By Morgan Roberts
For me, 2019’s most divisive film was “Bombshell.” which chronicles the downfall of right-wing propagandist Roger Ailes (John Lithgow). Ailes, a well-known predator, was eventually ousted at Fox News, the ‘fascist’ juggernaut he created. Numerous women came forward with horrific stories of sexual harassment and abuse.
“Bombshell” highlights the story of three characters – two real women and one who is the amalgamation of stories. The real women Megyn Kelly (Charlize Theron) and Gretchen Carlson (Nicole Kidman) have a history of perpetuating the far-right ideology of Fox News. Kayla (the stellar Margot Robbie) is a fictional portrayal of many women who encountered Ailes. The women are not ones we can easily get behind. Kelly and Wilson are the anti-feminists of the 21st Century. They frequently dehumanize others. Kelly famously discussed how preposterous it is to suggest Santa Claus, a made-up person, could be anything other than white. Carlson was no saint either on “Fox and Friends,” a platform frequently used to stir up borderline hate speech disguised as discourse.
Just because many of their personal beliefs are reprehensible does not make them any less of a victim.
The thing about believing survivors is that we believe their story and their truth of what they endured.
Even our fictional character is hard to connect with. Early on, it is evident that Kayla has a very particular view of the world, one moulded by far-right fear and division. But it is these women who fall victim to sexual harassment. And it is our outcry about the film and not the harassment that is saying far more about us than it is about them.
From the start of #MeToo and #TimesUp, through to the Kavanaugh hearings, a majority of the public has supported women and survivors of assault and harassment. We are learning to atone for how we treated Anita Hill twenty-some years ago. And we are striving to truly believe survivors rather than dismiss their claims. But with the women of Fox News, that has been more difficult. I understand why. They perpetuate lies, stereotypes, and help elect people actively stripping away basic human rights from others. Yet, just because many of their personal beliefs are reprehensible does not make them any less of a victim.
Kelly, Carlson, all of the real-life Kaylas, they are not good people. But being a good person is not indicative of whether or not your story of harassment is valid or worthy of being told or believed.
The thing about believing survivors is that we believe their story and their truth of what they endured. That does not mean we believe in everything else that they say. Gwyneth Paltrow is a prime example. Do I believe she was harassed by Harvey Weinstein? Absolutely. But do I believe, as Goop told me, that I likely have a parasite living within me that can only be cured by an eight-day goat milk binge? Definitely not. Her off-the-wall, out of touch beliefs on one end does not negate the truths on the other.
That is what “Bombshell” does for us. Kelly, Carlson, all of the real-life Kaylas, they are not good people. But being a good person is not indicative of whether or not your story of harassment is valid or worthy of being told or believed. The fact that our anger for them is trumping our own morals of supporting survivors is problematic. You have to accept that people who are hateful still require and deserve your support on some issues. And I get it, that is not a comfortable place to exist. It feels contradictory, yet, at the end of the day, it is the right thing to do.
I think the work Margot Robbie did in this film is what highlights this best for me. Kayla is naive and headstrong. She grew up in a house where Fox News was the background noise. She does not know secular music. But when you watch her get harassed by a man who does not lift a finger, it is horrifying. And even more gut-wrenching is the call she makes to fellow producer Jess (Kate McKinnon) where she finally starts to vocalize the horrifying harassment she has endured. The latter is the part we need to be focusing on. Not all the other stuff. All that other stuff is a distraction which allows predators like Ailes to operate. Harass and abuse members of the fringe because it makes it easy to dismiss them. And that is the bombshell we all need to come to terms with.