It’s been nearly two years since the first accusations against Harvey Weinstein broke, opening the flood gates of the #MeToo movement. Since then, Hollywood has made a handful of coy attempts to represent the events on-screen (ostensibly to channel women’s rage into views and ticket sales) with varying results. But the recent trailer for an upcoming film offers the second direct, on-screen depiction of a major #MeToo-era sexual harassment scandal—and it’s the first that promises to do it well.
The film is Bombshell, which chronicles the takedown of the late Fox News founder and CEO Roger Ailes. Its first trailer, released last week, features Nicole Kidman as former Fox News anchor Gretchen Carlson and Charlize Theron as Megyn Kelley. Margot Robbie also stars as a fictional associate producer who appears to be a composite of other real-life Fox News employees who accused Ailes of misconduct during the 2017 Fox News sexual harassment scandal.
Bombshell follows Showtime’s seven-part limited The Loudest Voice, which took a first pass at interpreting the same events for television back in June (it’s unclear if it will renew for a second season). Though later episodes in the season marked the first dramatization of events from the #MeToo movement, for the most part, the show missed the mark: Critics gave it a shaky 52% on Rotten Tomatoes, citing “shallow interpretations” that “undermine what could be a powerful indictment of one of the media’s most infamous figures.”
And indeed, The Loudest Voice was big on blowjobs and short on substance. Rather than spending time reckoning with his behavior as a serial sexual predator (over 20 women came forward with allegations about Ailes before his death in 2017), the show highlights Ailes’s career, political legacy, and influence on the media landscape.
This focus on Ailes (played by a ghoulish Russell Crowe) makes some sense, given that the show is adapted from author Gabriel Sherman’s book The Loudest Voice in the Room, which chronicles the Fox boss’s rise and fall. But in highlighting Ailes’ biography and career, Sherman’s extensive reporting on his alleged sexual harassment felt like it was squeezed into the final episode, which is perhaps part of the reason why the series ultimately failed to give fresh insight on either its subject or his crimes.
Bombshell, it seems, is taking a different approach. The trailer features the three actresses front and center, suggesting that this time the story will be told from the perspective of Ailes’s victims. There’s a chance, however, that it could fall into another tiresome category of entertainment that has sprung up in the past few years, one that the Atlantic’s Shirley Li describes as “the female-revenge-fantasy subgenre.”
Li points to the film The Kitchen and the show Why Women Kill as examples: “Both works aim to evoke the catharsis of seeing mistreated women get their due, but neither hits its mark perfectly. And in their failures, these projects expose a conundrum facing stories about female vengeance: Narratives about scorned women that try to double as examples of empowerment often edge into pandering territory.” In other words, productions that seem to empower women in concept (think all-female reboots, or women-led action films) end up being trope-filled melodramas that—like The Loudest Voice—fail to present nuanced female characters.
Bombshell, meanwhile, doesn’t seem to pander. The women don’t appear to be avatars for empowerment—there’s not even a patent camaraderie between them. What we can see is fear, rage, and discomfort—all very real, complicated emotions that victims of workplace harassment are likely to recognize more readily than a desire for vengeance.
This film won’t be the only attempt to tackle the #MeToo movement on the silver screen—a whole spate of prestige film and TV projects about (and adjacent to the events of) the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements are slated for the near future.
Given that these projects are some of the first cultural artifacts we have recounting the events of the past several years, it feels necessary that Hollywood would think carefully about how it tells these stories. (It’s worth pointing out that Bombshell is a #MeToo-centered production that was written and is being directed by men). Including female writers and producers might help communicate these stories, especially since many of the most powerful accusations were against men working in the media and film industries.