‘Bombshell’, Based on the Sexual Harassment at Fox News, Hits Home
When Fox News’ founder Roger Ailes in the movie Bombshell asks a young woman, Kayla Pospisil, to show him her legs, the women sitting in the theatre collectively gasped. Perhaps partially because of the horror of the scene, but also, on some level, because of the degree to which the scene didn’t seem implausible.
Ailes eventually has his way with Kayla as he coerces her into showing him her underpants — again, a scene that got to almost every woman watching the movie.
An accused sexual predator and one of the biggest newsmen that America had ever seen, Ailes was a man who wasn’t easy to call out. Yet, several women did come together to bring down the now dead Ailes.
But why in the first place do men believe that it is okay to sexually harass women at the workplace? Is it a lack of fear of consequences or a result of the all-pervasive patriarchal society? Probably, a bit of both.
The Eerie Similarities to the MJ Akbar Case
Bombshell, a film by Jay Roach, based on the scandalous life of Roger Ailes, comes at a time when the world needed a bit of a reminder of how sexual harassment at workplace is still alive and kicking. It is also a reminder of the fact that irrespective of what spectrum of the political affiliation a woman belongs to, sexual harassment will follow her.
The film is told from the perspective of Fox News’ star anchor Megyn Kelly, played by Charlize Theron, who takes the viewer through the dynamics of Fox’s newsroom.
Right from the word go, one is assured of Ailes’ unscrupulous powers and the sexist nature of the newsroom.
The toxicity of the Fox newsroom seemed eerily similar to what women have testified in court about former BJP minister and founder of Asian Age newspaper MJ Akbar. Akbar has dismissed all the allegations.
“Sometime in August 1997, in the afternoon, Akbar called me to his room. As I went in, he asked me to shut the door. Then, he asked me to look up a word in the dictionary which was placed on a low three-legged stool across his desk. It was placed so low that one had to bend down. When I bent down, he came from behind and grabbed my waist. He ran his hands from my breasts to my hips. I tried to push his hands away but they were firmly planted on my waist. He then pushed his thumb on my breast. Not only was the door shut, even his back was towards the door.”Senior journalist Ghazala Wahab testified in court against MJ Akbar in the ongoing Priya Ramani-Akbar defamation case
Just like many young women employees at Fox, Wahab too claimed that she was allegedly mentally tortured by Akbar.
“The minute I entered, he immediately held me by my shoulder and forcefully tried to kiss me. I was speechless with fear but continued to push against him. He finally released me, I ran out howling. Seema Mustafa, the bureau chief, said she wasn’t surprised by MJ Akbar’s behaviour and said that she couldn’t do anything about it. She said it was my call what I wanted to do. I was 26 then, alone, confused and helpless and petrified. Asian Age had no mechanism in place to hear matters of sexual harassment. It had no sexual harassment policy or committee. I was on my own. Not only was Akbar the editor-in-chief, he had also been an MP and former spokesperson of the Congress.”Senior journalist Ghazala Wahab testified in court against Akbar in the ongoing Priya Ramani-Akbar defamation case
Bombshell too sheds light upon the fictitious ‘helpline’ in Fox to register sexual harassment complaints against Ailes. The film talks about the ways in which women were spied on so as to avoid any possibility of them ganging up against Ailes.
Just like the accusations that build up against Akbar in India, women spoke out against Ailes.
The Carlson-Ramani Equivalent
Gretchen Carlson, played by Nicole Kidman, who is fired by Fox for trying to do stories that speak to ‘real’ women (which is anathema to Ailes), is also a sexual harassment survivor. However, after she is fired, she decides to take action against Ailes.
In India, after MJ Akbar was accused of sexual harassment by senior journalist Priya Ramani, several women came forward with their stories; one of them even accused him of rape. However, in India, the women did not get to file a lawsuit against Akbar; he instead filed a criminal defamation case against Ramani for ‘damaging his reputation’.
The Akbar-Ramani case is up for final arguments in court in January this year, where the woman who accused a man of power of sexual harassment has to prove her innocence.
Bombshell ends at a very symbolic point – Ailes is fired, but his top boss, Rupert Murdoch, doesn’t even acknowledge the fact that he was accused of sexual harassment. And that’s, perhaps, the situation across the world.
A month after Akbar was accused of sexual harassment in the wake of the #MeToo movement in 2018, he had started writing opinion pieces and editorials for newspapers. Most of the others who were accused have also been rehabilitated.
But that does little to take away from the courage women have shown in the movement.
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