How Donald Trump Is Winning His War on Hollywood
Life and Leisure

How Donald Trump Is Winning His War on Hollywood

© Mario Anzuoni / Reuters

Did you know the 2017 Oscar nominations came out Tuesday morning? Maybe you did. Maybe you saw an alert on your phone, or a notification on Facebook. Maybe you’re the kind of diehard Oscar watcher who has this date circled in red on your calendar.

Assuming you’ve now read the list, is your favorite movie on there? Is there a race you are really passionate about? Or a contentious nomination or exclusion that has you really worked up (perhaps Amy Adams’ omission)?

Maybe you are this person, maybe the Oscars are your jam (they were mine, once upon a time), but for a whole lot of us, the Oscar announcements were just one fleeting news story lost in a hurricane. The typical response might be summed up as, “Oh yeah, those …”

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Second question: How many stories have you seen about Donald Trump since Tuesday morning?

By now, you are probably familiar with the various stories of our new president’s assorted squabbles with Hollywood: the Twitter feuds with Saturday Night Live, the fallout from Meryl Streep’s Golden Globes speech, and the many celebrities who refused to perform at his inaugural.

The Streep incident illustrates the place that the entertainment industry, and particularly the nebulous arm of it that generates “buzz,” is in. Whether you think she was brave or tacky, whether you think she was 1,000 percent right or proof that Hollywood is out of touch, one fact is inarguable: The greatest actress of her generation dedicated her lifetime achievement award to her opposition to the newly elected president of the United States. An evening that was supposed to be about the year’s best movies and one of Hollywood’s most celebrated performers became another milestone in the war between Trump and the media.

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Now, cast your mind back to this time last year. Trump had already started his climb toward domination of the media landscape, but was still an oddball curiosity to many observers. His entertainment background was being put to good use, as he used his reality-show skills to decimate the field of GOP candidates while exhibiting behavior that many found unacceptable in a presidential candidate or even a decent human being. His skillset, for better or worse, was perfectly calibrated for a 24-hour news cycle.

But as morbidly fascinating as the early Trump campaign was, the burning question, in pop-culture at least, was not “Will Trump really be President?” but “Is Jon Snow really dead?”

There were other questions that occupied the spring and summer: Will Leo finally get his Oscar? -- Does he really get raped by a bear in this movie? -- Why are the Oscars so white? -- Do you think Mad Max could actually win? -- Can Ben Affleck really play Batman? -- Will Jay-Z record a response to Lemonade? -- and finally, Did you see that Stranger Things show?

But since then, what?

Sure, there was Rogue One, but even that managed to be co-opted by the Trump drama, as a subset of his fanbase decided to take issue with the film’s multiethnic cast and female hero, declaring these broadsides in some sort of ‘war on white men.’

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None of the summer movies particularly captured the zeitgeist, and the end-of-the-year slate of Oscar-bait has mostly gone unnoticed. These movies and actors have no strong supporters or detractors. The closest we can come to debate is whether Hollywood will again congratulate itself by giving an Oscar to yet another film about the indelible magic of the movies. If this year’s Oscar telecast (on February 26) is a rating success, it will almost certainly be due to viewers looking for another Meryl Moment rather than for the actual drama of the competition.

Now, this is not to suggest that this a particularly clever bit of strategy on the part of Mr. Trump to stealthily undermine his Hollywood nemeses, but rather the natural result of the unique position we find ourselves in. We have a president who loves breaking norms, who delights in thumbing his nose at conventions, and who comes from an entertainment background. With the amplifiers that are Facebook and Twitter, he has drowned out the competition.

Now, Trump can’t take all of the credit (or blame, depending upon your viewpoint). There has been declining interest in films and the Oscars since the dawn of the streaming age. Trump can’t really be blamed for the premiere of Game of Thrones being pushed to the summer, for instance. He probably didn’t make the Atlanta Falcons win the NFC playoff either, but here we are.

For better or worse, the entertainment industry will need to find new ways to deal with this administration, and while it may be winning some of the battles, it is quietly losing the war.