Bombshell, the Oscar-nominated biographical drama directed by Jay Roach, is inspired by the real-life sexual harassment allegations brought against Roger Ailes, the former chief executive and chairman of Fox News.
Starring Charlize Theron as Megyn Kelly, then a star anchor on the network, Nicole Kidman as Gretchen Carlson, another former Fox News household name, and Margot Robbie as the fictional Kayla Pospisil, a new employee on the channel, Bombshell comes two years after the lawsuit that prompted a headline-making sexual harassment scandal – and Ailes’s resignation from the network.
In real life, Carlson, once a co-host on the famous Fox & Friends programme (a daily morning news talk show), sued Ailes in July 2016. Ailes, a former Republican political consultant, had been hired by Rupert Murdoch to lead the network in 1996, the year Fox News first aired. As reflected in Bombshell, Ailes (portrayed in the film by John Lithgow) was considered a TV legend, and more specifically, the man who had shaped Fox News into its contemporary form.
In her lawsuit, Carlson alleged that she had been demoted and let go from Fox after complaining about harassment in the workplace and rejecting sexual advances by Ailes. The suit was settled for a reported $20m and with a public apology from the network.
In the wake of Carlson’s filing, other women spoke out – some publicly, some anonymously. A July 2016 investigation by The New York Times states that the newspaper “spoke with about a dozen women who said they had experienced some form of sexual harassment or intimidation at Fox News or the Fox Business Network, and half a dozen more who said they had witnessed it”. A spokeswoman for 21st Century Fox told the paper: “As we’ve made clear, there’s absolutely no room anywhere at our company for behaviour that disrespects women or contributes to an uncomfortable work environment.”
Kelly didn’t speak to the press at the time but shared her own account in her memoir, which was published in November 2016. In the book, Kelly alleges that Ailes “made physical advances toward [her]”, made “inappropriate sexually charged comments”, and eventually “tried to grab [her] repeatedly” and “kiss [her] on the lips”.
Ailes denied the allegations against him. He resigned from Fox News in July 2016 and died in May 2017 aged 77 of complications from a subdural hematoma.
Bombshell has snagged several Oscars nominations ahead of the 9 February ceremony. Charlize Theron is up for Best Actress for her turn as Kelly, while Robbie is in the running for Best Supporting Actress. The film itself is also nominated for Achievement in Make-up and Hairstyling.
Bomshell is out in the UK on 17 January 2020 and is out in US cinemas now.