Donald Trump Has the Absolute Worst Taste in Movies
The president may hate “Parasite” sight unseen but he’s also deeply obsessed with the Academy Awards and his favorite film is a silly Jean-Claude Van Damme slugfest.
On Thursday evening, at one of his ego-nourishing rallies, President Donald Trump took aim at Parasite, Bong Joon-ho’s South Korean satire that made history as the first foreign film to win the Best Picture Oscar.
“By the way, how bad were the Academy Awards this year? You see ‘em? And the winner is…a movie from South Korea. What the hell is that about?” bellowed a rather clammy Trump. “Was it good? I don’t know. I’m looking for like, let’s get Gone with the Wind. Can we get Gone with the Wind back, please? Sunset Boulevard, so many great movies.”
Let’s first address the dog-whistle inclusion of Gone with the Wind. There isn’t a snowball’s chance in hell that Trump, who has the attention span of a meerkat on high-grade cocaine, has sat through Victor Fleming’s four-hour-long Civil War epic. What he may be aware of, however, is how the 1939 film—winner of 10 Academy Awards including Best Picture, and the highest-grossing movie ever when adjusted for inflation—is a neo-Confederate monument; one that romanticizes slavery and the antebellum South, and envisions its wealthy white protagonists as hallowed victims swallowed up by the chaos of Reconstruction. Hattie McDaniel’s Mammy, the head slave of the film’s sprawling southern plantation, comes from a long line of racist (and likely mythical) stereotypes of “mammy” house slaves (selfless, grandmotherly) dating back to Uncle Tom’s Cabin that were used by Confederate apologists to soften and even attempt to legitimize the unequivocally racist and dehumanizing institution.
McDaniel, who eventually became the first Black Oscar winner for her performance, was barred from the film’s Atlanta premiere due to segregation, and was seated not with the Gone with the Wind cast and crew but at a small table in the back of the Cocoanut Grove nightclub at the 1940 Academy Awards ceremony (producer David O. Selznick had to lobby the venue to get her in the building). Her dying wish, to be buried in Hollywood Cemetery, was also denied because of its whites-only policy.
Is this the Hollywood that Trump wants to return to?
Also…Sunset Boulevard? The film, for the record, didn’t win Best Picture, losing to All About Eve, but more than that, are we to really believe that Trump, a sexist monster who publicly mocked Kim Novak’s appearance at the 2014 Oscars, empathized with the plight of an aging silent-film actress? (Norma Desmond’s delusions of grandeur, maybe.)
There’s a long, strange history of U.S. presidents screening films in the White House. The first, regrettably, was D.W. Griffith’s racist celebration of the Ku Klux Klan, The Birth of a Nation, viewed by Woodrow Wilson in the East Room on Feb. 18, 1915. Bill Clinton’s inaugural screening was Lorenzo’s Oil, a crowdsourced pick if there ever was one. Trump’s was Finding Dory, whose message of inclusion appeared to be lost on Trump, according to the film’s star Ellen DeGeneres.
Over the past century, presidents have also been queried on their favorite films. Lyndon B. Johnson would watch a 10-minute short about himself, narrated by Gregory Peck, over and over again in the White House, while Ronald Reagan, a former Hollywood actor, would suffer through his own mediocre oeuvre on his birthday each year. Gerald Ford’s favorite movie, funnily enough, was said to be Home Alone (Trump would later make a cameo in its sequel). Years ago, when a Twitter user asked Trump to name his favorite films, the then-reality-TV host cited Citizen Kane, Gone with the Wind, and The Good, The Bad and the Ugly. Yet when it comes to Orson Welles’ magnum opus, chronicling the rise and fall of a power-hungry media tycoon, he’s made it resoundingly clear that he has no grasp on the film’s central message.
As part of the 2002 Oscars, famed documentarian Errol Morris was given the unenviable task of filming influential pop-culture figures discussing their favorite movies. Trump picked Citizen Kane, and, when asked for the one piece of advice he’d give Charles Foster Kane, offered: “Get yourself a different woman.”
Morris opened up to The Ringer about the surrealness of that moment. “So he starts to tell me about Charles Foster Kane, who he identifies with. And what was Charles Foster Kane’s real problem? Was his problem that he was a megalomaniac? Not so much. Was his problem that he treated people around him miserably? Nah! What was his problem? According to Donald Trump, his problem was the woman he married.”
He later added of the encounter, “It’s obvious: this person is insane.”
Though Citizen Kane and Gone with the Wind are fashionable picks, Trump’s real favorite movie is rumored to be Bloodsport, the 1988 martial-arts flick starring the Muscles from Brussels, Jean-Claude Van Damme. Writer Mark Singer was the first to document Trump’s fixation with Bloodsport in a 1997 profile for The New Yorker.
Whilst flying around in Trump’s tacky, gold-plated private jet, Singer recalled, “We hadn’t been airborne long when Trump decided to watch a movie. He’d brought along Michael, a recent release, but twenty minutes after popping it into the VCR he got bored and switched to an old favorite, a Jean Claude Van Damme slugfest called Bloodsport, which he pronounced ‘an incredible, fantastic movie.’”
The bankrupted real-estate mogul’s attention span was so low that, according to Singer, Trump would make his then-teenage son, Donald Trump Jr., fast-forward to all the fight scenes: “By assigning to his son the task of fast-forwarding through all the plot exposition—Trump’s goal being ‘to get this two-hour movie down to forty-five minutes’—he eliminated any lulls between the nose hammering, kidney tenderizing, and shin whacking.” (That 19-year-old Don Jr. served as Trump’s private jet remote-control servant explains so very much.)
Trump’s questionable taste in movies and culture-war carnival-barking notwithstanding, what we can be certain of is that he is truly, madly, deeply obsessed with the Academy Awards. He live-tweeted the Oscars in 2013 and 2014, would regularly call in to Fox & Friends to deliver Monday-morning recaps of the show, and has repeatedly lobbied to host the ceremony on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and Vine (RIP).
Occasionally, similar to his Parasite ramblings, he’s injected a dose of xenophobia into his commentary. At the 2015 Oscars, which saw Birdman win Best Picture and Alejandro G. Inarritu (who is Mexican) take home Best Director, Trump made the following complaint: “The Oscars were a great night for Mexico & why not—they are ripping off the US more than almost any other nation.”
Four months later he’d announce his presidential run with an even more racist rant against Mexicans.
It’s easy to see why Trump wouldn’t enjoy Parasite. In addition to his fondness for North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, whose cult of personality is lampooned in the film, it is a class-warfare comedy about a poor, basement-dwelling family targeting—and exposing the ignorance of—those in gilded cages not unlike the one Trump’s lived in for the better part of his adult life. Plus, as the film’s distributor Neon pointed out, the film is accompanied by subtitles and Trump is said to have an aversion to reading:
Given Trump’s apparent love of movies, numerous film cameos—including a Worst Supporting Actor Razzie nod for his pouty turn in a movie about a woman sexing a ghost—and burning passion for the Oscars, an event he begged to host in the three years prior to his White House run, it seems Trump’s anger primarily stems not from the Academy’s choice of winner but his exclusion from this glamorous soiree, and the Hollywood limelight.
Errol Morris summed it up best: “There are certain people that I think suffer—I wanted to have this in some psychiatric dictionary—from ‘irony deficit disorder’: the absolute inability to see irony when it’s really stuck right in front of your face. Donald Trump suffers from irony deficit disorder.”