Is it possible to separate the person from his/her accomplishments? That’s the question I posed to documentary filmmaker Michael Barnes about his film Man in the Arena—the story of the political lightning rod, Roger Ailes. He’s a man that elicits great rage upon the mere mention of his name and is portrayed as the most evil person in the world… next to a certain President. But what’s undeniable is the impact that Ailes had on modern politics and campaigning today, particularly turning Presidential debates into an inventory of gotcha soundbites.
I spoke with Barnes about his film and his controversial subject, Fox News creator Roger Ailes, and specifically about the 600-pound gorilla in the room.
Most people see Roger as the person portrayed in Bombshell and The Loudest Voice. Essentially, you’re making a movie about what at least half of America thinks is the most evil person in the world. When you went into this, was that something that scared you. Why make a film about a guy who did all these things, and what was your approach knowing the potential backlash?
That’s a good question. When I first thought about a Roger Ailes film project, the first thing I did was satisfy myself that he wasn’t the bad guy from central casting. Who wants to make a film about a moral monster? I determined through my research that he wasn’t this monster. Instead, there was an incredible life here, and only a small part of the story had been told.
No one’s going to waste their time making a documentary about this bad guy, but there are definitely people who probably view him through that lens. This film, which is filtered through my perspective, will hopefully address that in context, and the rest is for viewers to decide.