[over the phone]“Bombshell” (2019)
Megyn Kelly: Ready to go to war?
Gretchen Carlson: Oh, yeah.
Being interviewed by my soon-to-be boss, I could tell he thought I was good looking, that he thought I was sexy. Maybe it was the dress I was wearing, or the makeup I had on my face–these were actual thoughts that were in my head at the time. I went through the interview as I was ogled talking about my professional skills and experience. I pushed that feeling aside that was telling me this is kind of shady. I just needed a job at that time, and wanted to get on with it. Nothing pressed beyond that after I got the position, although the looks were still there. But there’s no crime in looking, right? Now with the era that we are in, it’s the first time I’ve really thought back about that in a different way. Watching films like “Bombshell” makes me grateful that women are now speaking up, onscreen and off.
What Roger Ailes did to these women at Fox News was an egregious level of sexual harassment that should not be accepted or tolerated. What he did should have sent him to jail, yet he was merely asked to leave the network and was rewarded for his time through a very high severance package. Power gave him a predator mentality, similar to Harvey Weinstein. Like we hope with Weinstein, he should have been prosecuted to the full extent of the law. That scene where Roger (John Lithgow) asks Kayla (Margot Robbie) to lift her dress up high enough to see her crotch–you feel frustration, you feel anger, and you don’t know why she doesn’t leave. Then after she feels humiliated, he uses it against her, and it becomes a vicious cycle. She has no one she feels she can confide in.
I wrote about the film “9 to 5” and the #MeToo movement. “9 to 5” premiered in 1980, way before hashtags were even a thing, but the film touched radically on the inequality of the workplace. I wanted to highlight a scene that I did not include in my essay that I feel connects well to this film. The scene is where Dolly Parton’s character Doralee fantasizes of giving her boss, Franklin Hart, a taste of his own sexual harassment medicine. The boss, Franklin Hart, comes into Doralee’s office. Doralee, the boss in her fantasy, asks him to turn around so she can get a good look at him, objectifying him. She tells him to wear tighter pants so his bulge can be shown more. It’s so foreign to me to see a woman treat a man in that way, onscreen, as it is so commonplace to see it the other way around. This is because what we see onscreen can normalize what’s going on in our society. Think what would have happened if we had more scenes like the fantasy sequence between Doralee and Hart in other films. Just think about that.
“Bombshell” takes place in 2016. #MeToo wouldn’t become a social media phenomenon until 2017, yet in 2016 with a woman running for president and an opponent that symbolized everything that is disgusting and wrong with the male gender, women are starting to realize and embrace they can flip the script of what is expected of them. Women are starting to look around at other women as unified and as individuals. I do remember when Megyn was coming out against Trump and Ailes, I looked at her differently, not as Fox News, but as an individual who had her own thoughts and feelings. I suddenly had respect for a woman who worked on a channel I despised.
The choice made by Kayla, played by Margot Robbie, to come forward and leave Fox News is dependent most on seeing other women break their silence, which is initiated by Nicole Kidman’s character, Gretchen Carlson. Gretchen is based on the real person who filed the lawsuit against the real Roger Ailes for sexual misconduct. Charlize Theron’s character, Megyn Kelly, also based on the real woman, comes forward after several have already spoken out about Roger’s sexual harassment. Her outspokenness becomes an inspiration to the women who are in less powerful positions, demonstrating that it is okay to speak up.
There is a scene where Gretchen is in the grocery store, and a woman with her baby shames her for working at Fox News. Gretchen fires back by noting how you treat people who are different than you shows what kind of person you really are. It’s true. It isn’t until you meet someone, learn about them as an individual and a person, that you can create some kind of understanding of who they are beyond Fox News femmebots, meaning they all seemed to look the same with the same personalities. After viewing this film, I have reassessed my understanding of these women.
Knowing the context of the time shows us in the past couple years how far we’ve come in the #MeToo era, and how far we’ve got to go. Since the 2016 election and the start of Trump’s presidency, we’ve been uncovering the injustices of gender inequality in the workplace. A lot has been revealed through the impact of social media. Female stories have been elevated through the hashtag and now on the screen.
With the lack of diversity in the film, in race, and everything else, I appreciated having Kate McKinnon’s character Jess Carr in the film. She was a refreshing character. Jess is a closeted lesbian and liberal, working for the Bill O’Reilly show. She sees the falsity of Fox News and their message, but she also wants to keep her job in media. Her character shows that there are people who work for these establishments and are not the embodiment of them. Fox News was built at the time on the collective voice of Roger Ailes and the Murdochs. Often when people are working for this kind of establishment, they are associated with them, suggesting it somehow defines who they are as a person. Jess’s character deviates us from that, although she does not distinguish herself outwardly in the work place.
Jess’s relationship with Kayla (Margot Robbie) is so important because of what it represents. They are both millennial women. One coming from a Christian conservative background, one working at Fox News because she got rejected from every other media channel. After Roger first assaults Kayla, Kayla tries to confide in Jess. Jess dismisses her at first because she doesn’t want to get caught in it and lose her job. When Kayla decides she must come forward, Jess supports her. When Kayla leaves, Jess looks at her with respect. But she continues to hide being a lesbian and a liberal.
My hope would be that Kayla would leave Fox News, or take over the channel herself. Although there now is a woman in Ailes’ position, which is definitely a step up, I’d still like to live that fantasy, with Jess living her true self and leading the network. But that’s the thing about television and news, it’s got to be watched to be relevant, and if your audience is a certain way, you cater to that, you give them what they want. The point is both of these women, Kayla and Jess, dealt with things differently, but they ended up supporting one another as people, and women, because they both are just trying to figure out their world beyond Fox News.
The final moments show that there is a whiff of change from the lawsuit, but only temporarily. What must be remembered is that the establishment and the men that build them, do not dictate the choices we make in our lives. Gretchen shows a glimmer of that when she signs the lawsuit papers and says she’ll keep her mouth shut and take the money, but not really. What we’ve learned from 2016 is that when more women speak up, more women will have the courage to speak and support one another.