Fact Versus Fiction: How ‘Bombshell’ Tells the Truth About Sexual Assault

The film might not be perfect, but it's helping to advance the conversation about a very important topic.
January 18, 2020
8 mins read

Based on the true story of the 2016 sexual assault suit against Roger Ailes, the CEO and chairman of Fox News, “Bombshell” was directed by Jay Roach and stars Charlize Theron, Nicole Kidman and Margot Robbie. Although there were eventually 23 victims who gave their names and stories to construct a lawsuit against Ailes, the story focuses on the perspective of three characters: Gretchen Carlson (Kidman), co-anchor of the popular program “Fox and Friends” and who files the suit; Kayla Pospisil (Robbie), a young employee keen on climbing the ladder at the network; and Megyn Kelly (Theron), a popular anchor at Fox News.

It should also be mentioned that the actual subjects of the story were not involved with the creation of the film, and as any Hollywood dramatization, liberties have been taken with the source material. However, this film primarily sticks to the facts.

The heart of this story is evergreen: good versus evil. A villain facing his reckoning. Heroes overcoming challenges to come out victorious. All of these narrative beats play out within the controversial, salacious setting of the Fox News network in the lead-up to the #MeToo movement.

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Nevertheless, another aspect of this film that shines is the relationship between Fox and its employees, which is both successfully and unsuccessfully capitalized upon by the film’s creators. The narrators of this story — Kelly, Carlson and Pospisil — are flawed characters. After all, they are products, consumers and creators of the Fox News machine. In particular, Kelly is widely regarded as a controversial figure and has been labeled as “saying it as it is,” behaving in a blunt manner that occasionally involves misconstruing information, fat-shaming and encouraging racism. As such, the anchor seems a perfect fit for the fearmongering, gossip-worthy strategy adopted by Fox News. But, the extent to which “Bombshell” recognizes Kelly as problematic is questionable.

She’s a self-labeled “big mouth,” an opinionated woman who’s clearly aware that a little argument can make for entertaining TV. But, “Bombshell” sets out to add a bit of depth to Kelly’s persona, but neglects to portray her tendency to express some genuinely problematic views.

In fact, the majority of Kelly’s misgivings that infuriated the public over the years are skimmed over (i.e. the anchor’s claims that Jesus and Santa need to be portrayed as white, among other things). Creative decisions such as these call the filmmaker’s intentions into question. If one were unfamiliar with Kelly’s prior controversies, the anchor’s real-life colors do not translate into Theron’s performance.

However, the entire premise of “Bombshell” relies on establishing the fracture in Kelly’s symbiotic relationship with Fox News after she criticizes President Donald Trump — who at the time of the film’s events was a candidate in the 2016 election — for his numerous, unhinged misogynist remarks against women. At the time, the network had not yet decided if they wanted to support Trump, but what they did know is that they certainly do not want to support a feminist agenda. Notably, Kelly is taken aback, something every woman can probably relate to.

Similarly, Gretchen Carlson is shown to be in conflict with Roger Ailes and the Fox News network due to her segments highlighting her support of increasing gun control in the country. In addition, she wears no makeup during a segment to highlight the oversexualization of women and young girls, which makes Ailes furious, as it directly veers from the network’s procedures. Admirably, these character moments contextualize the characters and illuminate the stifling environment that these women work and live in.

In its arguably most affecting scene, which I will not spoil in this article — but believe me, it’s hard to watch — “Bombshell” boldly showcases the complicated, stomach-churning strategies and behaviors involved with grooming, predation and assault in general carried out by Ailes and his supporters, which has elicited praise from the real-life figures.

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Consequently, Kayla Pospisil, in all of her bright-eyed, motivated and unjaded splendor, stands out as a contrast to what is expected from Fox News. Yes, she’s conservative and Christian, but “Bombshell” also hints that Pospisil might also be in denial about being bisexual, and possibly a lesbian, which brings the network’s homophobia into the discussion, although the same cannot be said for the issue of race, regrettably.

Furthermore, there’s a lack of recognition regarding any of these characters as being in positions of privilege in society. While some viewers might find Pospisil’s characterization to be cliché — the innocent religious, Instagram-loving millennial forced to combat evil — I would argue that’s the beauty of Robbie’s performance. For all intents and purposes, she is a fictional character, but she feels like the most honest representation of a woman who ends up consumed by the Fox News machine.

The audience witnesses Pospisil’s story unfold in the present. Her character shows us in real-time how Ailes, and the network in general, continuously create a cycle of misogyny and assault, and Pospisil’s story sheds light on the bubble of support and protection that Ailes and his supporters have created. Above all else, the character is crafted with more justice and honesty than Megyn Kelly.

While her morals and ambitions may be questionable, Pospisil represents everyone and anyone who has been subjected to any form of sexual assault. At the end of the day, regardless of her personal beliefs or political standings, what matters is that she was taken advantage of. “Bombshell” does not coerce the audience into relating to Pospisil; she is not forced into the position of a heroine.

And yet, while “Bombshell” decides to relate this story from the perspective of condemning the actions of sexual predators in corporate America, I would have liked to have seen Kelly painted in a true-to-life fashion; I wanted to see those foot-in-mouth moments that I know exist, which a quick YouTube search can uncover in seconds. For a movie tackling such an important social topic, it was disappointing and slightly ironic that Kelly’s — and, to an extent, Gretchen Carlson’s — contribution to harmful social discourse was not recognized.

There are countless individuals who feel personally victimized by Kelly’s remarks. I wanted the chance to hate her if I saw fit, but then I wanted to be shown that, in a time where unity and understanding is needed above all else, that it doesn’t matter in the end. This extra step would have solidified “Bombshell” as a myth-eradicating, bias-shattering work that will help with advancing the discourse surrounding sexual assault.

All in all, “Bombshell” succeeds in exposing the reality of painful truths in the corporate world, even if it occasionally misses the mark. Encompassed with all of its surrealness, this all really happened, and the film makes sure to highlight the bravery of women devoted to truth who, despite holding questionable perspectives on culture and politics, should be recognized for standing up against victimization.

If you or someone you know is a victim of sexual assault, there is help. Call RAINN at 800.656.HOPE (4673).

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