Why Donald Trump’s film “The Apprentice” is not broadcast in the United States

“The Apprentice”, a scathing portrait of the young Donald Trump, dominated the Cannes Film Festival, achieving great success with critics, triggering an eight-minute standing ovation and provoking a fiery response from the 45th president’s legal team.

But almost two weeks after its “big” premiere, the film still does not have an American distributor. Despite rave reviews, feverish media attention, a hot director in Ali Abbasi and a star-studded cast including Sebastian Stan and Jeremy Strong, “The Apprentice” remains up for grabs.

Sources close to the deal say there are several potential buyers in the mix, representing both theatrical distributors and streamers, and that new offers continue to come in. But one of those sources revealed that none of the major studios bid, including their specialty labels like Disney-owned Searchlight, Sony Pictures Classics or Universal-owned Focus. Even some of the bolder indie distributors like Neon, which released Abbasi’s “Border,” aren’t yet offering a deal.

Privately, the team behind “The Apprentice” believes its difficulty in securing a distribution deal is analogous to censorship. They argue that these companies are operating out of fear because releasing the film could put them on Trump’s bad side, a potentially dangerous place given that he is currently leading President Biden in the polls. If he returns to the White House, Trump could retaliate, leveraging his position to block or slow deals while calling on different regulatory agencies to take a closer look at their operations.

And many of the richest independent film distributors are owned primarily by major studios, which are part of even larger media conglomerates. This makes them even more hesitant to take on a project that could generate awards and even respectable ticket sales if it means making an enemy of someone who could soon become the most powerful person in the world. The legal issues and political backlash are simply not worth it. That leaves “The Apprentice” struggling to find a courageous distributor who also has the financial resources to promote the film and bring it into the mainstream.

“Only a few companies can distribute this film,” says a distribution executive who screened the film. “Any company that posts a ‘for sale’ sign or intends to merge (or) buy someone will be hesitant to do so, because there is a chance that (Trump’s) regulators will be punitive if they do. he is elected.”

Studios considering merging or selling include Sony, which teamed up with Apollo to make a $26 billion cash offer for Paramount, a major studio currently up for sale. Elsewhere, Warner Bros. Discovery is struggling with debt and is seen as a potential acquisition or merger target. One company that might be interested is Comcast, which owns Universal and Focus. But any of these deals will need approval from regulators.

And that’s not the only problem. Some companies simply don’t want to risk alienating a significant portion of the country. Disney, which emerged bruised from its battle with Florida over state laws affecting the LGBTQ+ community, may be reluctant to touch a film like “The Apprentice” and re-enter the culture wars.

To complicate matters, the film’s investor, billionaire Dan Snyder, must approve any sale. Sources say the former Washington Commanders owner and Trump friend was furious with the former president’s portrayal after screening a cut of the film in February. While the first half of the film presents a kinder, gentler Trump, portraying him as a social activist with father issues, the second half sees the future reality star turned politician transform into a narcissist who loses his moral sense and is disloyal to his mentor, Roy Cohn. He is also depicted raping his first wife, Ivana, and abusing amphetamines.

After Snyder saw the film, Kinematics’ lawyers sent the filmmakers cease and desist letters in an attempt to prevent the current cut from seeing the light of day, because Variety Previously reported. Sources close to the matter say the filmmakers have not heard from the Kinematics team since the film’s Cannes premiere. Still, Kinematics, which was founded by Snyder’s son-in-law Mark Rapaport, likely won’t scuttle a deal because it would damage the young company’s reputation within the creative community and give the impression that it’s ready to censor artists. (“The Apprentice” marks Kinematics’ first film.)

Metropolitan FilmExport, which will distribute the film in France, was on the phone almost every day during Cannes to deal with legal matters, according to a close source. Shortly after the film showed at the festival, Trump’s lawyers sent their own cease-and-desist letter to the filmmakers. Those headaches will only intensify as “The Apprentice” prepares to make its public debut. “The film comes with a ball and chain,” the source adds.

Some American distributors simply didn’t like the film. A company that acquired prestige films on the festival circuit has disappeared, believing that “The Apprentice” resembled a TV movie and lacked originality. Others thought it humanized Trump too much. Another buyer stayed away for multiple reasons, lamenting that the film says nothing new about Trump’s relationship with Cohn and believing that releasing the film would require inordinate legal resources. But even those who are absent think Strong has a good chance of finding traction come awards season for his performance.

In the past, major retailers were more than willing to stir up controversy. In fact, several industry professionals who screened Abbasi’s film in the south of France note that “The Apprentice” would have been tailor-made for Harvey Weinstein, who burst into Cannes in 2004 with “Fahrenheit 9/11” by Michael Moore, a withering look. to George W. Bush, which was released as the president prepared for his re-election campaign. Weinstein, of course, is currently in prison and is an industry pariah after being accused by dozens of women of sexual harassment, rape and assault.

“9/11 Fahrenheit” aside, political films are a tricky proposition. Another Bush film, Oliver Stone’s “W,” flopped while Adam McKay’s Dick Cheney film “Vice” never turned a profit. And even the most successful films don’t usually sway voters, as the filmmakers of “The Apprentice” hope. Even though it created a buzz, won the Palme d’Or and grossed $222 million at the worldwide box office, “Fahrenheit 9/11” did not change the course of the election. Bush defeated John Kerry five months after the film’s release.

From a commercial standpoint, “Fahrenheit 9/11” turned out to be lightning in a bottle and that cannot be duplicated. In 2017, Weinstein returned to Cannes to sell Moore’s follow-up, the Trump documentary “Fahrenheit 11/9,” which took aim at the newly elected president. But the package failed to generate much buzz, and when the film was finally distributed, it tanked, earning less than $7 million.

Abbasi himself was warned to avoid Trump as the subject of his next film after his critically acclaimed drama “Holy Spider.”

“Everyone said, ‘If you want to tell something about the world, do it metaphorically.’ How about a film about World War II? And the First World War? How about a film about American independence? And the film about Russian independence? And the Roman Empire? And then we found ourselves in ‘Planet of the Apes,'” Abbasi said at its Cannes premiere.

But, he concludes, “there is no nice metaphorical way to deal with the rising tide of fascism. Only in a messy way.

“The problem of the world is that good people have been silent for too long,” Abbasi said before leaving the Grand Théâtre Lumière in Cannes.

He’s still waiting to see which distributors are willing to make some noise.

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