Clint Eastwood’s “Richard Jewell” does not open until mid-December, but it’s already at the center of controversy due to its depiction of Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporter Kathy Scruggs, played in the movie by Olivia Wilde. The script, written by Billy Ray, suggests Scruggs offered to sleep with an FBI agent (Jon Hamm) in exchange for news information. The FBI agent responds, “Kathy, you couldn’t fuck it out of them. What makes you think you could fuck it out of me?” The line suggests Scruggs had a history of offering sex for scoops. The film also implies that Scruggs and the FBI agent have already slept together.
Scruggs’ portrayal in the film has been condemned by Kevin Riley, the current editor in chief of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Riley said in a statement to IndieWire “there is no evidence that this ever happened” and called the film’s suggestion that Scruggs traded sex for news info “offensive and deeply troubling in the #MeToo era.” Film critics have also slammed the movie for its depiction of Scruggs.
“I think it’s a shame that she has been reduced to one inferred moment in the film,” Wilde told Variety at the Gotham Awards when asked about the “Richard Jewell” backlash. “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.”
Wilde added, “I did a ton of research, I really embraced her dynamic, multidimensional nuanced personality. She was incredibly dogged and intrepid. She was famous for getting to crime scenes before the police.”
The actress suggested that there is a sexist bent to the “Richard Jewell” backlash considering everyone is taking her character to task, while leaving Jon Hamm’s FBI agent out of the conversation.
Wilde said, “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.’”
Warner Bros. is opening “Richard Jewell” in theaters nationwide December 13.