'Bombshell' Writer On The Complicated Nature Of Writing Characters You Don't Want To Root For
“I’m not a feminist,” insists Megyn Kelly in the beginning of Bombshell. Whether or not she proves to be one by the time the credits roll is not really the point. The film follows the turmoil at Fox News after long-time anchor Gretchen Carlson (Nicole Kidman) sued news mogul Roger Ailes (John Lithgow) for alleged sexual harassment in 2016. Eventually more than 20 women to come forward with their own allegations of mistreatment and assault, including Fox darling Megyn Kelly (Charlize Theron) who the film follows most closely.
The cast of characters central to this particular story makes telling it every the more complicated. There have been many unlikable movie protagonists, both real and imagined, in the past. But outside of the baseline understanding that no one should ever be abused, harassed, or disrespected by an employer (or anyone for that matter), why should the audiences spend a few hours in the company of these rich, famous, white women, who have historically given platforms for conspiracy theorists or racist claims.
Bombshell writer Charles Randolph is under no impression that you should forget about all of these shortcomings while watching the film. Known for his work in The Big Short (a film all about the 2008 financial crisis), Randolph is often drawn to writing characters he doesn't agree with. “Kelly is a very complicated, compromised, contradictory character," which is what he found compelling. He wanted to animate the world of Fox News in all its conservative weirdness and one of the byproducts was giving a voice to these women, many of whom illicit immediate guttural responses from Democrats and Republicans alike.
"There are things she has said that I’ve definitely had issues with, but it doesn’t invalidate how I feel about her struggle," Charlize Theron told The New York Times in an interview. "...I really do believe that what she and those women went through was messed up, even though they work for a network that I highly have issues with."
The film does make a point of highlighting moments of ignorance as well their supposedly redeemable qualities: Gretchen denounces socialism but surprisingly supports reinstating the ban on military assault weapons. Kelly argues that Santa could not be black (a real thing that happened) and then turns around and takes Trump to task for his treatment of women. It's almost to suggest these women are secretly progressive feminist-minded liberals, when in reality, no, they are certainly not and their decades on air at a network like Fox prove that.
“It was not only the people we least expected to stand up to [Fox News], it was people who were entertaining, had fascinating flaws, had fascinating internal conflict, people who I could make the audience laugh at a little bit,” says Randolph. “They showed that this is an issue that transcends partisanship.”
One of the more interesting driving forces of the film is Kayla (Margot Robbie), a composite character whose storyline borrows from many accounts of Ailes’ accusers. She might be blinded by the Fox News ideology but she has an unwavering sense that women should protect other women (something that Kelly does not share when they finally have their confrontation about why Kelly stayed silent for all these years about Ailes). Her vulnerable moments makes it arguably harder to watch Kelly waffle over whether or not to come forward about Ailes all while Kayla experiences the harassment in real time.
In the end, many have been critical of how the film "glamorizes" the women involved in the unfortunate harassment that plagued Fox News for years. But Randolph doesn't want you to call them heroes. “Don’t root for them," he says, "I only want you to watch them.”