It was Easter morning in 2013 when Robyn Doolittle, then a reporter for the Toronto Star, received a phone call from a man who said he had a video of Toronto Mayor Rob Ford smoking crack cocaine. She was one of the first reporters to view the now-notorious video, which sparked headlines worldwide and made Ford the subject of international ridicule. Ford died of cancer in 2016.
In total, Doolittle spent four years covering the controversial politician’s many scandals. “I’ve spent half of my career devoted to his story. I’ve written hundreds of thousands of words about Mr. Ford and his time at city hall, including a book,” she wrote after his death. “If you happen to recognize my name, it is because of him.”
So Doolittle, now a reporter for the Globe and Mail, was taken aback Tuesday when she heard the news that in an upcoming film, a male actor would be playing the role of a reporter investigating the Ford scandal.
The movie, called “Run This Town,” tells the story of a young aspiring journalist in a post-recession Toronto who struggles to chase the story on Ford’s crack-smoking scandal, the film’s 32-year-old director, Ricky Tollman, told the Canadian Press. Ford, who is played by Damian Lewis of “Homeland,” is only in a few scenes, and his scandal serves merely as a backdrop to the main plot.
The journalist, a fictional newsroom intern, is played by Ben Platt, of the Broadway musical “Dear Evan Hansen.” The drama is being shot in Toronto. Canadian actors Nina Dobrev and Mena Massoud play the mayor’s aides, who try to suppress the story from publication, according to the Hollywood Reporter.
“I’m glad they’re rewriting the fact that it was a female reporter who investigated Rob Ford,” Doolittle tweeted sarcastically after headlines emerged about the film. “Why have a woman be a lead character when a man could do it?”
She clarified that she’s not “begrudging” Platt, “just about the move in general: obviously I’m biased, but man, I’ve seen a lot of stories by male reporters celebrated in movies …”
Doolittle then shared a tweet that said a female reporter would “have to fall in love with Rob Ford, and that would be very difficult to write.”
“The female reporter always has to fall in love or sleep with someone,” she tweeted in agreement. She also said she could not respond to requests for comment because “I’m on maternity leave and gotta put down the electronics.”
The film’s director told the Canadian Press he was surprised by the criticism, particularly from those who assumed it told the true story of reporters who investigated Ford. Platt’s character, Tollman said, is not based on anyone at “the Toronto Star, or the Globe and Mail, or Gawker, the people who were really on the case, this isn’t their story.”
He said that “people took three words out of the description of the film and spun it into something that it’s not, without having read the script.”
Platt also responded to the criticism with a statement on Twitter, saying he felt the need to correct false assumptions, as “much of the hate has been directed towards me.” He said the film focuses on three fictional young people, including himself, Dobrev and Massoud “trying to find a place in the world of politics and journalism.”
“In one of the story lines, I play a low-level reporter at a fictional paper that attempts, and ultimately fails, to be a part of the reporting of the scandal,” he said. “The character is in no way based on Robyn Doolittle and the film does not attempt to co-opt her narrative.”
“It is historical fiction — it is not a Rob Ford biopic nor a retelling of the successful reporting on the Rob Ford scandal by Robyn Doolittle,” Platt also said. “That in and of itself is an incredibly worthy and fascinating story, but it’s not the one we are telling, nor would I ever agree to be a part of a film that would attribute the accomplishments of a remarkable woman to a fictional man.”
Even after clarifications from Platt and the director, several reporters and others posted Twitter messages backing up Doolittle. Some noted that although many reporters investigated Ford’s troubled term as mayor, Doolittle is “widely credited” with helping break the crack scandal.
“Robyn Doolittle was THE reporter digging into this story and it was also her that took on the consequences and attacks from Rob Ford,” one tweet said.
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