These stories are all heavily watched, which means they’re entertaining: The 2019 film Bombshell (about the predations of Roger Ailes), Apple TV’s The Morning Show (about a disgraced anchor), and Netflix’s Unbelievable (about reporting rape) and 13 Reasons Why (about teen suicide resulting from sexual assault). But what’s “entertaining” about sexual assault and harassment? What makes for a sensitive as opposed to a sensationalized portrayal?
Erica, Mark, and Brian consider which stories work and why. How much divergence from true events is allowable in Bombshell or Confirmation (about Anita Hill)? By having characters interpret their situations (Erica gives an example from the show Sex Education), are writers essentially telling audiences how to feel about their own experiences? Should certain depictions be ruled out as potentially triggering, or is it good to “bring to light” whatever terrible things actually happen in the world? Should shows delve into the psychology of the perpetrator (maybe even treating him as a protagonist), or must the message be wholly and unambiguously about the victim?
Art is about risk-taking and capturing difficult ambiguities; this doesn’t sound much like a public service message. So what responsibility to do show creators have to consult professionals about how to present difficult topics like this?
We drew on some articles to help us look at these questions:
- “Hollywood Taboo: A Review of Bombshell” by Spencer Hagaman
- “Megyn Kelly, Other Fox News Accusers Dissect ‘Bombshell’ In New Video” by Greg Evans
- “Unbelievable Has Delivered a Rare Honest Portrayal of Rape Survival on TV – It Should Be Our New Blueprint” by Harriet Hall
- “13 Reasons Why a Conversation About Rape Culture Is as Important as One About Suicide” by Alia Dastigir
- “Yes, ‘The Morning Show’ has a #MeToo problem. That’s the Best Thing About It” by Meredith Blake
- “The ‘13 Reasons Why’ Graphic Sexual-Assault Scene: Did the Show Go Too Far Again?” by Kevin Fallon
- “We’ve Seen Sexual Assault on TV Before—But Never Like This” by Jessica Radloff
- “TV’s Reckoning with #METOO” by Emily Nussbaum
- “From Harvey Weinstein to the New #MeToo Movies, True Justice Still Remains in the Realm of Fantasy” by Mary Elizabeth Williams
- “The Progress and Pitfalls of Television’s Treatment of Rape” by Maureen Ryan