Kate McKinnon Finally Gets to Play an Actual Lesbian in “Bombshell”

As a person who group up inside the cult of Fox News, and who spent years researching it academically to write about it, and who remembers every moment of the 2016 election in excruciating detail, I had absolutely no desire to watch Bombshell — until Riese told me Kate McKinnon finally plays an actual lesbian in it. I’m not talking about dyke-y hair and gun-licking as subtext. I’m not talking about just her general way. I’m talking about Kate McKinnon’s character having sex with Margot Robbie’s character and their relationship becoming the most emotionally resonant thing in the entire movie.

Okay, first of all: Bombshell is not a good film. I should just tell you that upfront. Part of it — most of it maybe — is that it tries to make feminist heroes out of Megan Kelly (Charlize Theron) and Gretchen Carlson (Nicole Kidman), both of whom were instrumental in having Roger Ailes (and ultimately Bill O’Reilly) ousted from Fox News, but both of whom only did so after their careers were in peril, and after fueling white supremacy with outright lies and fear-mongering propaganda; and exhibiting unrepentant racism, xenophobia, misogyny, transphobia, and homophobia on a daily basis; and empowering the Republican Party’s descent into fascism. It’s almost nauseating to watch two women who used their platforms to attack victims and survivors for years hoist an imaginary #MeToo trophy in the air.

Director Jay Roach and screenwriter Charles Randolph actually seem to know this! It’s why Kate McKinnon’s character, Jess Carr, exists in the film at all! Jess is a lesbian. She’s a Hillary supporter. She watches Rachel Maddow. She quietly tries to warn Margot Robbie’s Kayla Pospisil — a composite character made up of the probably zillion white, blonde, blue-eyed evangelical Christians who have made their way from journalism majors at state schools in the south to Fox News’ intern program — about the rumors of the myriad ways a woman can be sexually harassed at the company. Not that Kayla actually needs to have it spelled out for her; Fox News is her family’s lifeblood, but Jess says it plainly: “You have to adopt the mentality of an Irish street cop. The world is a bad place, people are lazy morons, minorities are criminals, sex is sick but interesting. Ask yourself, ‘What would scare my grandmother or piss off my grandfather?’ And that’s a Fox story.”

Ironically enough, while Megan Kelly is making her way around the Fox News offices like the queen of the castle, Jess tells Kayla that she would love to work anywhere besides Fox, but it was the first place she got a job, and now that it’s on her resume, no other news organizations will take her seriously. That’s not the only way Jess is juxtaposed to Kelly, whom she never actually even speaks with. She looks after Kayla the best she can. She coaches her. She warns her what closed doors not to go behind. And when Kayla finds herself behind those doors, Jess refuses to pass judgment, offering only compassion for another of the countless women who fell victim to the most powerful predator in an industry full of predators. Kelly, meanwhile, tells Jess it’s not her responsibility to protect other women from the powerful men that she knows prey on them.

Jess and Kayla’s scenes exist almost as if they’re an entirely different movie.

But they’re not! They are wrapped up inside a frenetic, fourth wall-breaking script that spans the months before Trump won the Republican nomination, including his attacks on Megan Kelly, to the day Rupert Murdoch fired Ailes and took over the newsroom himself. Megan Kelly’s star is rising, Gretchen Carlson’s star is falling, they meet in the middle and refuse to take responsibility for the evil they’ve wrought in the world. Hey, but, they both hate Roger Ailes! Theron, Kidman, and Robbie are all great, of course (with Theron taking home the prize for best wig), but even they don’t seem quite sure who they’re making this movie for. It’s not liberals, who, I’m sure, mostly felt the same way I did when watching (annoyed and grossed out); or Fox News viewers, who don’t believe anything they don’t hear from Fox News itself. Maybe it’s for those mythical independent voters in the middle of the country?

If you’re going to watch Bombshell, there are some gay easter eggs to be on the lookout for. A wild Holland Taylor appears more than once. Brooke Smith, who you probably know best as Erica “You Are The Glasses” Hahn from Grey’s Anatomy is a fierce Fox lawyer. Brigette Lundy-Paine has a small role.

It’s fun to see Kate McKinnon playing gay for real. It’s fun to see a lesbian portrayed as the only person with an actual soul in a movie that stars basically every white woman who’s ever been on TV at some point. It’s fun to watch powerful men get destroyed. What’s not fun is watching bad people take down worse people for self-serving reasons and get treated as heroes for doing it.

Heather Hogan is an Autostraddle senior writer who lives in New York City with her partner, Stacy, and their cackle of rescued pets. She's a member of the Television Critics Association, the Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and a Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer critic. You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Heather has written 1005 articles for us.

9 Comments

  1. When we saw the trailer for this in the theater, when it ended I said loudly, “Can’t we just watch Ocean’s 8 again?” and everyone laughed with me. Great for McKinnon’s character but I am so not interested in a sympathetic portrayal of the rest of those white women who have caused so much harm.

  2. I saw the film and as much as I hate Megyn Kelly as a person and as a character, there is no denying that what she did despite her motives helped to fuel a much needed movement. I don’t think the movie seeks to make Gretchen or Megyn sympathetic or even likable but it does seek to show the complexity of humanity. Something good can come from a steaming pile of shit and the good should be celebrated but the shit and its source(s) must never be forgotten.

    • I really liked that the heroes (Kelly and Carlson and all the unnamed women) in the story weren’t SUPERheroes. They are flawed. We don’t necessarily like them, maybe even hate them (I never have watched FOX, so I only know their names and a few select stories about them). But they DID take great risk to tell their story in hopes of making a difference. They got a ball moving, but as the epilogue in the credits spells out, men are still more valued. Life is messy and I like films that aren’t neatly cut and dried, black and white.

      I only went to see this for Kate, not gonna lie (and I’ve seen it three times, thank you AMC Stubs A-List pass)…but I enjoyed it. It wasn’t a great film, and some of the artistic choices (like the onscreen FOX logo/bug to illustrate what Kate and Margot were talking about) were odd.

      I do wish that Kate/Margot’s relationship and dynamic were explored more, but maybe there will be room for that in a future film with Kate (fingers crossed). I was just happy to see her doing drama…and to find out that she was portraying a realistic lesbian and her story, I was over the moon!

      I think it’s definitely worth watching, even if you wait for it to hit the streaming services.

      • I hope what you say is true Rooty and Ekwoman. It’s kind of staggering and confusing to read the contrast between this two reactions and the article itself. Which I honestly found rather disappointing.

        I do thinks it’s a bit mistake to make the heroes of any resistance story seem like paragons of virtue, especially with stories based on real events. If the movie has exaggerated the role of Kelly and Carlson to make them like better or more influential than the really wore, then I could believe it’s not a good movie. (In case you haven’t guest, I’ve yet to see it myself and not yet sure it I will).

        But that’s not what I get it here. All I get is this, “this movie make awful people look good because they took on worse people. You all know why their awful. I don’t need to site example. So who cares.” As somebody barely knows anything about Carlson and can only name maybe two or three asinine statements by Kelly that I personally found to be tone death, but hateful, I think the less familiar reader who barely ever watched Fox News deserves a little more to go on.

        Frankly even if they were as bad as you say, does that mean this stories isn’t worth telling? If it’s not being told well that’s one thing, but that doesn’t mean it’s not interesting or worth caring about. It’s like saying a movie about the Russian Army winning a victory over the Nazi’s is bad because …they were still Commies! This it the kind of shrillness that I’d actually expect from…well Fox News. Even if I prefer what you stand for WAAAAAY more than them, that’s doesn’t mean I like it’s any better here. I’m sorry to say. I generally shy away from political labels even if I tend to take what are deemed liberal stances, but if this makes me seem more like an independent well than so be it.

        Just one question though. Were Kelly or Carlson themselves sexual harassed or worse or did just learn about what was happening to others? Because it they were, then that makes the position here a little more disturbing. It’s suggest that only stories about the RIGHT kind of victims are worth caring about. I can understand not wanting to see a story about rape survivors who were Nazi’s, but just there not the most sympathetic people doesn’t automatically mean their stories can’t be important or enlightening. The test of a movies merit is not what it’s about. It’s HOW it’s about.

  3. Gee, did we see different movies? I found this zine because I was looking for info on the Kate McKinnon character, a nuanced discussion of the most interesting character in the film. I find nothing remotely accurate in this review. Compassion for Robbie’s character, who begs, crying for some? It looke like aloof saness at nit gettung laid again because Robbie develope baggage. The film’s device of having Robbie’s call come from a phone showing “Bill O’Reilly” foreshadows the inifference of the McKinnon chraracter. Would she have answered otherwise? An I can harly comprehend her refusal to comfort or acknowledge the rape that her “friend” has just endured and is trying to tell her about is as far from my idea of “not passing judgement,” as I can imagine. The lesbian was a cold, hard bitch. Why this is how she was portrayed is worth discussing. But, I also cannot imagine how you can publish with the fifth word of the story lead a mistake: “As a person who group up inside….” I am not sure what this could mean. Grew up, I get.

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