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In the film, Wilde plays Kathy Scruggs, a reporter at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that first broke the news that Jewell (played by BlackKklansman actor Paul Walter Hauser) was a suspect in the Centennial Olympic Park bombing on July 27, 1996.
The journalist — portrayed as loud, brash and hunting for “something crimey going on anywhere” — offers to sleep with FBI agent Tom Shaw (Jon Hamm) in exchange for information about the investigation. Shaw provides Jewell’s name to Scruggs, then she asks if the two should get a hotel room or go back to her car. While they are never actually seen doing so, it is implied that they sleep together.
“I was asked to play the supporting role of Kathy Scruggs, who was, by all accounts, bold, smart, and fearlessly undeterred by the challenge of being a female reporter in the south in the 1990s. I cannot even contemplate the amount of sexism she may have faced in the way of duty,” tweeted Wilde. (Scruggs died in 2001.) “Contrary to a swath of recent headlines, I do not believe that Kathy ‘traded sex for tips.’ Nothing in my research suggested she did so, and it was never my intention to suggest she had. That would be an appalling and misogynistic dismissal of the difficult work she did.”
Wilde shared her personal reading of the relationship between Scruggs and Shaw that is seen in the film, writing, “The perspective of the fictional dramatization of the story, as I understood it, was that Kathy, and the FBI agent who leaked false information to her, were in a pre-existing romantic relationship, not a transactional exchange of sex for information.”
Wilde also took the time to clarify previous comments she made about her portrayal of Scruggs in the film, which included a comment to The Hollywood Reporter on the Gotham Awards red carpet, where she said, “I think people have a hard time accepting sexuality in female characters without allowing it to entirely define that character.”
On Twitter, Wilde noted that the meaning of her previous comments “were lost in translation,” adding, “I do not believe sex-positivity and professionalism are mutually exclusive. Kathy Scruggs was a modern, independent woman whose personal life should not detract from her accomplishments.”
She concluded her Twitter thread, offering, “I realize my opinions about Kathy, based on my own independent research, may differ from others involved with the film, but it was important to me to [make] my own position clear.”
Ahead of the film’s AFI Fest premiere, Kevin Riley, the current editor-in-chief of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, told THR that there is no evidence that the transaction ever happened. “At a time when journalism itself is under attack from a lot of corners, for a movie to fall into this kind of trope and reinforces a false stereotype — it is wrong,” he said.
Warner Bros.’ Richard Jewell is set to bow in theaters Friday.
As a child of journalists myself, I have deep respect for the essential work of all in their field, particularly today when the media is routinely attacked and discredited, and regional papers like the AJC are disappearing on a daily basis.
— olivia wilde (@oliviawilde) December 12, 2019
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