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Engaged Filmmakers Follow Tradition of Speaking Truth to Power Via Cinema

When Donald Trump won the presidency in November 2016, it wasn’t just the end of the Obama Era; for the great majority of those in Hollywood, it was the beginning of the Trump Resistance.

Hollywood is an unabashedly liberal creative community and the rise of Trump has created a unified spirit that probably hasn’t been seen since World War II, when the town’s profound commitment to Hitler’s defeat filled the country’s screens with movies that helped sustain the nation’s resolve to defeat the Axis Powers at any cost.

If you look closely at the films of 2017 that are currently riding high in awards season, they don’t resemble the simplistic propaganda films that portrayed that conflict in stark black-and-white images of American Good and Nazi evil. But make no mistake, it’s not accidental that the season has already begun showering honors on films that see themselves and are seen by their fans in the community as standing in defiance of Trump alt-right political initiatives or his various cultural fatwas, or all of the above.

A quick look at the results of the AFI 10 Best Films, National Board of Review, New York Film Critics Circle and the Los Angeles Film Critics Assn. voting reveals the breadth and depth of the cinematic responses to Trump’s plans to Make America Great Again.

NBR launched “The Post,” Steven Spielberg’s ode to Trump’s favor media ogre, the Washington Post, into major awards contention by anointing it best film of the year as well as honoring stars Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep with actor and actress gongs. A slot in the AFI 10 Best continues the momentum.

The New York Film Critics Circle awards were a virtual repudiation of everything Trump stands for or anything that Hollywood believes reflects Trump’s “America First” vision. Best first film winner, “Get Out,” is Jordan Peele’s lacerating examination of racism. Best director Sean Baker and supporting actor Willem Dafoe contributed to “The Florida Project,” a film dedicated to humanizing the plight of a troubled single mother falling through the cracks of society and taking her precocious, precious young daughter with her.

“Lady Bird,” Greta Gerwig’s passionate ode to youthful female empowerment, garnered both best picture and actress for its star, Saoirse Ronan. Actor honors went to Timothee Chalamet for his role in “Call Me by Your Name,” an unabashed celebration of gay love between a teenage boy and older man.

Oscar Statue Illustration
CREDIT: Karolis Strautniekas for Variety

And the New York Critics told Trump what he could do with his Wall by granting animated film kudos to “Coco,” a colorful, robust Pixar exploration of Mexican culture. Except for “Coco,” all of those films scored slots in the AFI Ten Best as well as NBR and Los Angeles Film Critics Assn. honors, both which did have love for “Coco.”

In addition to those films, all of them plumped full of anti-Trumpitude art, there are other key contenders such as: “Hostiles,” a monumentally daring Western that takes the American genocide of our native peoples as a central historical fact, with reconciliation seen as tentative, faltering and bathed in blood. And “The Shape of Water,” directed by Mexican auteur Guillermo del Toro as a retro sci-fi romantic thriller packed with digs against our fear of “the other” and America’s fondness for Cold War politics — a jab that seems all too relevant as the Trump foreign policy continues to scare the pants off Hollywoodites. “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” is a hopeful paean to the redemption of a community that must first be forced to confront both its own lies, and its collective disinterest in anything resembling justice.

And “Dunkirk,” as well as “Darkest Hour,” two films from British filmmakers, potently remind audiences how evil can be overcome by courage, unity and that rarest of 21st century commodities, inspiring political leadership.

It will be difficult for this creative community that is even bluer than the state housing it to admit it, but there may an upside to the presidency of Trump: film artists are asserting their passionate beliefs in a wide, wild variety of cinematic offerings that aren’t simply swipes at Trumpism, but also entertainments imbued with the old-fashioned American values of truth, justice, equality and community. They’re actually quite similar to the kinds of films Hollywood was producing when Trump was growing up, with titles such as “The Best Years of Our Lives,” “The Men,” “High Noon” and “On the Waterfront.”

Maybe it’s time for a Variety Classic Film Festival at the White House to remind the current resident of where Hollywood’s heart always lies: on the side of the people who buy popcorn, not political influence.

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