The trope of female reporters sleeping with a source to get information isn't at all a new one. It's been a thing for years. Just watch House of Cards, Thank You For Smoking, Sharp Objects, Gilmore Girls, or Scoop. Heck, Shauna Malwae Tweep even did it in Season 1 of Parks and Recreation.
But in all of these situations, these were fictional stories. Here's why the controversy around the new Richard Jewell movie is causing a bigger stir.
Richard Jewell, Clint Eastwood's latest movie, is causing controversy around a real life reporter's story.
Richard Jewell tells the story of a security guard (Paul Walter Hauser) who was billed both a hero and a prime suspect in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics bombing.
Though initially treated as a hero in helping to stop the bombing, he was invested by the F.B.I. for having a potential connection to it. When media publications were informed about the developing situation, they reported on his new status as the prime suspect. He became hounded by the press and many believe that he was vilified by them as well.
That stance is greatly reflected by the film, which includes a line by Richard's lawyer Watson Bryant (Sam Rockwell) that says, "His accusers are two of the most powerful forces in the world. The United States government and the media." When reporter Kathy Scruggs (Olivia Wilde) says that she was just reporting the facts, Watson says to her that she ruined Richard's life.
But it's the very portrayal of Kathy that has caused a storm to brew around the film. Kathy was a real reporter that broke the news about Richard. But fictional Kathy did something that real life Kathy didn't: sleep with her source.
Kathy's newspaper Atlanta Journal-Constitution is asking Warner Bros. to issue a warning that her role was dramatized.
Kathy passed away in 2001. Part of the issue surrounding her character in the upcoming film is the fact that she cannot speak for herself or defend any actions, whether true or not. In the film, she offers to have sex with F.B.I. agent Tom Shaw (Jon Hamm) in exchange for the name of the F.B.I.'s prime suspect in the bombing.
Her paper, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, is speaking for her and issued a letter to Warner Bros. and Clint Eastwood demanding that they provide a proper disclaimer in the film that Kathy's role was dramatized.
Unfortunately for them, Warner Bros. addressed their letter by saying that, "It is unfortunate and the ultimate irony that the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, having been a part of the rush to judgment of Richard Jewell, is now trying to malign our filmmakers and cast. ‘Richard Jewell’ focuses on the real victim, seeks to tell his story, confirm his innocence and restore his name. The AJC’s claims are baseless and we will vigorously defend against them.”
As it stands, Warner Bros. has not directly addressed Kathy in their response, but it should be noted that the film already has a disclaimer saying, "The film is based on actual historical events. Dialogue and certain events and characters contained in the film were created for the purposes of dramatization," although that also doesn't directly address Kathy.
Olivia Wilde, who plays Kathy, says that the backlash around the character is unfounded.
Speaking to The Hollywood Reporter, Olivia said that it all comes down to people being too focused on a woman's sexuality.
"I think people have a hard time accepting sexuality in female characters without allowing it to entirely define that character," she said. "Kathy Scruggs is an incredibly dynamic, nuanced, dogged, intrepid reporter. By no means was I intending to suggest that as a female reporter, she needed to use her sexuality."
She went on to say that she does think "it's interesting that when audiences recognize sexuality within a character, they immediately, when it’s a woman, allow it to define her, and I think we should stop doing that and allow for nuance. It’s sort of a misunderstanding of feminism to expect women to become pious and sexless."
Richard Jewell is in theaters Dec. 13.