The required Ethics and History of Journalism class I took the Spring 2019 semester of my sophomore year in college couldn’t have happened at a more pivotal time.
Yes, it was a three-hour lecture class at 9 AM every Wednesday, and I almost always woke up 15 minutes before it started. Regardless, it was one of the most informative educational experiences I’ve had as a Journalism + Design major so far. The Mueller Report came out in the middle of the semester; I learned the timeliness and importance of the names Maggie Haberman and Michael Schmidt (I’m ashamed I didn’t know them earlier), and we talked about people like Sean Hannity and Roger Ailes.
My professor stressed the importance of being objective in journalism, but it felt impossible to grit my teeth and be objective when discussing Fox News and grossly corrupt CEOs. How was I supposed to sound unbiased and objective toward political subjects I completely disagreed with?
Bombshell follows an ensemble cast of Charlize Theron, Nicole Kidman, and Margot Robbie, all portraying Fox News media employees who sought to expose CEO Roger Ailes for sexual harassment.
Theron and Kidman star (and eerily resemble) real-life anchors Megyn Kelly and Gretchen Carlson. Robbie portrays Kayla, a fictional new employee at Fox who originally works for Carlson but soon jumps ship to work for Bill O’Reilly on The O’Reilly Factor. Carlson warns Kayla to not get in over her head, but Kayla dismisses her.
A significant portion of the movie contains archival footage like tweets and interviews and press statements, all of which happened over the duration of the 2016 presidential election. Because of this, watching Bombshell felt like an eerie time capsule. The movie triggered memories—like when Donald Trump announced his intention to run for president and everyone I knew brushed it off as a joke.
In the movie, as the 2016 election ramps up, the pressure starts to mount on the news anchors and employees at Fox News. Kelly is battling an ongoing cyber and real-life war with Trump that begins to affect her own family; Carlson begins talking to lawyers about the best way to take down Ailes; Kayla realizes the truth in Carlson’s words when she has an encounter with Ailes that turns south.
There were various times throughout the movie when I felt completely sick watching how these women were harassed. Despite their efforts to break the news of the horribly corrupt and repeated sexual-harassment patterns at Fox News, the media failed to shed light on this. Media outlets instead chose to write articles slamming Kelly and Carlson for their looks.
The film ends at a time when no one could’ve predicted that in less than a year, the #MeToo movement would result in millions of people sharing their own stories of sexual harassment and abuse.
In the 2018 fiscal year alone, there were 7,500 workplace sexual harassment claims filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Comission—a 14% jump from the year before. The National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC) has reported that one in five women in the United States will experience rape, and almost eight percent of all rapes happen in the workplace.
Since the #MeToo movement gained momentum in 2017 (after being created in 2006 by activist Tarana Burke) following Harvey Weinstein’s exposure, the Equal Rights Advocates (ERA) has reported an 80% increase in the number of sexual harassment bills passed across America. With the start of primary elections in just a couple of weeks, I couldn’t help but think about both the timeliness and imperativeness of Bombshell as I left the theater. The ERA has additionally reported that over 103 political leaders (including Roy Moore) have been removed from political office for sexual harassment, abuse, and misconduct.
The first time I heard about Bombshell a couple of weeks before seeing it, I immediately regarded it as “some movie about Fox News.” Yeah, I heard Charlize Theron (or was it Margot Robbie?) was going to play Megyn Kelly, but was I going to care about this movie? Since when did I care about Fox News? Now, I can’t help but look back and feel embarrassed and ashamed by how completely wrong I was about the importance of this movie.
If there’s one thing Bombshell gets right (besides Charlize Theron’s eerily identical portrayal of Megyn Kelly, from the bob haircut down to her low voice and mannerisms), it’s highlighting the epidemic that is workplace sexual harassment and how it must be stopped.