Bombshell is not about Fox News. Sure it’s set in the nightmare of the ongoing abusive power-play that Roger Ailes inflicted on female coworkers and employees since the 1960s by verbally degrading women, making unwanted physical advances, and asking for sex—all while holding their careers in the balance – it’s definitely about those events – but Ailes is a stand in, and so is Megyn Kelly and Gretchen Carlson. These are names we know, but they are just a handful of people who just so happen to be on television.
Bombshell is actually about you and me. The film is a mirror held up so America can get a good look at the inner workings of abusive power in workplaces and the women who have been asked to present more than just their resumes in order to qualify for a job. Fox News is not unique. It’s just the shiniest thing for us to look at right now because of how public this story was and is. (Same goes for the Weinstein story.) But these stories are real, and it’s important to keep in mind that every legal claim made in this film is accurate, even though neither Kelly nor Carlson collaborated with producers or were on set as advisors during shooting. Legally, Carlson couldn’t because of NDAs, and Kelly has said she has “nothing to do with this film” even though she said it is loosely based on her experience during the scandal. (The film portrays both Kelly, played by Charlize Theron, and Carlon, played by Nicole Kidman, in an extremely good light, and I believe this film will dramatically impact public opinion of both women for the better.)
Bombshell also directly comments on Evangelical Christians, and it does so clumsily with none of the nuances that should go into developing a character based on a Midwestern Millennial who grew up listening to Hillsong, like Kayla Pospisil, the character played by Margot Robbie here. “Kayla” is a composite character, not based on a real person, but instead based on a handful of unnamed women who came forward to accuse Ailes. Her character is flat when it comes to her religious expression and riddled with stereotypes. “Fox News is our church,” she confesses to another female reporter and jokes about wearing jeans to church so she can rest her latte on her knee. It’s a jab at megachurches that may or may not be warranted, but it does a disservice to the story of her abuse. Bombshell didn’t have to make an ambitious, young woman in the newsroom the poster child for everything that’s wrong with consumer Christianity. Her cross necklace and self-identifying Evangelical label show little respect for all the women who have been trapped in the same scary room, with the same older man, and who were also crushed under the abuse of power. Women are no more likely to be able to escape abusers if they are liberal atheists who hate Fox News. The binary is subtle and disturbing.
What is very believable is her response to the tragedy. Robbie is brilliant in depicting the build up of shame and overwhellming pain that accomanpies sexual harassment and coerced sexual encounters. Bombshell handles scenes of harassment with incredible skill. Nothing is sensationalized and everything is appropriately tragic. This story is true, but it’s not the whole story. The real story is found in a line that Theron’s character, Kelly, delivers toward the end of the film. “I don’t care if you like me. I care if you believe me.” In this, she speaks for every woman who is currently being forced to make a decision between her career and the truth of what happened to her body in the office.