Clint Eastwood’s historical drama Richard Jewell misses the mark.
The film follows the story of Richard Jewell, a security guard wrongly accused of the Centennial Olympic Park bombing after he found the explosive device and alerted authorities. Originally hailed a hero, Jewell ends up named as a suspect in the bombing. What the film unfortunately misses is the historical significance of the real bomber, Eric Rudolph, who not only terrorized the 1996 Summer Olympics but was an anti-choice extremist who targeted abortion clinics and LGBTQ people.
The film, of course, focuses on Jewell’s life and his fight against the FBI and the media, which wrongly suspected him of involvement in the attack. While it’s compelling on a surface level, by erasing Rudolph’s actions against LGBTQ people and abortion providers, the film fails from a political and cultural lens.
Between 1996 and 1998, Rudolph committed four acts of domestic terrorism in the South. While Eastwood’s film focuses on Rudolph’s attack on the 1996 Summer Olympics, his other bombings targeted abortion clinics in Georgia and Alabama and a lesbian bar in Atlanta called Otherside Lounge. The film leaves out these crucial details.
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This choice is especially disappointing considering the constant threat of violence that looms over these communities. Every year, reproductive justice advocates honor the legacies of Dr. George Tiller and Dr. David Gunn—abortion providers who were murdered by anti-choice extremists and domestic terrorists. In 2015, a shooter targeted Planned Parenthood in Colorado Springs, killing three people and injuring eight. Earlier this year, a domestic terrorist committed arson at the Planned Parenthood clinic in Columbia, Missouri. The National Abortion Federation reported 1,369 incidents of violence against abortion providers in 2018.
From my experience as a clinic escort for West Alabama Women’s Center in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, I have seen anti-choice violence continue to rise at abortion clinics. Not only have I witnessed this violence, but I’ve been targeted by it too. Anti-choice protesters have stalked clinic escorts and threatened them with violence for years, at times even following through with their threats. And it doesn’t seem to be stopping any time soon. So when I watched Richard Jewell, I saw a missed opportunity to address the violence that continues to affect abortion providers and advocates every day.
The film’s omission of Rudolph’s 1997 bombing of Otherside Lounge, a lesbian bar in Atlanta, was a missed opportunity to address the violence and terrorism experienced by LGBTQ communities. FBI data shows an increase in anti-LGBTQ hate crimes in 2018, a year in which at least 28 transgender people in the United States were violently killed.
The film fails to address the anti-LGBTQ violence committed by the real bomber. It does, however, show the FBI’s homophobic attempt to frame Jewell as a gay man whose “lover” was his accomplice in the bombing. In the movie, Jewell and his family react negatively to the accusation, and he insists to the FBI agent, “I am not a homosexual.” In the context of a movie that ignores Rudolph’s anti-LGBTQ terrorism, the way it depicts—without truly interrogating—the FBI agents’ homophobic theory strikes an uncomfortable note.
Staying true to the film’s unintentional theme of erasure, updates are provided on Jewell’s life at the end of the film—he died in 2007 from medical complications of diabetes. No mention is made of Alice Hawthorne, who died in the Centennial Park bombing, or Melih Uzunyol, a Turkish cameraman who died from a heart attack as he ran to the scene.
The real-life victims of the act of terrorism are ignored, just as the film doesn’t even make mention of the real bomber and his other acts of violence and hatred. Eastwood’s movie leaves Rudolph’s actions—an important chapter in the history of anti-abortion violence—largely unknown to a wider audience.