Christmas in Minnesota this year was lovely. Board games, cookies, plum pudding and a three-generation outing to the movie Little Women was just what was needed to tighten the bonds of family once again. After one day side-lined by icy roads, and another spent watching the snow fall to prepare for sledding, we had the right proportion of down-time and festive parties before the house emptied and calendar pages were turned to a new year and a new decade.
A few days later, I went to the movie Bombshell, the recently released 2019 American biographical drama film directed by Jay Roach and written by Charles Randolph. The film stars Charlize Theron, Nicole Kidman, and Margot Robbie, and is based upon the accounts of several women at Fox News who set out to expose CEO Roger Ailes for sexual harassment. I’m not a movie critic, and don’t offer my comments about the movie from that perspective. Rather, I consider myself an interested party on the topic of workplace sexism, and a social observer on the changes occurring now. At long last, I applaud the efforts to expose very damaging inequity in the treatment of women in many work place situations.
The movie covers very recent history, and is presented as a docudrama. In fact, it almost feels like a newsreel at times in its pace and dialogue. The fall of Roger Ailes played out in real time in 2016. Anyone who was paying attention saw it. So, there’s little to dispute of the facts, and I won’t go there.
I was struck by how effective it was to showcase superficiality throughout the movie, almost as a foil to the newsreel aspect. For example:
*the use of prosthetics to alter Charlize Theron’s looks to appear more like Megyn Kelly
*the prevalence of look-alike blonde, leggy women
*caked on make-up and impeccably coiffed hair
*a large room filled with short, sheath dresses, high heels, and an abundant supply of padding for women to add to their bras
The most riveting scene is one in which Margot Robbie, whose character takes on the composite stories of several women, meets with Roger Ailes to share her deep interest in being on-air. This viewer could almost see the wheels turning in her head as he revealed to her what it would take to show the right amount of loyalty to get a chance for an on-air role. The leering invitation to “lift your skirt” continuing several times, always with the explanation that TV is a visual medium, thereby justifying his behavior. It is a perfect example of the danger facing an ambitious woman who dares to go after a job she wants and the clear expectation at what it will cost her to get it.
Loyalty to “his way” plays out throughout the movie. The plucky Gretchen Carlson character, played by Nicole Kidman, dared go on-camera without full make-up to run a story, and was called out in no uncertain terms for this transgression.
I found it all quite depressing. The movie’s message, attributed to the women who do find the courage to come forward is compelling—the mixed emotions that come with the realistic assessment that each will always be tied to bringing Roger Ailes down, and the worry that they will never be trusted again to be a team player. How sad.
These stories need to be told, and told again. So that it becomes less spectacular each time and women do not have to have such angst in the telling. We’ll get there.