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‘Bombshell’ wasn’t for women, they know this stuff. It’s for the ‘gender defensive’ men

“Bombshell” screenwriter Charles Randolph
“I’ve been surprised in recent years by how quickly I can question the emotional experience of women around sexual misconduct,” says screenwriter Charles Randolph. Writing “Bombshell” helped him — and maybe other men — understand it.
(Philip Cheung/For The Times)

“Bombshell” was written before the Weinstein story broke. Why does a man write a movie about sexual harassment? Well, it was inspired by a couple of women on a train. But I wrote it for men, the sort of men who now reading this already suspect it’s virtue-signaling, some noxious form of self-advertisement. I wanted to write a movie about sexual harassment for that guy. Because I can be that guy.

I’ve been surprised in recent years by how quickly I can question the emotional experience of women around sexual misconduct, as if ruled by gender defensiveness, some Darwinian instinct to minimize, “Yeah, but she went voluntarily up to his place….” I wanted to write straight at that instinct, to map its fault lines, to drag my prejudices through a gantlet of actual lives.

Here’s what I hope I can do: put a few men like me into the rooms where harassment happens, in offices like the one where Kayla encounters Roger Ailes in “Bombshell.” If I can put men in that room, and inside Kayla’s perspective, inside her experience, then we can feel how that minimizing urge — “She kept seeing him!” — does injustice to situations that are surreally complicated and utterly life-changing.

Margot Robbie as “Kayla” in “Bombshell.”
Margo Robbie in a scene from “Bombshell.”
(Hilary B Gayle/Lionsgate)

Every character is based on someone real, if not always just one, usually someone you have strong opinions about. No one’s more surprised than me that an explosive story of feminist determination came from inside Fox News, but I’m glad it did. My favorite response to this movie is, “Why did you make me identify with them?!”

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Because they are unique and interesting. They can make us laugh — “I see myself as an influencer in the Jesus space” — which means they can break our hearts. They prove some issues transcend politics. In a fractured culture, the most powerful stories are the ones that frustrate our easy judgments, and those sometimes come from rooting around in the sloppy middle.

“Bombshell” star Charlize Theron never met Megyn Kelly before playing her and had information about the former Fox News star funneled to her in other ways.

I’m from an evangelical family. Fox News is likely on at my parents’ house right now. Our TV had the logo burned into the screen, always with us, even during Cowboys games. My father ran a nonprofit and kept his salary modest. My mother hatched a plan to save a large portion of that salary to start a few tiny orphan homes in India. So, they did. Then they gave to their church. People with more generosity and integrity you will not meet. They voted for Trump. I want them to see this film. I want them to understand this issue through women they know.

Movies, if they’re done right, are the opposite of Twitter.

Charlize Theron, Nicole Kidman and Margot Robbie play a trio of Fox News employees whose allegations of sexual harassment help topple network founder Roger Ailes.

Now, the train. In the fall of 2016, I was on the Harlem Line from Grand Central way up to Wassaic. I was reading Sarah Ellison’s fantastic article on Ailes’ downfall in Vanity Fair. I had been thinking the women of Fox might make good movie characters, complex and contradictory, often wrong, surprisingly brave.

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It was midnight. I was alone on the train with an older woman and a younger woman. At Ten Mile River, one stop before the end of the line, the younger woman got off. We could see her move for the parking lot, sparse with dark cars, when she suddenly bolted. She ran for her life. I started, concerned, then noticed the older woman was watching impassively, until the younger finally got to her car.

There was no one after her but thousands of years of male [harassment]. Women reading this already know that. And I think the rest of us can agree it is indeed time to do whatever we can so women don’t have to run through the dark.

Charlize Theron, Nicole Kidman and Margot Robbie play women at Fox News during the Roger Ailes sexual-harassment scandal in “Bombshell.”


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