The pearl-clutching that led to the shelving of the liberals-vs-rednecks splatter film ‘The Hunt’ is unbefitting for any land that values artistic freedom, and utterly laughable in light of everything else happening in America.
Now let’s imagine for the moment that The Hunt is really the one-sided screed of hate that revels in the gruesome murders that wealthy liberals inflict on hapless “deplorables,” as it has been portrayed in fevered editorials across the US conservative media.
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Right-wingers have (often with good cause) complained about media-led censorship, political correctness and hate speech legislation that have straightjacketed public debate, and go against the spirit of the First Amendment, regardless of the legalities they hide behind.
Donald Trump is entitled to his opinion that Hollywood seeks to “inflame and cause chaos” as he tweeted at the weekend, and maybe fictional violence or humor directed at some groups is considered more acceptable than at others, so there is a galling double standard for some.
But browbeating artists using the worst kind of faux-outrage Twitter mob campaign on the basis of a single trailer, and exploiting a tenuous link to recent gun violence to justify censorship, is a descent to recent political tactics that threaten the very foundation of the United States as a free country.
Isn’t banning films for political reasons something only those other, unfree countries, do?
Some of the responsibility here lies with the studio, Universal. Instead of defending either the content of its product, or its principle, and protecting the thousands of people it contracted to make the movie, it folded first, pulling the scheduled release in late September. Though keep in mind that this may be a feint, and the film will likely still get onto home screens through digital services, with viewership sure to be boosted by the controversy.
Yet, still what must be particularly infuriating to its creators witnessing the outrage and the callous response is that the whole scandal is based on a misunderstanding. The Hunt is not even some anti-MAGA hate film.
The full script, co-authored by Lost co-creator Damon Lindelof, has been leaked online. And while it could have been altered during the shooting and editing, there is no reason to assume it was, and the trailer, at least, stays faithful to the words on the page.
The Hunt appears to be an ironically gory and satirical take-off of The Most Dangerous Game. Its targets are both sides, the conspiracy-spreading right-wingers, and the snobbish, self-righteous liberals who treat them as a lower life form. The true hero, Betty Gilpin’s character, is an archetypal “you messed with the wrong woman” who defies political labels, and substitutes actions for smug political debates.
While its implicit biases may be Hollywood-liberal real, its true target is the cultural and political division in America, and how it is being exaggerated and fueled by social media.
But the most stunning thing is not the message, but the gap between the ambition of the project, and the attention it has garnered. It is just a film. And not the Triumph of the Will, but a fun, medium-budget, intentionally trashy romp.
Which makes the seriousness of the conversation about it not only misplaced, but grotesque.
To worry about fiction in a country that has just gone on a multimillion dollar national treasure hunt on little more than a conspiracy theory. A country where much of the news in newspapers of record and top TV channels is insinuation and interpretation, forcing the audience to work backwards from clues to work out what actually happened.
To worry about sowing division in a land where people voting for different parties consider their ideological opponents as ignorant, crazed or downright evil, saying that they condone murder, illegal detention and starvation. Where merely expressing your opinion on a contentious issue – such as race, abortion or LGBT rights – can be enough to lose your job.
To worry about violence in a country that has experienced over 200 mass shootings this year, while there are over 700,000 doing time for committing violent acts.
So, the problem with The Hunt isn’t that it stokes the horrors facing the United States, it’s that it trivializes them into a pat fantasy. In reality, there is no bad-ass woman in cargo pants who can teach the villains a lesson and put America back together again in two hours, there is no easy happy ending.
By Igor Ogorodnev
Igor Ogorodnev is a Russian-British journalist, who has worked at RT since 2007 as a correspondent, editor and writer.