Is The Fabelmans a true story? Real events Steven Spielberg movie is based on, did his mother have an affair

The Fabelmans is a semi-autobiographical drama film from Oscar-winning director Steven Spielberg about his early life as an aspiring filmmaker

Today, Steven Spielberg is the highest-grossing director of all time - his films have made a combined $10.6 billion - and the director himself is worth an estimated $4 billion. Director James Cameron is biting at his heels - his films have grossed $8.2 billion so far, and with more Avatar sequels in the works he could pass the $10 billion mark by 2025.

Spielberg’s movies include classics like Jaws, Jurassic Park, and E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. He has also made iconic war films such as Schindler’s List, and Saving Private Ryan - winning the Best Director Oscar for both of them.

He has won three Oscars in his career so far, and been nominated for an impressive 19. He’s also bagged two Baftas, nine Golden Globes, four Prime Time Emmys, and plenty more.

Spielberg’s latest filmThe Fabelmans, could see him add to his vast collection of gongs. The film, which is already out in the US and will arrive in the UK this month, tells the story of a young boy with an avid interest in filmmaking.

The Fabelmans features many characters and plot points that are very similar to Speilberg’s own life. And in fact, the film, whilst in many ways fictional, actually tells the story of how the most successful film director of all time discovered his craft.

The Fabelmans is based on Steven Spielberg’s early life

Is The Fabelmans based on a true story?

Yes, The Fabelmans is a semi-autobiographical film based on the early life of its director, Steven Spielberg. The character of Sammy Fabelman stands in for the young Spielberg in the film, and Sammy’s parents, Mitzi and Burt, are inspired by Spielberg’s own mother and father, Leah and Arnold.

Sammy is an aspiring filmmaker who uses a camera to make sense of the often unstable world around him, growing up as a Jew in America in the years following the Second World War and the Holocaust.

One major plot point line in the film is that Sammy discovers his mother is having an affair with his father’s close friend, eventually leading to the divorce of his parents. The Fabelman’s weaves elements of Steven’s childhood with fictional events and characters who are composites of those who influenced him growing up. Therefore, the film is not a complete biography, but it is heavily inspired by true events.

How autobiographical is The Fabelmans?

Like the character Sammy, Steven Spielberg grew up in an Orthodox Jewish family, though he moved away from religion in later life. This aspect of the character formed a large part of Speilberg’s youth and the otherness that he felt growing up. Specific moments in the film, such as Sammy’s relationship with a devout Christian girl, may not have happened in Spielberg’s life, although they serve to represent how the clashes he encountered.

Additionally, like the Fabelmans, the Spielbergs also moved homes several times when Steven was young - in the film this is shown to seriously impact Mitzi. The film also features Sammy’s three sisters - Natalie, Reggie, and Lisa who are based on Steven’s real sisters, Anne, Sue, and Nancy.

Nancy Spielberg told The Jerusalem Post: “I love them – all of them: my film family, my real family. I’m proud of them and anyway, we’re sort of honest, open and sharing people.”

Paul Dano and Michelle Williams in The Fabelmans

She added that she and her sisters were better able to recreate their mother’s wardrobe for the film than Steven. Leah Adler passed away in 2017, aged 97, and Arnold Spielberg died in 2020, aged 103.

The biggest question many who watch the film will want to know is whether Sammy’s mother’s affair was also based on a true story - and it was. Steven Spielberg discovered his mother’s affair, which eventually led to her divorce from Arnold, when he was a teenager. He finds out in the same way as Sammy does in the film - he sees his mother and another man together in footage he was editing from his home movies.

Spielberg said in a CBS Sunday Morning interview: “In a way, making this movie made me realise that I had been carrying that burden all these years, and I had to exorcise it from my own heart and soul."

When is the release date of The Fabelmans?

The Fablemans was released in cinemas in the US in November 2022 - it will land in UK cinemas on Friday 27 January 2023. An online streaming release for the film in the UK has not been confirmed, but is likely to be available to rent by March this year.