Roger Ailes was the chairman and CEO of FOX News from 1996 until stepping down in 2016 amid sexual harassment scandals. As the man behind TV’s Republican messaging machine and behind many Republican politicians themselves, he reshaped American politics throughout the last half-century. Now he’s entering a whole other kind of campaign: “Divide and Conquer: The Story of Roger Ailes,” the documentary that examines his life’s work, is a contender for an Oscar during a politically fraught year were he may actually end up facing an ideological opponent, the notorious “RBG.” Watch the trailer for the film above.
Ailes died in May 2017 at age 77 after having advised Presidents Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and Donald Trump. The film explores that legacy in addition to his paranoia, his manipulation and his predatory treatment of women — according to Kellie Boyle, former Republican National Committee adviser, “He said, ‘If you want to play with the big boys, you have to lay with the big boys.'” So don’t expect a glowing hagiography from this one.
The film is directed by Alexis Bloom, whose previous efforts include “Nova” TV documentaries and HBO’s “Bright Lights: Starring Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds,” which earned her two Emmy nominations in 2017, including Exceptional Merit in Documentary Filmmaking. Among the executive producers is Alex Gibney, an Oscar-winning documentarian (“Taxi to the Dark Side”) and a five-time Emmy champ known for his films exposing corruption in business (“Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room”), the Catholic Church (“Mea Maxima Culpa”), government (“Casino Jack and the United States of Money”) and more.
So will Oscar voters be in the mood to learn more about Ailes, or will they prefer the more uplifting story of progressive Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in “RBG.” It would be a win-win for Magnolia Pictures, which distributes both films, but hard-hitting exposes have a strong track record with the academy.
In addition to Gibney’s 2007 film “Taxi” about US government torture, the Oscars have recently opted for “The Cove” (2009) about dolphin hunting in Japan, “Inside Job” (2010) about the financial crisis, “Citizenfour” (2014) about Edward Snowden and secret government surveillance, and most recently “Icarus” (2017) about Russian doping in sports. “Icarus” might have been especially resonant with the academy given its connection to investigations into Russia’s interference in American politics. “Divide and Conquer” may be even more timely since Ailes actually advised Trump on the campaign trail.
Did Ailes create a monster by helping Trump? Was he a monster? “It’s easy to make somebody into a monster,” says former Fox News personality Glenn Beck. “It’s hard to see that you’re on that path, too.”
Be sure to check out how our experts rank this year’s Oscar contenders. Then take a look at the most up-to-date combined odds before you make your own Oscar predictions. Don’t be afraid to jump in now since you can keep changing your predictions until just before nominations are announced on January 22.