Ever since the Presidential election we have witnessed Hollywood and celebrities embark on an ever-widening mission to lambaste Donald Trump. It began on social media, then broadened to their awards shows, content in programming, and now has even spread into our sports world.
The amazing part of this antagonistic outreach has been the participants’ obliviousness to consistent diminishing returns. The Academy Awards, and just recently The Emmy Awards, have endured historic lows in the ratings. ESPN has encouraged a social justice agenda with its talent and that has led to loss of subscribers, and layoffs. Hollywood just completed its worst summer at the box office in years. And as the NFL has ramped up the activism it is resulting in audience flight and lower attendance figures at games.
At least one member of the entertainment elite applied some pragmatic thought to this protesting practice. In an interview with Entertainment Weekly director Matthew Vaughn explained some onset decisions he made while filming scenes for his sequel, “Kingsmen: The Golden Circle” last summer. The President was, at the time, merely Candidate Donald Trump and there was going to be some references to him in the film. However Vaughn used some practical thought that is rarely seen in Hollywood these days — applied forward thinking.
One scene involved the villainess of his film — played by Julianne Moore — commenting on how she would have loved to take over the vacated hosting duties of Trump’s television show “The Apprentice”. Vaughn had an ability to not only see the political possibilities on the horizon last summer but cagily he made the decision to not roil the waters of his prospective audience.
“We actually took out the “Apprentice” line because we felt it was too close to the bone. I think America’s going through a pretty interesting and rough ride at the moment and I wanted this movie to be escapism.”
Imagine that; a film maker realizing the intent of his audience. Another Trump reference that was excised was an expansive set piece, where the Oval Office in the White House would be shown to be decorated in the dipped-in-Krugerand style of the ostentatious parts of the land baron’s titular skyscraper.
“We were building a White House Oval Office in the style of Trump Tower. We were making it in all gold and blinging it up. This was in May of 2016 and then I had an inkling. I remember saying to my American production designer, ‘Trump might win, you know? Would this be as funny if Trump won?’ And he was like, ‘Trump will never win.’ And I said, ‘You know what, I have a weird feeling he might. So let’s build a normal Oval Office and scrap the Trump version”
This is not a matter of being apolitical, or taking sides in the societal civil war — it is simply sound business. So many in the entertainment field act as if their fawning audience is something assured, and they are free to spout off of issues without receiving a reprisal in the marketplace. Vaughn recognized the potential for downfall and he wisely elided a controversy that could have hewn a significant portion of his ticket-buying audience.
“Kingsman: The Golden Circle” opened in the #1 position in last weekend’s box office, and it managed to outdraw the opening of the original film released two years ago. His decision seemed to pay off. “That means not suddenly having half the audience going, ‘That’s not cool, that’s not funny’, as the other half is cheering.”
This is something in dwindling supply within the entertainment complex; common sense, leading to a product that we can consume without the lectures. It means then that this kind of content becomes something more to savor once discovered. “I think my instinct was right. If you go too far — if movies get political when they are meant to be fun — then it weighs everything down a bit too much.”
I pray that more people inside Burbank — and beyond — learn a lesson here.