White House downer: why Hollywood should steer clear of a Trump biopic

Steve Rose
·3-min read

Finally, the US presidential race is over. Which unfortunately signals the start of another race: who will be the first to get a Trump biopic out of the traps? For subject-hungry Hollywood, it is too juicy a story to resist: a tale of megalomania, scandal and surreally absurd incident, with a supporting cast of colourfully extreme characters. And Jared Kushner. It’s Succession, Idiocracy and Downfall rolled into one!

Related: The Guide: Staying In – sign up for our home entertainment tips

You can bet actors of every physiognomy – Oldman, Bale, Rockwell, Streep – are already thinking: “I could have a crack at Trump” Film-makers are doubtless considering the options, too. A “Where did it all go wrong?” flashback structure framed by the Four Seasons Total Landscaping fiasco could work well.

But before things progress any further, as Jon Stewart once said to Tucker Carlson, “Stop. Stop hurting America.” The rush to put first drafts of political history on screen before the ink has even dried is getting out of hand, and you have to question the value. Oliver Stone’s W, which told of the last overprivileged, underqualified Republican president, was a good arena for awards-worthy impersonations and ironic satire but I wasn’t ready to laugh, seeing as how these people had recently orchestrated and profited from the Iraq war. I still wasn’t ready to laugh a decade later with Christian Bale’s snappily satirical Dick Cheney movie Vice. We’d only just gotten over the tragedy, we weren’t ready for the farce. The same applies to Trump.

There have been others in this vein, such as Jay Roach’s Recount (on Bush v Gore) and Game Change (Julianne Moore as Sarah Palin). The gospel of Obama has also been told in stuff such as Netflix’s Barry, or indie romance Southside With You. History this recent is usually impossible to get a perspective on, and the only route to go down is cathartic pantomime.

When it comes to Trump, there are further factors. The first is that, having lived through the past four years, most of us would gladly never see or hear of him again. But also, the reasons Trump would make a great movie subject are the same reasons he became president in the first place. He’s good content. Whether you’re viewing that content in a “Hail to the Chief” way or an “Oh God, what’s he done now?” way doesn’t really matter. Trump’s path to power has been paved by media attention, from fawning print articles to The Apprentice to late-night satire. Another movie won’t help.

It is probably too late anyway. Trump portrayals are stacking up: we just had The Comey Rule (with Brendan Gleeson donning the orange makeup); a TV adaptation of Michael Wolff’s book Fire and Fury is in the works; and doubtless there are more to come. But please, for once: let’s not. He won’t go away until we do.