By Julia Milet
Antonio Campos, in his upcoming film, narrates the unknown story of Christine Chubbuck, a TV presenter who took her life on live television in 1974.
In keeping with Channel 40’s policy of bringing you the latest in blood and guts — and in living colour — you’re going to see another first: attempted suicide.” These were Christine Chubbuck’s last words before she pulled out a .38 Smith and Wesson and shot herself in the head.
Very few people have heard about Christine Chubbuck. She staged one of the most shocking deaths in history. On July 15 1974, she was the first person to commit suicide on live television. She was the newscaster of Suncoast Digest on Channel 40, a TV station from Florida.
Today, there are still no concrete reasons for why she took her life. It was known that she was dealing with depression and anxiety. In spite of becoming a myth, her act was a cry for help that no one responded to. Now her story is still ignored by American citizens.
Antonio Campos, an American film director, decided to roll up his sleeves to deepen into the presenter’s story and explore the causes of her death. In an interview with Indiewire he explained that he knew very little about the factors in her suicide. His upcoming film, Christine, is a way to give the best explanation possible by digging deeper into her mind and past life. Rebecca Hall plays the lead role in the movie.
Christine’s family was aware she was suffering from depression. However, her mother Peg (J. Smith-Cameron) seemed to be more worried about her daughter’s virginity at 29 years-old than accepting the fact Christine was diagnosed with anxiety. Peg decided to not talk about her issue to Channel 40’s team to prevent Christine from being fired.
On the top of that, the presenter constantly disagreed with her producers on how to report stories and was also deeply in love with her co-worker George Peter Ryan (Michael C. Hall). She believed George felt the same way about her until she found out he was dating sports reporter Andrea Kirby.
The movie director understood her depression caused her death. However, no one ever considered this might have come from the pressure of her environment. In Campos’ movie, he does not portray an anxious newscaster, but a victim of Richard Nixon’s America.
In the United States of the 1970s, the President himself was reluctant to empower women. Feminine figures were doomed to become housewives. Christine did not fit in any of the categories others had about women’s status in the 1970s. Not only she was not responding to her mother’s expectations, but she was also working in a male-dominated environment where sexism was not only tolerated but normal.
The film opens with Christine pretending to interview President Richard Nixon. The scene shows she focuses more on her nodding than the interviewee’s possible answers. The fact the newscaster is so concerned about her appearance demon-strates that she has been brainwashed by the sexist mentality of her television pro-ducers. Overall, she was exploited by Nixon’s sexualised politics.
In the movie, the issue of sexism in the media landscape is notably shown with a specific scene. Campos films Christine and her station chief, Michael (Tracy Letts). Christine is tired of being manipulated by the channel and wants to cover more hard-hitting news. She wants to be taken seriously. But Michael laughs in her face, careless about her beliefs. The station chief argues in the scene that talk-ing louder than other guys will not take her to bigger markets, even though she is smarter than the rest of the male crew. In any case, there is no way out for her.
A few years after her death Christine’s brother, Greg, said she hated how stories were sensationalised in her job. In her opinion everything was always vulgar and exaggerated and truth was just not one of the show’s values. Christine was a hard-working woman who had big dreams in a prejudiced society. No matter what she accomplished, she would fail because she was a woman.
What is the most frightening in this story is that nothing has changed. A newscast-er killed herself live in 1974, raising the issue of sexism and voyeurism in broad-cast television, and the situation remained pretty much the same.
In 2017, her death attracts only curiosity. People are fascinated about the fact there is a video out there of a women shooting herself in the head live. They don’t care about understanding Christine’s story. Campos’ film was released in the United States on the 14th of October 2016 and had barely any media coverage, yet it is one of his biggest productions. More than forty years after this suicide, people to-day are still eager to see what they wanted to see back then: something bloody, vulgar and sensational.
Christine, by Antonio Campos (released on the 27th of January 2017)