How will the rise of Donald Trump affect cinema? Or the decline of Harvey Weinstein? Or any of the other momentous events of 2017? Movies typically take a year or two to produce, so most of this year’s output harks back to the time when such events were inconceivable. But 2017 gave us a taste of what to expect. Jordan Peele’s hugely acclaimed Get Out, for example. The smash-hit horror movie encapsulated our racially charged Black Lives Matter/Colin Kaepernick/Charlottesville moment, but it also sent out a signal to movie studios that “political” and “profitable” were no longer mutually exclusive. It could be the wake-up call for a new era of Hollywood wokeness.
There were other signs, too. Katherine Bigelow’s Detroit restaged the riots of 1967 and a harrowing true-life case of police prejudice, with little in the way of “both sides” equivocation. The Battle of the Sexes used a 1970s tennis match to highlight a gender playing field that is still far from level. The Florida Project mapped out a landscape of US poverty most movies continue to ignore. Even at the big-budget end of the spectrum, observers detected a certain wokeness to Star Wars: The Last Jedi, whose themes of a diverse, oppressed resistance banding against a fascistic order ruled by an impetuous man-child lend themselves to certain interpretations.
First to sense that the times they are a-changin’ has been Steven Spielberg. He put his big-budget sci-fi, Ready Player One, to one side to rush out The Post – arguably the first genuine Trump-era film – which dramatises the Nixon White House’s battle to suppress publication of the Pentagon Papers. Spielberg’s urgency is understandable: The Post’s themes of political self-interest threatening press freedom resonate loudly with the Trump administration’s war on “fake news” and the “mainstream media”, especially since the movie concerns the two US papers that have done the most to damage Trump, the Washington Post and the New York Times.
If Trump is agreed to have killed off political satire, political history could well be taking its place. Expected next year are Adam McKay’s Dick Cheney drama Backseat, starring Christian Bale (with Sam Rockwell as George W Bush and Steve Carell as Donald Rumsfeld). Jason Clarke plays Ted Kennedy in Chappaquiddick, Jason Reitman takes on the disgraced presidential candidate Gary Hart in The Front Runner, Felicity Jones plays equal rights trailblazer Ruth Bader Ginsburg in On the Basis of Sex, and Leonardo DiCaprio is set to portray Theodore Roosevelt for Martin Scorsese.
At the more mainstream end, we are due inclusivity paeans such as Guillermo del Toro’s cold-war monster fantasy The Shape of Water and Pixar’s Mexican-themed Coco. Ava “Selma” DuVernay unveils her big-budget Disney fantasy A Wrinkle in Time (centred on an African-American girl) and Marvel enters a new era with its Afrocentric superhero movie Black Panther, directed by Ryan Coogler and starring Chadwick Boseman. Like Get Out, the movie promises to combine race politics and entertainment spectacle. There is clearly an appetite for both.
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