Last month President Trump, armed with cue cards advising basic human responses, held a listening session at the White House.
Over ninety agonizing minutes, time he’d much rather be spending on the links or devouring cable news, Trump sat and listened to students, teachers and parents impacted by gun violence. It was the least that the most pro-NRA president ever could do, really, after a teenage gunman armed with a legally-purchased AR-15 assault rifle opened fire at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, claiming 17 lives.
The president didn’t stick to the cards for long.
Borrowing a page from Steve Bannon’s “flood the zone with shit” playbook—or the film Kindergarten Cop—Trump floated the idea of paying “a little bit of a bonus” to arm and train teachers. Then he pivoted to the “bad things” happening to kids on the internet, followed shortly by “the level of violence” in video games, because look at all the school shootings in Asia.
Next up in the blame game was Hollywood: “You see these movies, they’re so violent. And yet a kid is able to see the movie if sex isn’t involved, but killing is involved. And maybe they have to put a rating system for that. You get into a whole very complicated, very big deal but the fact is that you are having movies come out that are so violent with the killing and everything else that maybe that’s another thing we’re going to have to discuss.”
Given the president’s softcore credentials and alleged penchant for porn stars, this take isn’t all that surprising. But if his broadside against movie violence sounds familiar, it should, because it echoes his bizarre Oscars smear campaign against Quentin Tarantino’s 2013 film Django Unchained.
You see, Donald Trump loves the Oscars. In an alternate universe, Hillary Clinton would be president and Trump would thus adhere to his typical Oscar-night routine: angrily live-tweeting the ceremony, and then calling in to Fox & Friends the following morning to recap the night. Or perhaps he’d even be walking the red carpet, telling ABC that he deserved to be nominated in the “Best Looking Actor” category, as he did in 2011—back when he was a Democrat.
While Trump has never actually received an Academy Award nomination, he did receive the opposite: in 1991, he was awarded the Worst Supporting Actor Razzie for his pouty turn in the 1989 romcom Ghosts Can’t Do It. It’s the most notorious of his 22 film and television acting credits, many of which were achieved by requiring a cameo in movies shot in his properties, e.g. that Home Alone 2 scene at The Plaza. His financial disclosure form even revealed that Trump still collects a six-figure pension from the Screen Actor’s Guild. But alas, I digress.
Trump’s obsession with covering—and criticizing—the Oscars seemingly began in 2012, the year after he attended. Whether this had to do with him not being invited back is anyone’s guess, but following the ceremony, he recorded a video at his desk wherein he took shots at the glitzy Vanity Fair afterparty (“symblomatic [sic] of what happened to Vanity Fair”), an event he’d attended the previous year, as well as Sacha Baron Cohen for dumping an urn of fake ashes onto red carpet host Ryan Seacrest while dressed as his fictional tyrant from The Dictator.
“Believe me, if that ever happened to somebody with real security, Sacha Baron Cohen would not be in good shape right now. He’d be in a hospital. He would have been punched in the face so many times, he wouldn’t have known what happened,” Trump shouted into the camera. (The two have a bit of history, since Trump was punked by Cohen on his Ali G show back in 2003.)
However, Trump’s Academy Awards’ vitriol really kicked into high gear in 2013, in the wake of a pillorying by left-wing Hollywood for his racist birther crusade against President Obama. That year, the then-reality TV host live-tweeted the Oscars for the first time—or as he called it, “the very tainted Academy Awards.”
Though most of the real estate mogul’s tweets whined about the night’s poor jokes or lack of “glamour,” there was one movie with which Trump took umbrage. When Christoph Waltz was awarded the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his performance as a bounty hunter in Django Unchained, Trump tweeted, “Django Unchained is the most racist movie I have ever seen, it sucked!”
Django Unchained, for the uninitiated, is a blood-spattered spaghetti Western written and directed by Quentin Tarantino. Set mostly in 1859 Mississippi, it tells the story of Django (Jamie Foxx), a freed slave-turned-bounty hunter intent on freeing his wife, Broomhilda (Kerry Washington), from the clutches of Msr. Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio), a sadistic slavemaster who gets his jollies watching his chattel fight to the death in “Mandingo fights.” Ultimately, Django executes all the racist whites occupying the Candyland plantation, frees his love, and gallops off into the sunset.
Trump thought that this film, about a freed slave killing his wife’s evil captors, was racist against white people.
The following morning, still fuming, he called in to Fox & Friends to recap the Oscars. And the first thing he did was launch into a rant about Django Unchained, which had wins in Best Supporting Actor and Best Original Screenplay.
“Well, I thought they were very average. I was not impressed. Django Unchained was probably one of the most racist movies I’ve ever seen. I thought it was terrible, and a disgrace. You know, when they talk about guns and gun control, that movie, people should watch that [if] you wanna talk about something that’s really a problem,” howled Trump.
Yes, Trump posited that the movie Django Unchained was more of a “problem” than “guns and gun control.” Sound familiar? He also took issue with Daniel Day-Lewis’ Academy Award-winning performance in the film Lincoln because, among other reasons, the Brit was “not from this country” and didn’t speak with “rapidity.”
So just to recap: the two movies he had problems with that year were about freeing slaves.
But Trump wasn’t done. He went on complaining about Django Unchained to any entertainment show that would listen. A few days later, speaking to his “grab ‘em by the pussy” confidant Billy Bush, Trump said, “I thought [Django Unchained] was totally racist. I thought it wasn’t a good movie. I’ve never seen so many people get hit by a bullet and explode. It was like they got hit by bombs.”
“Certainly if somebody goes and sees this movie and their [sic] not 100 percent [in the head], this movie is not very good for people to watch…I thought it was not a very good movie and very racist,” he added.
But for the record, Trump said he doesn’t harbor any animus toward the film’s writer-director, Quentin Tarantino. “No, I love some of his movies. I just didn’t like this one. I wanted to leave a little early. I didn’t do that, but I was bored by it. I got tired of watching people blow up,” he said. “Pulp Fiction, to me, is one of the greatest movies ever. I like him, I just didn’t particularly like this movie.”
One could easily argue that the more realistic acts of violence committed in Pulp Fiction—including a white security guard raping a bound-and-bloodied black man—are more upsetting than the cartoonish blood-geysers of Django Unchained. Maybe Trump, who’s had a less-than-stellar history when it comes to “the blacks,” took issue with the fact that in Django, it’s primarily white people being killed by a black hero.
After all, in addition to Pulp Fiction, Trump appears to have a soft spot for violent films.
A couple of years ago, then-candidate Trump released a list of his five favorite movies to the BBC. They were: Citizen Kane, Gone with the Wind, The Godfather, Goodfellas, and The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. Three of those are, of course, chock-full of gun violence, and the latter, a Clint Eastwood-starrer helmed by the late, great Sergio Leone, has influenced the Tarantino oeuvre more than any other film.
They’re also incredibly white.