe BOMBSHELL should be lauded. It succeeds where many courtrooms do not—humanizing the victims and painting a vivid picture of the structural violence that creates toxic work environments where sexual harassment runs rampant sans repercussions.
At the film’s opening, any social justice-minded individual will shudder as we delve into the Fox Newsroom and witness the women who actively enable and promote their patriarchal agenda. Still more disturbing is our initial introduction to Roger Ailes, showing an almost sympathetic side to his character as he consoles and even tries to defend Kelly against Donald Trump.
But bravo, writer Charles Randolph, because in doing so, he’s showing us that Ailes is not some mustache-twirling cartoon villain but rather a complex, well-honed predator, suggesting one need not be a complete and utter fool to be blinded by his initial appearance of reason. That’s good writing.
Great writing comes in a later scene when a female character has dinner with her equally predatory boss. As he starts to make none-too-subtle innuendos about the sexual favors he expects in return for her pending promotion, we hear the running monologue inside her head as she frantically calculates her every response and possible repercussions, trying to determine how she can deflect his passes without hurting his ego, ending her career or worse.
It’s a scene wrought with suspense and chilling familiarity for countless women—myself among them—as is another in which a new hire, Kayla Pospisil (played beautifully by Margot Robbie), first meets with Roger Ailes, alone in his office behind closed doors. It starts out chatty and friendly but soon escalates when Ailes asks Pospisil to take a quick spin around the room because, as he calmly explains, “TV is a visual medium.”
This same exact request has been made of me during more than one job-related interview, and I regret to confess that first time it took me off guard I likewise complied because, in the moment, it seemed harmless and less problematic than saying no. Now, however, watching this simple, “harmless” stroll chilled me to the bone.
This is how it starts.
People need to see this. People need to discuss this. People need to put an end to this.
So, I urge viewers to watch BOMBSHELL not as a story about likable people who deserve our admiration but as a story about a major societal problem that hurts us all and can only be overcome by making ourselves accountable and coming together to fight injustice.
© 2018 BeyondTheBechdel. All Rights Reserved.