Cinema Siren and founder of Women Rocking Hollywood Leslie Combemale has a great write-up of the best female filmmakers in 2019. Her list includes mainstream Oscar contenders like Marielle Heller’s “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” to international films like the gorgeous period romantic drama “Portrait of a Lady on Fire” and the uplifting story of an immigrant teenager in love with the music of Bruce Springsteen “Blinded by the Light,” and the endearing indie “Booksmart” from director Olivia Wilde.
Rated R for sexual material and language throughout
Very strong and crude language
Sexual pressure and harassment
A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters:
December 13, 2019
The word “bombshell” works both ways as the title of this film based on the true story of the #metoo moment that rocked the powerful leadership of Fox News and brought down its visionary founder Roger Ailes. “Bombshell” means a very attractive woman (check out the Jean Harlow movie of the same name, about a gorgeous movie star, and the documentary of the same name, about Hedy Lamar). And “bombshell” also means a shocking piece of news. Both are equally apt.
Those who watched “The Loudest Voice in the Room” on Showtime know that Ailes transformed the news media by creating a network that had two important innovations: gorgeous women in revealing clothes delivering news stories slanted toward white people who think their victimhood has been overlooked. As an executive puts it in this film, “You have to adopt the mentality of an Irish street cop. The world is a bad place. People are lazy morons. Minorities are criminals. Sex is sick, but interesting. Ask yourself, ‘What would scare my grandmother, or p— off my grandfather?’ And that’s a Fox story.”
The story is almost operatic in scope and drama and director Jay Roach and screenwriter Charles Randolph (“The Big Short”) hit the tone just right, the heightened urgency of the newsroom, the millions of small and devastatingly large compromises at the top of the media food chain.
The performances are sizzling. Gretchen Carlson (Nicole Kidman) is a fading star at FOX, relegated to off-peak programs. (I could not help thinking of this performance as a bookend with Kidman’s “To Die For,” with Kidman as a woman who was willing to do anything, including sexual favors and murder, to get a job on TV news.) Megyn Kelly (Charlize Theron) is a rising star, and as this movie begins, she is horrified to find herself in the middle of a story as then-candidate Donald Trump makes ugly and crude accusations because she surprised him by asking him to comment on some of his insults to women (“You’ve called women you don’t like fat pigs, dogs, slobs and disgusting animals”) in an on-air interview. Margot Robbie plays Kayla, a fictional character based on the ambitious lower-level staff and what those who asked Ailes for on-camera opportunities were expected to do to show their “loyalty.”
Some early critics of the film object to the women being portrayed as feminist heroines. But they are not portrayed as feminist heroines; on the contrary. They’re not fighting courageously for justice like Norma Rae or Erin Brockovich. They are carefully calibrating how much abuse, how many humiliations, how much indignity they are willing to trade for the professional opportunities they want, even when it means ignoring abuse of other women. Answer: a lot. Ultimately, there is a limit, though, and watching each character locate that line is what makes this movie smart and engrossing. For Carlson, it is being fired. For Kayla, it is a painful realization after the fact, and after someone else has taken the almost unthinkably daunting step of going first. And the stakes are clear. “Once you go public, no one will hire you,” Carlson is told. Her post-lawsuit career has focused on sexual harassment issues either because she now recognizes the importance of the issue or because she cannot get any other job. The week of the film’s release she wrote an op-ed in The New York Times calling on Fox to withdraw the non-disclosure agreement she had to sign in order to settle her case. It’s unlikely, but if they do, maybe we’ll get another movie out of it.
The focus here is on Kelly. It is one thing to burn your bridges after you have been fired and have nothing to lose, but it is entirely another for a woman near the top of her profession who says, “I’m not a feminist; I’m a lawyer,” who does not want to be the story, who is in cutthroat competition with the other beautiful blondes and not one to raise a fist and proclaim that sisterhood is powerful. What will it take to get her to speak out and what price will she pay for saying something? Kelly is a complicated character and the way her dilemma is presented here is complicated and nuanced, more directed toward nods of recognition than standing ovations. Her career has been rocky (except for financially) since her decision to acknowledge the abuse, which makes this a cautionary tale that does not make the prospect of feminist heroine-ing look very appealing.
What is even more fascinating here is the setting. Is Fox a news organization as it has traditionally been understood? We get glimpses of other Fox personalities, including Bill O’Reilly, who left Fox following his own #metoo abuses. The way the organization responds to Carlson’s claims — handing out “Team Roger” t-shirts before any investigation even though it is generally known why there’s a lock on his door and a separate entrance to his office — says something about whether “loyalty” is more important than the truth, to them and to us.
Parents should know that this film is based on the real life #metoo upheavals at FOX News, with explicit discussions and some depiction of sexual harassment, abuse, and predation, and very strong language.
Family discussion: Why did the three women respond differently? How has coming forward affected their careers? What is the best way to prevent abuse by people in power?
If you like this, try: “The Loudest Voice” miniseries and “The Hunting Ground”
Charlize Theron, Jay Roach, Charles Randolph on Bombshell, and Speaking Up About Sexual Harassment at FOX News
Posted on November 14, 2019 at 12:11 pm
Last night, a powerhouse Washington D.C. audience got an early look at one of this winter’s biggest and best movies, “Bombshell,” based on the true story of the sexual harassment complaints that caused a seismic shake-up at the most powerful media company in the world. The title is clever, referring to the “bombshell” anchors of Fox News, selected for their beauty as well as their credentials as journalists, and the “bombshell” disclosures of abuse that led to the departure of the company’s top talent, including the founder of FOX News, the late Roger Ailes and their top-rated broadcaster, Bill O’Reilly.
Following the screening at the spectacular new Washington DC office of the MPAA, CNN’s Dana Bash interviewed producer and star Charlize Theron, who plays Megyn Kelly in the film, director Jay Roach, and screenwriter Charles Randolph. Some highlights:
Randolph described himself as “the least woke man in the room,” subject to “the masculine instinct to minimize” the experiences of women, which itself causes great harm — the “refusal to acknowledge the importance of these events in women’s lives is devastating.” But “how is that helping the world? And so, he told us the the reason he wanted to tell this story: “Sexual harassment has to stop. And this has such interesting characters. They are not earnestly passive, as we see too often in “good” characters. They are filled with quirks, contradictions, internal conflicts. My parents are FOX News people. These are characters they can relate to, laugh at, laugh with, fully identify with and respect.”
Roach also comes from a “Fox News family,” he said. “This could cross over. Even my mom and my aunts could connect to this because they know them. When this story happened, we were all talking about it but I did not hear my family talking about it. The women in this film did not call themselves feminists; it is a great predicament for a story.”
Theron on taking on the role: “This film began before the Harvey Weinstein/#meetoo/Time’s Up movement. In a way, it is the origin story. But this was already a part of my life as it has been for every woman. Producing the film was easier than playing Megyn. And in some ways, playing Aileen Wuornos in ‘Monster’ was easier, because everyone knows Megyn’s face, voice, gestures so well. It took a little time for me to put my personal feelings aside. Megyn says some things I don’t agree with and some that rub me the wrong way. We have different views on a lot of stuff, but the only way to do this job is to remove yourself from those judgments and come from an empathetic place, to find the emotional arc of the story and not hide yourself away from the thorns. It’s easy to do a heroic person who does everything right and the audience immediately likes them. But it is more interesting to take a conflicted person who has a moment to do something right, not fluffy nice and cozy. We are complicated as people and the characters should be, too.” The same goes for those in the story who are not the heroes. “The harasser you most have to worry about is not the guy twirling his mustache.”
“It’s the belittling factor,” Theron said. “We’ve always been able to wrap our heads around the violent injuries. But this is also incredibly damaging. You carry this stuff, adding more weight to the luggage you never get rid of.”
In January, Stacy L. Smith — the founder of USC’s Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, which tracks representation in front of and behind the camera — published a report about female film directors. Her findings could not have been more bleak. Of the 112 directors behind the 100 top-grossing movies of 2018, only 3.6% were women. Even worse, that number was down from the year before, when women represented 7.3% of the top 100. To emphasize the blighted landscape, Smith and her research team put their key finding in bold: “The percentage of female directors has not changed over time.”
Ten months later, based on the year’s releases so far and what’s still to come, Smith is making a wholly different declaration. “It looks for 2019 like at least 12 movies — which is an all-time high — will be directed by women across the top 100 films,” Smith says. That number could go as high as 14, she adds….Yes, there has been progress, with movies like “Captain Marvel” (co-directed by Anna Boden) and “Hustlers” (Lorene Scafaria) leading the charge at the box office. Still to come this year are “Frozen 2” (directed by Jennifer Lee) — sure to be a blockbuster — Elizabeth Banks’ “Charlie’s Angels” reboot and prestige films that may also be hits, such as Kasi Lemmons’ “Harriet,” Marielle Heller’s “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,” Gerwig’s “Little Women” and — for once — quite a few more.
Given that the percentage of women directors has fluctuated year to year, it may be too soon to declare a sea change. But Smith maintains that in looking ahead to 2020, this year’s numbers aren’t just a blip. “2019 won’t be a one-off,” she says. “We’re moving — finally — in the right direction, toward more inclusion behind the camera.”
British Producer Insists on Gender Equality in Writing Staffs
Posted on June 19, 2019 at 1:56 pm
The biggest broadcast production and distribution company in the U.K., ITV, is taking a unilateral approach to gender diversity in its comedy writers’ rooms, implementing a new policy that calls for all commissioned or recommissioned shows to “aim towards 50:50 gender representation.” In response to the industry’s incrementalism and the common refrain that there just aren’t enough female comedians that “are ready,” ITV’s head of comedy, Saskia Schuster has announced on BBC 4 that she’s gone ahead and made gender inclusion a requirement of any new comedy production from the studio.
The policy change is just the latest move in Schuster’s quest to change the culture of comedy writing rooms. In February 2018, Schuster launched Comedy 50:50, an initiative that provides an independent database of female writers, hosts networking events and workshops, and offers mentoring and shadowing opportunities to women who want to break into the field.
The new guidelines prohibit ads that play up roles deemed more feminine or male, as well as derogatory messages around body image. That would include a TV spot, for example, that shows children making a mess while a man props up his feet and a woman cleans up; or ads showing a man who can’t change a diaper or a woman who can’t park a car. Advertising that links physique and body image to a successful romantic or social life is also, as are ads that belittle men for doing stereotypical “female” tasks.