The next major release from Universal/Blumhouse, a partnership that’s yielded movies like Get Out, Glass and the 2018 remake of Halloween among many others, is The Hunt. Hailing from director Craig Zobel and written by Damon Lindelof, the project tells a tale of about a dozen Red State individuals plopped into a closed-off area where they’re hunted by Blue State individuals. The former group is framed as the good guys, particularly Betty Gilpen’s protagonist, while the villains are explicitly rendered as Liberals led by Hillary Swank’s villain. The trailer debuted in theaters on Crawl and then dropped online a few weeks later. It didn’t seem to make much of an impression and registered to me as a cheap-looking (yet somehow apparently cost a whole lot more than usual Universal/Blumhouse fare) Centrist mash-up of The Purge and The Hunger Games.
Discussions of it online were basically limited to just talking about how the trailer seemed to give away the entire movie and also some It’s Always Sunny jokes since Glenn Howerton was in the trailer as one of the bad guys. That all changed in the past week in the wake of how Donald Trump and fellow Republican politicians chose to respond to a pair of mass shootings that transpired in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio, specifically in what scapegoats they decided to pin the attacks on instead of actual real-life issues with gun control and white supremacy that are epidemics in America. The usual stigmatization of people with mental illnesses occurred, because of course it did, but Trump also began attacks on violent video games and “racist Hollywood”, seemingly as a way of providing blame for where these atrocities could have originated from.
His attacks got more specific when he began to make social media tweets apparently aimed at The Hunt that accused the film of “…[inflaming] and [causing] chaos.” Considering how much of Trump’s behavior on social media and in real life is informed by him parroting whatever he hears Fox News anchors tantrum about on a given morning, it’s no surprise to hear that the network was lambasting The Hunt in the hours just before Trump began to attack Hollywood specifically. Barack Obama never made a peep about his head getting blown up in Kingsman: The Secret Service but the umpteenth rehash of The Most Dangerous Game got Trump infuriated.
Nearly 24 hours after Trump’s tweets, Universal has announced that they have canceled the release of The Hunt. Their public reason for this pertains to the sensitivity of releasing this movie shortly after mass shootings, which feels odd considering the studio has released violent films filled with gun-related mayhem shortly after mass shootings before. For instance, The Bourne Legacy, which contains a scene of a doctor pulling out a handgun and shooting a handful of doctors point-blank, a few weeks after the Aurora movie theater shooting of July 2012. Perhaps in the last seven years they’ve become more sensitive to the issue, especially since The Hunt is certainly a movie with a more pronounced emphasis on the murder of human beings by way of guns than a film like The Bourne Legacy.
However, given how prominently Trump’s criticisms of The Hunt have been in the last 36 hours, the move cna’t help but look like it’s been at least partially informed by the pressure of Trump and his supporters to take the film down. Even Sony/Columbia didn’t entirely cancel the theatrical release of The Interview (though it got substantially reduced) in the wake of the studio being hacked by North Korean hackers but not this move in regards to the release of The Hunt makes it look like whining from a racist former game show host got Universal to outright cancel a movies theatrical release. Even if that wasn’t Universal’s intent, that’s certainly what this move looks like and it’s hard to imagine the POTUS and his supporters won’t revel in what they perceive as a victory.
Now, to be clear here, this isn’t an instance of free speech getting infringed upon. Free Speech only affords you the chance to speak your mind, people or companies who own that speech are free to do or not do with it what they will. However, Trump and Fox News pundits having such influence over a major studio like Universal to the point that they can trigger the cancellation of an entire movie is an utterly terrifying prospect, especially since Trump and company have totally misunderstood the point of the movie. Heck, when I first saw it, I bristled at the fact that the movie’s marketing was clearly trying to get use to root for protagonists who use toxic phrases like “globalist elites”. This was a “both sides are wacky” movie with many traces of it being an outright sympathetic pro-Trump thriller in its trailer. But as this monstrous presidential administration has shown too many times to count, facts and reality don’t matter and that’s why this development is terrifying for all of American cinema and not just the prospects of The Hunt.
What matters to this presidential administration is powerful men like Trump finding any way to create a victim narrative for themselves and making sure problems they’re involved in don’t get highlighted. After all, Trump has helped fuel white supremacy and normalize it in the mainstream American discourse, he’s someone who helps to spread a sickness that’s always existed in American society. To make sure people stop talking about an actual problem he’s involved in, Trump has spent the week just recklessly looking around for targets he can scapegoat for shootings and America’s woes. Thus, The Hunt became the newest target of his wrath and Universal decided to appease the idiocy of Trump rather than stand by its own artists.
Once you’ve given a monster like him this kind of power, he will use it again. That’s an ominous threat for all of cinema but it’s especially ominous for films starring people from marginalized communities that have been targeted by Trump, his administration and his supporters. Will Universal or their sibling company Focus Features stand behind the likes of Queen & Slim and Harriet or will they kowtow to Trump’s newfound ability to control what movies do or don’t get released? Let’s keep this simple: do not let transphobic morons who regurgitate whatever they hear on Fox & Friends dictate our entertainment, not now, not ever.