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Amid criticism that representation of real-life journalist Kathy Scruggs in the upcoming biopic “Richard Jewell” paints an unflattering picture, Olivia Wilde is standing by the portrayal of her character.
The movie (in theaters Dec. 13), tells the story of security guard Richard Jewell (played by Paul Walter Hauser), who quickly went from hero to prime suspect in the 1996 deadly Summer Olympics bombing in Atlanta’s Centennial Olympic Park. He was later was exonerated of any suspicion.
Wilde plays Scruggs, a reporter for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution who, in one scene, offers to sleep with an FBI agent (Jon Hamm) in exchange for information about the bombing. The real-life Scruggs died in 2001, and her movie portrayal isn’t sitting well with her old newspaper.
“Kathy was an outstanding reporter who worked to get one of the biggest stories in a history,” Kevin Riley, editor-in-chief of The AJC, told USA TODAY. “She is certainly not a one dimensional character, but the film turns her into an offensive Hollywood trope.”
USA TODAY has reached out to director Clint Eastwood’s representative for comment.
Speaking to Variety on Monday night at the Gotham Awards, Wilde, 35, said she thought it was “a shame” that Scruggs “has been reduced to one inferred moment in the film.
“It’s a basic misunderstanding of feminism as pious, sexlessness,” she said. “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 said she heavily researched her role, emphasizing Scruggs’ “dynamic, multidimensional, nuanced personality.”
“She was famous to getting to crime scenes before the police. 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,” said Wilde, whose mother, Leslie Cockburn, is a longtime, Emmy Award-winning investigative journalist.
“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.’ “
Riley argued Wilde is comparing apples to oranges: Hamm’s character, who isn’t directly based on a singular FBI agent, is fictional.
“I think it’s important to understand that in the film, Olivia Wilde plays a character named Kathy Scruggs, which was our reporter’s actual name. She’s representing a real person in the film,” Riley added. “I think when you play the role of a real person who is now dead, it seems to carry a different weight.”
He concluded: “I hope that everyone who sees the film takes the time to find out what really happened. The filmmakers passed up a chance to do a thoughtful examination of what happened in a very dramatic story. Instead, they chose to make up inaccurate details that will ultimately mislead people who go to see the film. I hope people are interested in the truth.”
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