Earlier this summer, Woody Allen told me that Hollywood stars, who had promised to leave the US if Donald Trump won the US presidency, should not be worried. “There’s no need to run to New Zealand,” he chuckled dismissively. “Trump is very entertaining, and I enjoy watching him on TV like everybody else, but he has no chance of becoming the next president. Hillary will easily beat him.” Everybody in Hollywood was in agreement with the legendary director, and was getting ready to celebrate a landslide victory for the first female US president. But they were all wrong.
On Nov. 8th, the unthinkable happened. The following morning, reality became a nightmare in Hollywood. Shock, horror and disbelief were painted on everybody’s face. Some, including stars, broke out in tears as they tried to fathom the unfathomable. How could the bad guy beat the good girl? This could never happen in a Hollywood movie.
Women’s rights champions, like Jessica Chastain and Natalie Portman, struggled to explain to me the logic behind the majority of women voting for the misogynist Trump. “Unfortunately, there is sexism among women,” Portman lamented. “But we have to keep fighting for our rights and to educate people,” they added.
“Fighting back” has become a mantra in Hollywood since Nov. 8th. I heard a subdued Leonardo DiCaprio repeating it at an awards promotion party last week. The environmentalist superstar is justly concerned because the incoming president has promised to withdraw from the Paris Agreement on climate change. Like many other Hollywood stars, DiCaprio was a regular visitor to the White House and was hoping to continue this tradition under the presidency of Hillary Clinton, for whom he had hosted donations events in his house during the election campaign. Not only will he not be invited to the White House during a Trump administration, his environment projects will most likely be drained of political and monetary support.
Other Hollywood celebrities will be facing similar fate. George Clooney, Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, all friends of Obama and ardent supporters of Clinton, will most likely not have the ear of Trump about their worldwide philanthropic and socio-political projects, which had received the backing of the outgoing administration.
Hollywood executives have also benefited from a cozy relationship with the Democratic White House. Three years ago, the founder and former owner of Dreamworks animation, Jeffrey Katzenberg, one of Hollywood’s most powerful executives, told me that his company was the first western firm to establish a foothold in China. During the visit of China’s vice president, Xi Jinping, to the White House Oct 12, 2012, Katzenberg sat at his table with president Obama. Four days later, a deal to form a Dreamworks Orient studios in Shanghai was announced. When Xi returned to the White House as the Chinese president in 2015, Katzenberg was invited again to a state dinner and sat at his table with the US president.
I often heard Hollywood stars and executives boasting about their friendly relationships and intimate conversations with Obama, and they were hoping to continue enjoying this privileged access to the White House by installing Hillary Clinton there.
So no wonder that Clinton had Hollywood in her pocket in the last couple of years. Stars and executives hosted her in their homes, poured tens of millions of dollars into her campaign, accompanied her to rallies around the country and waged war against her opponent, who received barely any support from Tinsel town. In interviews and conversations, stars expressed to me their unwavering support for Clinton and their unshakable confidence in her victory, and offered nothing but mockery and utter contempt toward Trump, whom they described as morally corrupt and politically inept. So why did many of their fans went the other way?
Unlike the stars, who rush to social media to air their political views, campaign for noble causes and share their emotions with their fans, executives have little interest in moral politics, and if they do, they keep it to themselves, because their audience, namely Wall Street investors, have only one concern on their minds: the margin of profit. So while the stars are a force to reckon with, it’s the executives who steer the Hollywood ship in the muddy landscape of politics and finance and keep it afloat.
When Sony Pictures electronic network was hacked a couple of years ago allegedly by North Korea in response to its release of The Interview, a comedy mocking Kim Jong-Un, Hollywood stars came out in force to support the studio and defend freedom of speech. Executives from other studios, on the other hand, were reticent, stayed away from their infected neighbor and jettisoned all future projects related to North Korea.
One month after the event, I bumped into a chairman of one of the big studios at a party and asked him about Hollywood capitulation in front the tyranny of North Korea, adding: “Shouldn’t you have at least spoken in defense of freedom of speech? Isn’t that what Hollywood is about?”
“You’re wrong,” he said. “Hollywood is not about that; it’s a business. My job as a chairman of a studio is not to defend freedom of speech but to ensure that my employees have food on their dinner tables at the end each day and that my investors are happy.”
Getting a reaction to Trump’s victory from Hollywood executives was also met with a wall of resistance. Luckily, it’s the awards season, which compels executives to venture out of their offices and campaign for their movies. One of them was Harvey Weinstein, the Founder of Miramax studio and co-owner of The Weinstein Brothers studio. A stalwart supporter of Clinton and a fearless campaigner, Weinstein was uncharacteristically subdued and somber when we talked about the election results, which he described as a tragedy. “If Trump fulfills his promise of imposing a 45% tariff on Chinese products, we will lose everything we have had accomplished with China so far,” he remarked. “Chinese authorities will react by shutting the door on our movies, and Chinese investors will not be able to invest in our production companies and studios.”
Last year, Weinstein was one of Hollywood’s invitees to the announcement ceremony of the constructing of the biggest Chinese studio at the city of Qingdao by Wanda corporation, which will be offering Hollywood studios a 40% production rebate to shoot there. Recently, Wanda, and other Chinese companies, have invested billions of dollars in Hollywood productions and studios. Furthermore, the Chinese box office is the World’s second largest, so losing such a lucrative market would be catastrophic to Hollywood.
Katzenberg didn’t want to comment on this subject, instead he referred me to an open letter he had published in the industry magazine The Hollywood Reporter, in which he expressed disappointment and dismay at the outcome of the presidential election and urged Hollywood to use its artistic tools to protect and defend American values: “openness, respect and tolerance, which are under threat from Trump, who has used popular prejudices and false claims in order to gain power.”
If we look closely though, we will find that what Trump has done during his election campaign to achieve power is not much different than what Hollywood has been doing for over a century in order to gain profit. In fact, the propagation of negative stereotypes of Muslims, Mexicans and Chinese in Hollywood movies over the years have no doubt paved the way for Trump to exploit these prejudices in order to advance his own agenda of banning Muslims from entering the US, condemning the Mexicans as criminals, labeling the Chinese as financial vampires and treating women as sex objects.
Only two years ago, cinemagoers in the US chanted “death to Arabs and Muslims” after watching Clint Eastwood’s “American Sniper,” a biopic of a US marine, who killed nearly 200 Iraqis. Hollywood was not perturbed by the audience reaction to the film, which was a massive hit at the box office, grossing over $500 million. To the contrary, it rewarded it with 6 Oscar nominations.
To claim that there is a chasm between Hollywood and the American masses is denying reality. Trump resembles many of the heroes in Hollywood movies. He is a white man, who champions the causes of the disenfranchised, loves America and seeks to defend it from the bad aliens, namely Muslims, Mexicans and Chinese. It sounds like a perfect pitch for a Hollywood movie, that many average Americans would flock to see. Now, how often do we see a 60-year-old woman saving the world in a Hollywood movie?
Yet, it seems that Hollywood is too oblivious or perhaps pretends not to see that. Instead of looking in the mirror, it continues to attack Trump, branding him a white supremacist for choosing a white team to run his administration. Ironically, you would be hard pressed to find a colored face among Hollywood’s executives.
Evidently, Trump is not as dumb as Hollywood portrays him. He is actually a Hollywood product; he even has a star on Hollywood Walk of Fame. Hollywood was charmed by him long before the American multitude voted him for president. He was cast in movies, including Woody Allen’s “Celebrity”, and was hired in 2003 to host the Apprentice show, for which he was paid $1 million an episode for over a decade. He has clearly parlayed what he had learned in Hollywood to politics, namely using false prejudices to entertain and galvanize the American people. He is just a businessman like any other Hollywood executive. He will run the United States Government like a big corporation and do whatever it takes to make it profitable.