By Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted 19 January 2020)
Bombshell is based on the 2016 Fox News sexual harassment scandal that brought down the most powerful man at Fox, its Chairman and CEO Roger Ailes.
Not to be mistaken for some dry, didactic melodrama with heavy feminist overtones, the film nonetheless is all about women in the media, including their trials, temptations and terrible predicaments they often face as they strive to progress in their media careers.
The film is also about power and the strategic thinking of ambitious women whose boss has been having his way with media women for many years.
Yet up until the ‘Me Too’ movement emerged to give women the collective courage to speak out and point fingers at their harassers, Ailes’ power, privilege and penchant to take advantage of vulnerable women went uncontested.
It is only when Gretchen Carlson (Nicole Kidman), one of Fox’s star news anchors challenges Ailes’ ultra-conservative ‘talking points’ and subsequently gets the sack that she takes him to court for sexual harassment.
All hell breaks loose at Fox and the suspense builds as Carlson doesn’t marshal an iota of feminist support. In fact, women won’t back her up for the very real fear of losing their jobs.
Yet the one senior Fox anchor woman who could potentially tip the scale in Carlson’s favor is her media rival, Meghan Kelly (Charlize Theron who also co-produces the film).
The drama of women’s dilemma (specifically either to not be believed if you tell the truth or not to speak up and let the status quo remain) is exquisitely conveyed in Bombshell.
So is the issue of whether the vulnerable one (played by Margot Robbie) should comply with her harasser and keep (or get) the job, or refuse his advances and definitely lose the chance to ‘get ahead’.
History (and Google) will tell you that in real life, Meghan asserts her independence and frees other women to accuse Ailes as well. It’s a watershed moment for women in media as Ailes is not only sacked by his boss (owner of Fox) Rupert Murdoch who wants the scandal quashed as quickly as possible. Ailes also loses the law suit led by Carlson and Kelly and including 22 other women.
Personally, I have a fondness for films like Bombshell and Spotlight that expose corrupt conduct, especially the kind that’s been covered up in the name of tradition and male privilege for too long.
Yet Bombshell isn’t just for women. It can also serve as a cautionary tale for men since it is true that women moving into spaces once held exclusively by men tend to rock the boat and challenge the status quo.
But that need not be bad, especially when the women are as attractive as award-winning actors like Charlize Theron, Nicole Kidman and Margot Robbie, all of whom looked like the women at Fox News.
The invisible star of Bombshell is prosthetist Kazu Hiro who transformed both Theron and John Lithgow as Ailes, making them virtual replicas of the real characters.