Bombshell is based on the real Fox News scandal but takes some liberties
When the trailer for Bombshell dropped in October, featuring humorous cameo appearances from a number of Fox News personalities (including Jeanine Pirro and Geraldo Rivera), moviegoers were eager to connect the dots between the film and the headlines from which it pulled.
Indeed there's no shortage of dots to connect, as Bombshell seeks to explore the real-life downfall of Fox News chairman Roger Ailes, who publicly stepped down after a number of allegations of sexual misconduct. Yet in stories as splashy as this one, it’s easy to lose sight of what’s real and what’s dramatized--or outright fabricated. Here’s our guide to separating the fact from the fiction.
Is Bombshell based on a true story?
In short, yes. Bombshell tells the true story of how the women of Fox News brought down Roger Ailes, the longtime network chairman and alleged serial sexual predator. In 2016, when Fox anchor Gretchen Carlson was fired without cause, she filed a lawsuit against Ailes, claiming that Ailes had “unlawfully retaliated” against her after she “refused his sexual advances and complained about severe and pervasive sexual harassment.” Two months after her suit was filed, Carlson’s case was settled for $20 million, as well as a rare public apology from the network:
“21st Century Fox is pleased to announce that it has settled Gretchen Carlson’s lawsuit. During her tenure at Fox News, Gretchen exhibited the highest standards of journalism and professionalism. She developed a loyal audience and was a daily source of information for many Americans. We are proud that she was part of the Fox News team. We sincerely regret and apologize for the fact that Gretchen was not treated with the respect and dignity that she and all of our colleagues deserve.”
However, Carlson was required to sign a non-disclosure agreement, which restricts her from speaking about what transpired at Fox.
In the weeks following Carlson’s lawsuit, 20 other women currently or formerly employed at Fox News contacted Carlson’s lawyers, either to corroborate her allegations or share their own stories of alleged sexual abuse at the hands of Ailes. Bombshell is narrated by Fox anchor Megyn Kelly, who spoke with Carlson’s lawyers about her own experiences with Ailes, who made nonconsensual advances toward her. In her memoir, Settle for More, Kelly writes: "Roger called me up to New York and we had a shocking exchange. I was nervous about going into his office, concerned he might start in again. Sure enough he did. And then he crossed a new line—trying to grab me repeatedly and kiss me on the lips."
In a title card prefacing the film, the filmmakers write that they have dramatized some elements of the story. Some critics argue that the license taken isn’t dramatic license, but rather moral license. Many critics, including Slate film critic Dana Stevens, argue that the film sanitizes the women of Fox News, particularly Kelly. Stevens writes, “Watching these three join forces with other women at the network to engineer Ailes’ eventual firing brings a grim sense of satisfaction, but when you remember that Kelly herself was fired from NBC last year for defending blackface on air, it gets a bit harder to pump your fist in solidarity.”
Are those “Team Roger” t-shirts real?
We can’t be certain. In one of the most humorous sequences of the film, Kimberly Guilfoyle, Fox anchor and girlfriend of Donald Trump Jr., marches through the office distributing “Team Roger” t-shirts in an effort to shore up support for the embattled executive. Though the existence of any such t-shirts isn’t a confirmed fact, Guilfoyle was nonetheless a staunch supporter of Ailes, reportedly pressuring her female colleagues to make public statements in support of Ailes. Guilfoyle described Ailes as “a man who champions women,” while reportedly spreading defamatory disinformation about Carlson and Kelly around the office.
Is Kayla Pospisil real?
Yes and no. Margot Robbie’s character, a young and ambitious associate producer named Kayla Pospisil, is a composite character based on the stories of dozens of real women. In fact, filmmakers interviewed a number of current and former Fox staffers to create the character, some of whom violated the terms of their NDAs to come forward.
Among the details revealed by those interviews and later included in Bombshell is Ailes’ script for one-on-one meetings with hopeful would-be anchors. Ailes would reportedly order women to “stand up and give me a twirl,” claiming that he needed to evaluate their bodies, as television is “a visual medium.”