Under Trump, Will ‘Protest Cinema’ Be Back?

During the Obama years, liberal filmmakers left the president alone — let's see how things change

When George W. Bush left the Oval Office and Barack Obama took the presidential oath, many artists within the film industry had a friendlier face to look to in Washington, D.C. The new president said all the right things to a left-leaning crowd.

“Protest cinema” mostly stopped.

Even though Obama took stances many would align with those of Bush, he mostly got a free pass from passionate artists taking to their cameras and sharing bold, anti-government sentiments.

During Bush’s time in office, countless films took direct shots at the government and sitting president. Even though none of them made any money, they were still released and pushed by A-list talent such as George Clooney and Tom Cruise — “Syriana,” “In the Valley of Elah,” “Lions for Lambs,” and many, many more. There was also the newfound stardom of Michael Moore, who took on both the Iraq War in “Fahrenheit 9/11” and guns in “Bowling for Columbine.”

Under Obama, more patriotic fare got the green light — “American Sniper,” “Lone Survivor,” “Zero Dark Thirty.” Despite the wars raging on and many of Obama’s promises going unfulfilled, Hollywood stayed mostly silent in its narrative protests. Under Bush, the American people got a mock documentary examining the president’s hypothetical assassination — while under Obama, we had films like “Southside with You” and “Barry” — poetic features that took romantic looks at the president’s life.

Documentary filmmakers like Moore stayed mostly silent throughout Obama’s presidency. The only major documentaries to even criticize the administration that gained traction came from conservative filmmaker Dinesh D’Souza.

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Related: D’Souza Unveils New Pillory of Hillary

The contrast is steep when setting the Bush years of cinema against the Obama years. Even though Obama took stances many would align with that of Bush, he mostly got a free pass from passionate artists taking to their cameras and sharing bold, anti-government sentiments. No matter your opinion on Bush or Obama, the lack of “protest cinema” under the latter is head-scratching, to say the least.

The closest thing we got during Obama’s presidency was “Snowden,” a film from director Oliver Stone, that told the Edward Snowden controversy from the whistleblower’s perspective and took direct shots at Obama’s failed promises to end the surveillance state — though you’d be hard pressed to judge Hollywood based on what Stone believes. The man truly marches to the beat of his own drum, having praised politicians as varied as Ron Paul and Fidel Castro.

Related: Michael Moore Wants the Inauguration Disrupted

The real question now is: With Donald Trump taking office, how will cinema look for the next four years? Will protest films be relevant to Hollywood again? Or have they simply died out?

After all, there are some producers already talking about catering more to Trump voters after the president-elect’s surprising victory.”With our dramas, we have a lot of shows that feature very well-to-do, well-educated people, who are driving very nice cars and living in extremely nice places,” said Channing Dungey, president of ABC Entertainment, to the Content London media summit in the wake of Trump’s presidential victory. “There is definitely still room for that, and we absolutely want to continue to tell those stories because wish-fulfillment is a critical part of what we do as entertainers. But in recent history, we haven’t paid enough attention to some of the true realities of what life is like for everyday Americans in our dramas.”

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Others believe differently. “I think within the industry, we will see a slight shift in storytelling that mirrors our current state of affairs. ‘The Man in the High Castle’ is a perfect example. More dystopian societies under harsh rule. Intelligent films with a message like ‘V for Vendetta’ had in standing up against an establishment,” Jack Reher, screenwriter behind “Into the Grizzly Maze” and the upcoming “Ride,” told LifeZette.

With Trump arguably more hated by Hollywood than Bush, protest cinema could be back, money or no money to be had. A-lister Johnny Depp made a satire film for Funny or Die last year called “Donald J. Trump’s The Art of the Deal: The Movie.” Plus, movie star and Academy Award nominee Alec Baldwin is portraying the president-elect on a semi-regular basis on “Saturday Night Live.”

“I think it’s reasonable to expect you’re going to see those protest films come out,” Doug Richardson, screenwriter behind “Bad Boys” and “Die Hard 2,” said about films under a Trump presidency.

Cinema that speaks truth to power, that uses emotion and characters to make a certain cultural or political case, can be a powerful tool. It’s how we get masterpieces like “Apocalypse Now” and “Dr. Strangelove” that broaden our perspectives and challenge us.

Unfortunately, when looking at the Bush and Obama years, it’s clear protest cinema is no longer based on principle, or policy, or emotion; it was based on cultural politics and the party affiliation of the person sitting in office. The film landscape that develops under Trump is likely to only further prove that.

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