Tonya Harding has been inescapable lately. Seemingly everywhere you look, there’s Tonya! For weeks now, ABC News has been running promo clips on TV and social media for its two-hour special, Truth and Lies: The Tonya Harding Story, that aired Thursday night. The movie I, Tonya recently hit theaters nationwide. Oh, and if you were watching the Golden Globes on Sunday, there she was yucking it up with Allison Janney, who won the best supporting actress award for her depiction of Harding’s mother in the film.
It’s clear the two-time Olympian, 47, is trying her best to seize the moment and make the most of her shot at redemption. She speaks extensively about numerous aspects of her life in the ABC News special and is the subject of a major profile by Taffy Brodesser-Akner in The New York Times this week. And, as the network’s footage of her on the ice proves, she can still skate with much of the grace and power that made a her a world champion, almost a quarter of a century after the scandal that brought her down.
But is something more than that going on with the Harding P.R. blitz? Is Hollywood going out of its way to rehabilitate Harding — and fudging the facts while doing so?
USA Today columnist Christine Brennan, a veteran and award-winning journalist who has written several books on competitive figure skating, has been highly critical of the way Harding is being portrayed in the media all these years after she was a central figure in one of the biggest scandals and media frenzies of its time.
Brennan has gone so far as to suggest that Hollywood is trying to “rewrite” Harding’s biography in a less than factual way. In her latest column, Brennan points to Janney’s acceptance speech at the Globes in which she said, “I don’t think the figure skating world embraced her or wanted her to succeed because they didn’t think she represented the kind of woman they wanted to represent the figure skating community, that they wanted to represent America.” Brennan urges Janney to revisit the facts, noting that Harding competed in two Olympics, a rarity, and was given enthusiastic support by U.S. figure skating and the Olympic committee and the judges who sent her to the Olympics with the hopes of her being successful.
“Hollywood’s attempt to rehabilitate Tonya Harding is fascinating,” Brennan said in a post on Twitter, and ridiculous.” She told ABC she knew the knuckleheads around her were going to attack Nancy Kerrigan and didn’t stop it. She doesn’t deserve an ounce of sympathy.”
Brennan also highlights some facts that the filmmakers conveniently left out of the movie. “As you laugh at the “I, Tonya” movie,” Brennan wrote in another tweet, “remember that Tonya’s knuckleheads talked at one point about killing Nancy Kerrigan. Yes, killing her. The movie just happens to leave that fact out,” she said, with “knuckleheads” being a reference to Harding’s ex-husband Jeff Gillooly and his associate, Shawn Eckardt, who pleaded guilty for their involvement in the case. Brennan echoed that sentiment in an interview onThe Skating Lesson podcast hosted by Jennifer Kirk and Dave Lease, worrying that key parts of the film were dramatized to make the audience feel sorry for Harding.
And that brings us to Kerrigan. Last year, she said Harding has never afforded her the courtesy of a face-to-face apology. This year, she seems to be over it all. When reached by Dan Shaughnessy of The Boston Globe this week, Kerrigan told him, “I really have nothing to say about it. I haven’t seen anything. I haven’t watched anything. I’ve been busy. I was at the national [figure skating] championships this week so I didn’t watch the Golden Globes. I haven’t seen the movie. I’m just busy living my life.’’
Shaughnessy then asked her how she feels about Hollywood’s depiction of Harding. Kerrigan seemed to suggest that the narrative seemed to be overlooking who the real victim was.
“I don’t know,’’ Kerrigan replied. “At this point, it’s so much easier and better to just be … it’s not really part of my life. As you say, I was the victim. Like, that’s my role in this whole thing. That’s it. “It is weird, that’s for sure. A bizarre thing. The whole thing was crazy, being that it’s a story. I mean, come on.’’
Harding is certain of how she feels about her newfound fame. She loves the movie — she described it as “magnificent” — that finally materialized after she sold the rights to her life story for $1,500 and a cut of the profits. But, like Brennan, she has some factual quibbles with the film. “Trust me, I don’t say the word [expletive] 120 times a day. That might come out once in a while when something really bad happens or I hurt myself. I mean, the movie portrayed me as this person who cussed every 10 seconds and I don’t cuss like that,” Harding said.
Harding, meanwhile, is happy to strike a defiant tone in the interviews she’s been giving. “I moved from Oregon to Washington because Oregon was buttheads,” she said in the Times interview, discussing the difficulty she’s had shaking her public image. Akner then reports that Harding put on a mocking tone and added, “I disappointed them. It’s like, how can I disappoint a whole state? Wait a second, how can I disappoint a whole country?”
What’s clear is that Harding is and will forever be a complex figure. And as Brennan quipped to The Washington Post, “This might be the one story in the 20th century that did not need Twitter or Facebook to make it as crazy as it was.”
Below, watch the ABC News documentary and decide for yourself.
CORRECTION: The Skating Lesson podcast is hosted by Jennifer Kirk and Dave Lease, not former Olympic skater Brian Orser as a previous version of this story suggested.