In the wake of Atlanta Journal-Constitution Editor-in-Chief Kevin Riley disagreeing with factual plot points in Clint Eastwood’s Richard Jewell — specifically that reporter Kathy Scruggs traded sex with an FBI agent for a tip that Jewell was their lead suspect in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics bombing — Wilde pushed back against the criticism in a candid conversation with Deadline on Monday. Warner Bros has kept quiet on the contretemps, making Wilde the first person on the production side to speak up.
Alhough he hadn’t seen the film when he wrote them, Riley emailed trades and sounded the alarm about what he and his staff had heard about the depiction of the AJC and Scruggs, its late crime reporter who broke the story that hero security guard Jewell was the FBI’s prime suspect prime suspect. The resulting maelstrom upended the quiet life of Jewell, which is the basic plot of the movie. There is the strong suggestion that Scruggs (Wilde) had a sexual relationship with the FBI agent (Jon Hamm) who tipped her. “There is no evidence that this ever happened” regarding Scruggs’ quid pro quo, and “if the film portrays this, it’s offensive and deeply troubling in the #MeToo era,” Riley wrote.
In the movie, Hamm’s Tom Shaw and Scruggs are depicted as close associates. The scene in debate centers on Scruggs cozying up to Shaw in a bar, offering to sleep with him for information on the bombing. Shaw tells Scruggs,“Kathy, you couldn’t f*ck it out of them. What makes you think you could f*ck it out of me?”
For Wilde’s part, she was comfortable playing a complex character, and wonders why the same scrutiny isn’t being leveled at Hamm’s FBI agent. Wilde called it an unfair double standard.
“She was incredibly successful as a cop reporter. She had a very close relationship with the cops and the FBI helping to tell their story, and yes, by all accounts she had relationships with different people in that field,” Wilde told Deadline. “But what I resented was this character being boiled down to one inferred scene and I don’t hear anyone complaining about Jon Hamm’s character as being inferred that he also had a relationship with a reporter. It feels unfair that Kathy has been minimized in this way.
“I think that we are still struggling with allowing for female characters who aren’t entirely quote-unquote likable,” she said. “If there’s anything slightly questionable about a female character, we often use that in relation to condemn that character or to condemn the project for allowing for a woman to be impure in a way. It’s a misunderstanding of feminism to assume that all women have to be sexless. I resent the character being minimized to that point,” the Booksmart filmmaker added.
While Hamm’s character was reportedly an amalgamation of characters in Billy Ray’s script, the production used the name of Scruggs, who died in 2001.
Said Wilde: “I did an extraordinary amount of research about Kathy Scruggs, everything that I could get my hands on I devoured, I spoke to her colleagues, her friends, I spoke to the authors of the recent book about the event, Suspect, I spoke to Billy Ray, I spoke to [Vanity Fair reporter] Marie Brenner, I spoke to everybody I could to get a sense of who this woman was. And then what I discovered was that she was an incredibly intrepid, dogged reporter, a woman in 1996 who rose in the ranks of a newspaper. It’s not a very easy thing to do.”