This has been the word that liberals and Democrats have been using since November 9, 2016. It has been a rallying cry – an expression of anger and resentment melded with a refusal to sit by with idle hands. For almost two years, we have been saying this word, marching with it adorned on cardboard signs, posting it on Facebook when we see an article that angers us; this word has been a unifying symbol for the left.
The Walking Dead, while approaching the second half of its controversial seventh season, used a similar phrase: RISE UP. It was written in huge, red letters, indicating a turn of the tide for the main characters of the show who were battling a cruel despot, Negan, and his crew in the middle of the zombie apocalypse. The second half of this show aired February 12, 2017 – 23 days after Trump was sworn into office.
Coincidence? Of course, but there is something to be said about entertainment in the age of Trump. With Republicans controlling all branches on the federal level, most of the governorships on the state level, and a number of judgeships, liberals in the United States are feeling astray. We know we need to fight back, but we’ve been kicked in the gut. So this word – RESIST – becomes more than just a word: it becomes a symbol for the way forward.
While The Walking Dead’s message of RISE UP was only a coincidence in its timing, there has been a clear ripple effect across film and television culture. The inauguration of Donald Trump can be seen on our screens and in our movie theaters.
The most overt example of this is Spike Lee’s masterpiece, BlackKklansman, which was both a brutal exploration of racism in the early 1970s and a clear example of how the Klan of the past still lives on, in many ways, in our current era.
It goes beyond Lee’s film, though. Steven Spielberg’s 2017 film, The Post, was also eerily relevant to our current situation, as it explored the Pentagon Papers and their publication; it was released on January 12, 2018 – two days after the Steele dossier came to light, which Trump immediately called “FAKE NEWS” in an all-caps tweet. Even documentaries, like Eugene Jarecki’s The King, subtlety explore a world in the era of Trump; it’s one fueled by desire for the American dream, yet barren in terms of possibility.
At the Sundance Film Festival, two of the features that premiered dealt directly with Trump (among others), including the Netflix documentary, Seeing Allred, about women’s rights advocate and attorney, Gloria Allred and Alexandra Shiva’s documentary, This Is Home, which followed four Syrian families struggling to make it in the United States.
Even Marvel, arguably the largest cinematic entity right now, has taken on this RESIST message with the devastating Avengers: Infinity War, which details heroes attempting to fight to save the world against insurmountable odds, being released in May 2018 and the optimistic, woman-powered Captain Marvel, which seems to promise a new era for superhero films and silver-screen heroines, slated to be released in March 2019, after the midterm elections in November.
In the age of Trump, we have also seen the rise of #MeToo, which has led to its own explosion of women-centric narratives, directed by women, taking the silver-screen by storm. Jennifer Fox’s heartbreaking film, The Tale, was based on her own experiences with sexual assault as a child. Greta Gerwig’s impeccable coming-of-age story, Lady Bird, explored what it means to become a woman in modern-day America. Sofia Coppola’s remake of The Beguiled took on new meaning as it explored distrust and betrayal on an intimate, gender-driven level. Patty Jenkin’s Wonder Woman even explored issues of sexism and empowerment, all within the confines of superhero(ine) film. Lady Gaga was the star of her own documentary in 2017, which was both intimate and raw in many ways, exploring her personal struggles with mental and physical pain while she continues to pursue artistic ambition and creative fulfillment.
Release dates are easy to chalk up to coincidence as they are often decided on well before the actual film is released. However, substance is important to pay attention to. It is no coincidence that The Post was released in 2017, after an entire year of Trump assaulting the press, labeling them as Fake News. It’s no coincidence that we have seen a proliferation of female-driven narratives, often helmed by women and starring women, at the same time that we have seen women marching in the streets against an administration that consistently shows how little it thinks of them. It is not a coincidence that we have seen films like BlackKklansman and Mudbound and Sorry To Bother You when we see Nazis and white supremacists marching in our streets, carrying Confederate flags, and chanting the phrases “blood and soil” and “Jews will not replace us.”
It’s not controversial to say that entertainment, film, and television have changed in the age of Trump – it’s a fact. It’s something we have noticed. It’s something that we have latched onto. Just like that one word we use as a flashlight to find our way through this dark tunnel – RESIST – we look to media, to films, to television, to our culture to represent our innate fears. We have always looked to these creative outlets for support.
I don’t know when the age of Trump ends. Maybe it ends tomorrow, when Mueller releases some damning information that will turn even the most ardent supporters against the sitting president. Maybe it ends in 2019, after Democrats have fought to win back the House and the Senate, effectively ending the efficacy of the Republican mission. Maybe it ends in 2020, after a Democrat defeats him in the general election. Maybe it ends in 2024, after he can no longer run for president. My inclination, though, is that the age of Trump will not officially end; not really, at least. The man may disappear. His administration will eventually be dissolved, either by defeat or constitutional necessity. The feelings he has elicited, though, and the way the majority of Republicans have jumped on his train, no matter where it leads, is not something that ends with an election, or a damning report from the independent counsel. The emotions he has elicited – from MAGA to RESIST – will remain with us for many decades, and our art is going to represent that.
In 1976 – just two years after Nixon resigned – a film was released, starring Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman. It was called All the President’s Men, and it explored the ways in which two journalists from The Washington Post – Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward - helped take down Richard Nixon while reporting on Watergate. It was also helping people make sense of what had happened, though. No sitting president had ever – and since then, has never – abdicated the seat by choice. It was a confusing time for many Americans, full of uncertainty, of distrust for the government, and of political unrest. In that time, through art and through the silver-screen, things began to make sense and we found a path forward.