“It surprised me that somebody could be head of a billion-dollar corporation and be so chronically paranoid. An intern on our project had to have higher mental health standards than he had,” reveals director Alexis Bloom about the subject of her documentary “Divide and Conquer: The Story of Roger Ailes,” which opens December 7. The film follows Ailes’s dramatic rise and fall: he started as a TV producer and eventually became a kingmaker in Republican politics as the chairman and CEO of Fox News until a sexual harassment scandal led to his ouster from the organization in 2016. He died the following year. Watch our exclusive video interview with Bloom above.
The film doesn’t present a flattering portrait of Ailes by any means. “I don’t think he comes out well, and I hope he doesn’t because he was a right shit-bag at the end,” says Bloom. But she did recognize his humanity as she told his story. She wondered, “How did this man become monstrous?” He was a hemophiliac who lived his life under the threat of death and grew up with a feeling of “yearning” and “sadness.” “I didn’t ever like him, but … I grew up in Apartheid-era South Africa, and you realize that ordinary people are capable of extraordinary acts of evil.”
Despite the film’s unflinching look at the man who launched a conservative media empire, Bloom doesn’t want “Divide and Conquer” to be divisive at all. Given the modern media ecosystem where audiences can choose their own facts (an ecosystem Ailes helped cultivate), the director was careful not to “take the cheap shots” and gave Ailes “the dignity of expressing himself” in his own words. She also avoided interviewing the kinds of “liberal superstars” who might cause the film to fall along the typical partisan lines.
In fact, despite the vast political influence of her subject, Bloom feels that “Divide and Conquer” is “not a political film … It’s about morality. It’s about what’s right and not right, and what moves us all forward.” And it has forced her to “wrestle with the idea of what is an American. I’m firmly committed to American ideals. I have two American children. I live with an American man. And I’ve chosen to build my life here. Coming from South Africa, we’ve been through some tough times … You have to engage.”
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