‘Bombshell’, an Oscar nominated film based on real events, was released in 2019. It is a gritty and grounded portrayal of the accounts of the women who exposed Fox News’s CEO, Roger Ailes, for sexual harassment. It is now available for streaming on Vodafone Play.
The film follows three women in particular – Gretchen Carlson (Nicole Kidman) who is the first to file the lawsuit against Ailes, the star of Fox News Megyn Kelly (Charlize Theron) who struggles through the film on whether or not to come forward with her own testimony against Ailes, and a fictionalised Kayla (Margot Robbie) who represents a culmination of the multitude of women who faced sexual harassment at his hands.
Subtle Sexism In The Workplace
‘Bombshell’ does a wonderful job of depicting dehumanization passed off as ordinary in workplaces.
Men size women up, casually “compliment” how their legs look in a skirt when they cross paths, and spit out the ultimate “F” word whenever a woman contradicts them – “Feminist”.
Slightly inappropriate behaviour is guised in humour and armoured with justifications. Blatantly inappropriate behaviour is followed by genuinely helpful advice or genuinely plausible threats.
The idea that women need men to succeed – or more importantly that they need to endure little injustices in serving the men’s needs – is so deeply embedded in organisations that even the women seem to have accepted it.
One of the most chilling scenes in the film does not involve any of the men, but pans across all the women in the news network as they talk to lawyers on the phone, while simultaneously getting dressed. They all repeat obviously rehearsed lines about how Roger Ailes is a great boss and Fox News is a great place for women to work.
Even as they say this, the women casually fit their bandaged feet into heels, stuff in breast enhancers, and fit into short, tight dresses. They all have the same blonde hair colour, do their makeup the same way, have the same size-zero body type, and wear the same kind of dresses.
This is an unspoken norm – for them to fit the trope of what Ailes and most men desire. More importantly, it’s also a constant reminder for the women of how replaceable they are, and how they need powerful men like Ailes to succeed.
Sexual Harassment Is Not A Bothersome Toothache You Can Ignore
Another thing that the film highlights is how most people would rather that wrongdoings continue unchecked than face the discomfort and unpleasantness that confronting them will result in.
Even when Megyn Kelly’s agent hesitantly tells her to do whatever she feels is right regarding the her support of the lawsuit, when she decides to do nothing yet, there is visible relief on his face.
When Kayla comes back from Ailes’ office after the first instance of sexual harassment, visibly shaken, she tries to immediately confide in Jess – her closest friend at work. When Jess realises what must have happened and the direction of the conversation, she quickly interrupts Kayla. She says “It’s actually better if you don’t involve me in this.”
Standing up for what is right is never pleasant. Initiating healthy conversations about problematic behaviours is never easy.
People will do whatever they must to preserve conventions and norms, sometimes simply to avoid the discomfort of change and confronting their longstanding bystander guilt.
However, sexual harassment is not a toothache you can ignore and irrationally hope will eventually go away on its own.
Bombshell Does Not Pass The Bechdel Test
The Bechdel Test is a measurement of female representation in art. A work of art passes the Bechdel Test if it portrays at least two women talking to each other about something other than a man.
It is surprising that despite being a female driven film with three central heroines who occupy much of the screen-time, Bombshell does not pass the Bechdel Test.
This is because the looming shadow of the man still occupies most actions and conversations that take place on-screen. They must have conversations about their victimisation and abuse at the hands of the man in order to move beyond it and find empowerment.
Bombshell does not pass the test for all the right reasons.
Bombshell Isn’t Explosive Enough
A popular criticism of the film is that it isn’t explosive enough – it doesn’t bother to show a lot of what happens behind the closed doors of Ailes’s office. We have no way to invest in the women’s stories because we aren’t made privy to them.
However, someone outside of the women’s experience could never fully invest in their story no matter how detailed its depiction.
This is enhanced by the almost documentary-style filming of most scenes. The camera unsteadily follows people around, zooming in and out, and is essentially an observer to the women’s stories. The gaze is neither male nor female.
We cannot be privy to their experience because it’s not ours to empathise with. That shouldn’t hinder our ability to know who to sympathise with.
Let This Be That Film For You
Gretchen Carlson in the final few minutes of the film talks of how most people are sceptical of harassment claims until they’ve experienced it themselves or know someone who has. She breaks the fourth wall – looking us directly in the eye – and says, “Let me be that person for you.”
It took one woman – Carlson – to refuse to be quiet and stand up for herself, for a large tidal wave of other women to find the courage to speak up too.
“The women who risked their careers to speak up against Ailes were amongst the first to bring down a public figure of his stature.” Thanks to films like Bombshell that don’t shy away from bringing the issue and the women’s courage to light, they hopefully won’t be the last either.
You Might Also Like
You’re invited! Join the Kool Kanya women-only career Community where you can network, ask questions, share your opinions, collaborate on projects, and discover new opportunities. Join now.