Hollywood is filled with problematic cliches and one that refuses to die is the old “ambitious, career-focused woman who will do anything to move up her world, even if it means sleeping her way there.” Olivia Wilde’s new biopic, Richard Jewell, employs this tired trope and unsurprisingly, it’s led to some unsavoury comments and defences over the movie’s perceived sexism.
Without diving into spoiler territory, the actress plays real-life journalist Kathy Scruggs and the film reportedly depicts her offering to sleep with a source in exchange for a scoop related to the movie’s titular character – which is a big no no for a journalist to do and a major breach of ethics.
There’s really no defence to be made of this depiction of female journalists in Richard Jewell, yet Olivia Wilde tried anyway and the results weren’t pretty.
Chatting to Variety about this dodgy depiction of Scruggs in Richard Jewell, Wilde says “it’s a shame that she has been reduced to one inferred moment in the film” and tried to make the case that the one’s dissing the movie are in fact the wrong ones:
“It’s a basic misunderstanding of feminism as pious, sexlessness. It happens a lot to women; we’re expected to be one-dimensional if we are to be considered feminists. There’s a complexity to Kathy, as there is to all of us, and I really admired her.”
It’s tough to see how her point relates to the film and its allegation that a female journalist breached the most basic of journalism ethics, but she tried her hardest to make a point:
“She was incredibly dogged and intrepid. She was famous to getting to crime scenes before the police. She was also a woman working in the news in 1996; yeah, she had relationships with people she worked with.
“That’s pretty common in any industry. I don’t see the same thing happening to Jon Hamm’s character, who arguably does the exact same thing. I have nothing but respect for Kathy Scruggs, she’s no longer with us, so I feel a certain amount of responsibility to protect her legacy and tell people: ‘Back off. Don’t reduce her to this one thing.'”
But as unsavoury as Olivia Wilde’s defence of Richard Jewell is, she shouldn’t even be defending the film in any shape or form in the first place.
Following all this sexist hooplah depicted in Richard Jewell, Kevin Riley, editor-in-chief of The Atlanta Journal Constitution which is newspaper where the real-life Scruggs worked at, has come out and said that the film is a load of crap.
Speaking to Indiewire, Riley says “there is no evidence” that Scruggs ever offered to bang a source for info and called the film’s depiction of it “offensive and deeply troubling in the #MeToo era.” before praising Scruggs as “an aggressive reporter and committed journalist who sought always to beat her competition.”
“Perpetuating false tropes about female reporters and journalism itself shouldn’t go unchallenged in a time when our profession finds itself under almost constant attack.”
This means that the onus on defending the highly-questionable choice to depict Scruggs as an unethical journalist willing to sleep with people for info in Richard Jewell falls on the person who made that creative choice in the first place.
And the person who made that choice is none other than director Clint Eastwood.
Olivia Wilde shouldn’t be the one having to make up excuses as to why Scruggs is sleeping around with sources. She’s there to do a good job and to talk it up.
What people should be doing is asking Eastwood why an old white man with conservative beliefs made the decision – or was given the leeway – to reduce a tenacious and complex woman like Kathy Scruggs to an old Hollywood cliche.