I ignored it as long as I could but now there are photos and there is no denying it any longer—Sebastian Stan is playing Donald Trump in an upcoming movie, and this is a mistake.
The film is called The Apprentice, but despite the millennial title, it’s about a younger Donald in the 1970s and 1980s, when he took over the family real estate business and turned himself into “what a hobo imagines a rich man to be” (when John Mulaney nails it, John Mulaney nails it). Per Deadline, Stan is joined by Jeremy Strong as Roy Cohn and Maria Bakalova as Ivana Trump, and the film is being directed by Iranian filmmaker Ali Abbasi, who won an Un Certain Regard award at Cannes for his 2018 film, Border, and competed for the Palme d’Or with his last film, 2022’s Holy Spider. There are now photos of Sebastian Stan done up as The Donald which you can see here, if you want to ruin your day.
These are VERY talented people, but this is a mistake. Making a movie about Donald Trump, no matter the intent or how vicious the portrayal may be, is a mistake. It is giving that guy exactly what he wants—validation by people who hate him. We would be SO much better off if Hollywood ignored him. He probably never would have become president if the media treated him like what he was in 2015: a joke, an unserious person running an unserious campaign. But the ratings were too good, they couldn’t ignore him because cable news—a dying industry—boomed during the Trump years, so they kept feeding the beast and now there’s a chance he will actually get to be president AGAIN and no Hollywood movie is going to stop it.
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I’m not saying we ignore Donald Trump entirely. At this point, we can’t. But he belongs to the realm of serious, investigative journalism, hopefully revealing and elucidating more (alleged) crimes that might halt his path back to the White House. Turning Trump, even a younger Trump, into entertainment is a mistake, just as it was a mistake with Vice and W. regarding Dick Cheney and George W. Bush, respectively. Some people don’t get the biopic treatment. Some people shouldn’t be converted to popcorn entertainment.
But I get the appeal of this project on paper. Sebastian Stan has a knack for portraying rich assholes in a most unflattering way—his brief appearance as Robin Hood co-founder Vladimir Tenev in Dumb Money was a masterclass in turning a certain type of Silicon Valley bro into a walking punchline—but not even he will be able to overcome the simple fact that Donald Trump loves any and all attention and he especially loves living in people’s heads rent free. Don’t give it to him!
The other casting is equally good. Jeremy Strong excels at playing complicated, conflicted losers, and Roy Cohn was certainly that, and Maria Bakalova as Ivana Trump is a stroke of genius. And Ali Abbasi probably has a lot to say about this man, but again, it won’t matter, the people who need to hear the message don’t even live in the same world as the messengers, and it will only give Donald Trump tingles that Hollywood can’t quit him. There is literally nothing to be gained here.
But art! No. We’re too close to the morass of the Trump years—too threateningly close to more Trump years—to see it clearly, to have the perspective needed to create even halfway decent art about it. But people will insist, like I said, I see the appeal on paper, and no one has been able to resist the lure of ratings and attention that comes with anything connected to Trump. People will be curious about this movie which will undoubtedly be on the long list of Oscar contenders next year. I super look forward to giving Donald Trump extra attention during a contentious election year in the US. Or, you know, everyone could decide to do literally anything else rather than give Donald Trump what he wants, which is attention, any and all attention, and the knowledge that people who hate him can’t stop thinking about him. I am begging Hollywood to stop thinking about him.