Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility
The Chilling Reason You May Never See the New Trump Movie
d8a347b41db1ddee634e2d67d08798c102ef09ac
By The New York Times
Published 1 month ago on
June 16, 2024

"The Apprentice," a critically acclaimed film about Roy Cohn and Donald Trump, faces hurdles in securing U.S. distribution due to fears of backlash from Trump's supporters and potential political retaliation, highlighting concerns about democratic decay and self-censorship. (AP/Eduardo Munoz)

Share

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

Opinion by Michelle Goldberg on June 14, 2024.

This week I finally got to see “The Apprentice,” an absorbing, disturbing movie about the relationship between red-baiting mob lawyer Roy Cohn and a young Donald Trump. The film, which was received with an extended standing ovation and mostly appreciative reviews when it premiered at Cannes last month, is a classic story of a mentor and his protégé, chronicling how Trump first learned from and later surpassed his brutal, Machiavellian fixer.

Performances Noted as Extraordinary

Its performances are extraordinary. “Succession” star Jeremy Strong captures both Cohn’s reptilian menace and, eventually, his pathos, as he’s wasted by AIDS but, closeted to the end, refuses to admit it. Just as impressive is Sebastian Stan, who makes Trump legible as a human being rather than the grotesque hyperobject we all know today.

It’s not a sympathetic portrayal, exactly; this is, after all, a movie that depicts Trump raping his first wife, Ivana. (The scene is based on a claim Ivana Trump made in a divorce deposition but later recanted, saying she felt “violated” but didn’t want her “words to be interpreted in a literal or criminal sense.”)

But “The Apprentice” also gives you a sense of the audacious glamour Trump projected before he became a caricature, and it makes his decision to pursue Manhattan’s Commodore Hotel in the 1970s, when midtown was a sleazy wasteland, seem visionary. It offers a fresh way of understanding how Trump — under the tutelage of Cohn, who once served as chief counsel to Sen. Joseph McCarthy — evolved from an almost charming Queens striver into the lawless predator now bestriding American politics. I wish you could see it.

United States Audience May Not Be Able to See It

Unfortunately, you may not get a chance to anytime soon, at least in the United States. Distributors have bought the rights to “The Apprentice” in Canada, the U.K., France, Germany, Japan and many other countries. But the filmmakers have yet to secure a deal to release it here, either theatrically or on streaming services.

Negotiations are ongoing, and domestic distribution could still come together. Yet the possibility that American audiences won’t be able to see “The Apprentice” isn’t just frustrating. It’s frightening, because it suggests that Trump and his supporters have already intimidated some media companies, which seem to be preemptively capitulating to him.

Some established distributors might simply be reluctant to take on “The Apprentice” because they think political films are money losers; as The Hollywood Reporter pointed out, Adam McKay’s 2018 Dick Cheney biopic, “Vice,” was considered a “major flop.” But “The Apprentice” is a far buzzier film than “Vice,” and it appears from industry reporting that the movie industry is less worried about finding an audience than about poking the MAGA bear.

As Puck’s Matthew Belloni wrote after talking to potential buyers, “several that really liked the film are still out on ‘The Apprentice,’ in part because of the politics of the moment — which is to say fear of the politics of the moment.” Emanuel Nuñez, president of the production company Kinematics, one of the film’s investors, told me, “Trump attacked the film and, unfortunately, it appears that Hollywood right now doesn’t have the stomach to release this film and take him on.”

Fear Amongst Distributors

The fear seems to be twofold. Few want to end up in the MAGA movement’s crosshairs the way Bud Light and Disney did. And as one distribution executive told Variety, any company that wants to be sold, or to merge with or buy another company, would be hesitant to touch “The Apprentice” because of the possibility that, should Trump be reelected, his “regulators will be punitive.”

After all, when Trump was president, his Department of Justice tried to block AT&T’s acquisition of Time Warner, the company that owned CNN. As The New Yorker’s Jane Mayer reported, the government’s opposition to the deal was widely seen as retaliation for CNN coverage that displeased Trump.

In a second Trump term, the Department of Justice is expected to be far more aggressive in persecuting Trump’s perceived enemies. Kash Patel, a former Trump administration official who has been floated as a possible acting attorney general in a Trump restoration, boasted to Steve Bannon of plans to target journalists for rejecting Trump’s lies about a stolen 2020 election: “We’re going to come after you, whether it’s criminally or civilly,” Patel said.

Cease-and-Desist Letter to Filmmakers

They could go after anyone involved with “The Apprentice” in the same way. In a cease-and-desist letter to the filmmakers, a lawyer for Trump claimed, absurdly, that the movie is “direct foreign interference in America’s elections,” citing the fact that its director, Ali Abbasi, is Iranian Danish and that the movie received funding from Denmark, Ireland and Canada.

“If you do not immediately cease all publication and marketing of the movie, President Trump will pursue every appropriate legal means to hold you accountable for this gross violation of President Trump and the American people’s rights,” Trump’s lawyer wrote. Should he become president again, he’ll have greatly expanded options for pursuing this vendetta.

It’s common to read about movies that are shown in most of the world but not released in, say, Russia or, more often, China. Should “The Apprentice” end up widely available globally but not, for political reasons, in the United States, it will be a sign of democratic decay, as well as an augur of greater self-censorship to come. After all, if anxiety about enraging Trump is already shaping what you can and cannot watch, it’s probably bound to get even worse if he actually returns to power.

In 2017, when he was frustrated that his attorney general, Jeff Sessions, wasn’t protecting him from the investigation into his Russia ties, Trump exclaimed, “Where’s my Roy Cohn?” The uncertain fate of “The Apprentice” demonstrates that he no longer needs to replace the man, because he’s got a whole movement instead.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

Michelle Goldberg
c.2024 The New York Times Company
Distributed by The New York Times Licensing Group

RELATED TOPICS:

DON'T MISS

Largest Housing Provider for Migrant Children Engaged in Pervasive Sexual Abuse, US Says

DON'T MISS

25 Million Watched Trump’s Speech at the RNC on Thursday

DON'T MISS

City Wants Hard Reset on Art Hop. Don’t Expect Food Trucks or Vendors in August.

DON'T MISS

More Victims Come Forward in Dinuba Sex Assault Case

DON'T MISS

‘Twisters’ Is the Long-Awaited Sequel to ‘Twister.’ Where to See It in Fresno.

DON'T MISS

Fresno Offers Free Movie Tickets for Seniors to Beat the Heat

DON'T MISS

Mexican President Calls Donald Trump ‘a Friend’ and Says He’ll Warn Him Against Closing Border

DON'T MISS

Republicans Grapple With Next Moves if Democrats Replace Biden

DON'T MISS

California Judge Halts Hearing in Fight Between State Agricultural Giant and Farmworkers’ Union

DON'T MISS

Fresno Airline Flights Cancelled Amid Global IT Shutdown

UP NEXT

25 Million Watched Trump’s Speech at the RNC on Thursday

UP NEXT

City Wants Hard Reset on Art Hop. Don’t Expect Food Trucks or Vendors in August.

UP NEXT

More Victims Come Forward in Dinuba Sex Assault Case

UP NEXT

‘Twisters’ Is the Long-Awaited Sequel to ‘Twister.’ Where to See It in Fresno.

UP NEXT

Fresno Offers Free Movie Tickets for Seniors to Beat the Heat

UP NEXT

Mexican President Calls Donald Trump ‘a Friend’ and Says He’ll Warn Him Against Closing Border

UP NEXT

Republicans Grapple With Next Moves if Democrats Replace Biden

UP NEXT

California Judge Halts Hearing in Fight Between State Agricultural Giant and Farmworkers’ Union

UP NEXT

Fresno Airline Flights Cancelled Amid Global IT Shutdown

UP NEXT

Ten Commandments Won’t Go in Louisiana Classrooms Until at Least November as Lawsuit Plays Out

More Victims Come Forward in Dinuba Sex Assault Case

8 hours ago

‘Twisters’ Is the Long-Awaited Sequel to ‘Twister.’ Where to See It in Fresno.

8 hours ago

Fresno Offers Free Movie Tickets for Seniors to Beat the Heat

8 hours ago

Mexican President Calls Donald Trump ‘a Friend’ and Says He’ll Warn Him Against Closing Border

8 hours ago

Republicans Grapple With Next Moves if Democrats Replace Biden

8 hours ago

California Judge Halts Hearing in Fight Between State Agricultural Giant and Farmworkers’ Union

9 hours ago

Fresno Airline Flights Cancelled Amid Global IT Shutdown

10 hours ago

Ten Commandments Won’t Go in Louisiana Classrooms Until at Least November as Lawsuit Plays Out

10 hours ago

Grape Expectations: A Day with Ray Krause, the Wine Wizard of Madera County

11 hours ago

911 Systems Disrupted in at Least 3 States

11 hours ago

Largest Housing Provider for Migrant Children Engaged in Pervasive Sexual Abuse, US Says

AUSTIN, Texas — Employees of the largest housing provider for unaccompanied migrant children in the U.S. repeatedly sexually abused and hara...

5 hours ago

5 hours ago

Largest Housing Provider for Migrant Children Engaged in Pervasive Sexual Abuse, US Says

6 hours ago

25 Million Watched Trump’s Speech at the RNC on Thursday

7 hours ago

City Wants Hard Reset on Art Hop. Don’t Expect Food Trucks or Vendors in August.

8 hours ago

More Victims Come Forward in Dinuba Sex Assault Case

8 hours ago

‘Twisters’ Is the Long-Awaited Sequel to ‘Twister.’ Where to See It in Fresno.

8 hours ago

Fresno Offers Free Movie Tickets for Seniors to Beat the Heat

8 hours ago

Mexican President Calls Donald Trump ‘a Friend’ and Says He’ll Warn Him Against Closing Border

8 hours ago

Republicans Grapple With Next Moves if Democrats Replace Biden

MENU

CONNECT WITH US

Search

Send this to a friend