As 2019 comes to a close, Bombshell has emerged as one of the year’s most anticipated films. In a cultural moment defined by women’s media and stories — everything from Reese Witherspoon’s award-winning production company to Hustlers‘ box office success — Bombshell rounds out the decade by honoring women’s bravery in combating workplace harassment in a pre-#MeToo world.
The film stars Nicole Kidman, Charlize Theron, and Margot Robbie as Fox News employees at the center of an ongoing sexual misconduct scandal involving the company’s CEO and Chairman, Roger Ailes. But what actually happened? Here, we break down the nitty-gritty of the scandal and provide everything you need to know about the real-life events, before you head to theaters.
Is Bombshell based on a true story?
Short answer: Yes. Bombshell is based on the true events of a recent Fox News scandal. In 2016, news anchor Gretchen Carlson filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against the network’s then-CEO and Chairman, Roger Ailes, on account of workplace sexual harassment. Both he and the company denied the allegations, but not long after, fellow Fox news anchor Megyn Kelly also publicly accused Ailes of sexual misconduct — along with more than 20 other women. Ailes ultimately resigned from the network in 2016.
Are all the characters in the movie real people?
Bombshell stars Nicole Kidman as Gretchen Carlson and Charlize Theron as Megyn Kelly. The film’s third leading lady, Margot Robbie, plays a fictional character named Kayla Popsisil, who stands in as an amalgamation of the scores of other women who came forward with accusations of workplace sexual harassment against Roger Ailes. John Lithgow portrays Ailes himself, and Connie Britton makes an appearances as Beth Ailes, Roger’s wife.
How did the Roger Ailes scandal unfold?
Bombshell is expressly concerned with events beginning in 2016, but the first account of misconduct was published in a 2014 biography of Ailes, The Loudest Voice In the Room, written by Gabriel Sherman.
This account set things into motion, and in July 2016, Gretchen Carlson filed her own sexual harassment lawsuit against Ailes. In it, she accused him of ruining her career and firing her for rejecting his sexual advances; she alleged that in response to her complaints of his “sexist and condescending behavior,” Ailes cut her pay, gave her less favorable time slots, and denied her critical interviews.
Of all the incriminating examples Carlson documented in the lawsuit, one of the most chilling occurred in September 2015 when, in response to Carlson’s work to put an end to her discrimination, Ailes said, “I think you and I should have had a sexual relationship a long time ago and then you’d be good and better and I’d be good and better.”
After the news of Carlson’s lawsuit broke, Megyn Kelly came forward with her own allegations that Ailes had committed non-consensual sexual advances toward her in 2006. (She did not file another lawsuit, but she did describe the abuse in her 2016 memoir, Settle for More.) Kelly was one of over 20 other women came forward at this time, to either corroborate Carlson’s story or make claims of their own.
How were the sexual assault allegations against Roger Ailes resolved?
Roger Ailes resigned as Chairman and CEO of Fox News just two weeks after Carlson’s claims first came to light. Thereafter, he received a pay out of $40 million and settled with Carlson out of court for $20 million.
His public apology read as follows:
“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.”
Ailes died in 2017 at the age of 77.
How can I watch Bombshell?
Bombshell had its first limited theatrical release on December 13, 2019, and is now playing all across the country as of December 20. Thus far, the film has received positive critical reviews, and Theron and Robbie have been nominated for Golden Globes for Best Actress — Drama and Best Supporting Actress, respectively.