Like a sophomoric ghost rising from the grave, Universal Studios announced its movie The Hunt will be released Friday, March 13th. The Hunt is a satirical exploration of the classic short story “The Most Dangerous Game,” in which a wealthy man hunts humans for sport. The modern twist in the movie is that wealthy liberals are the hunters, with rural conservatives as their prey. Naturally, the film received blowback from conservatives not keen on the idea of their supporters being violently and cruelly murdered as a joke. Following the mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton last year, the film’s initial release was canceled. But as the Democratic primaries heat up, The Hunt has been granted another shot at the box office, touting its initial controversy as a reason to buy a ticket.
While the directors may argue that the film participates in even-handed satire at both sides of the political spectrum, if the final product is anything like the trailers, that satire is sure to fall short. In The Hunt, every conspiracy theory about liberal elites is confirmed as they show utter disregard and contempt for the lives of Middle Americans. The jokes in the trailer lampoon caricatures of both sides, with conservatives portrayed as mindless lackeys for the Trump administration and liberals as over-reactive and unconcerned with rural America. This is a grotesque portrayal of both sides that only emphasizes how out of touch the filmmakers are.
For starters, representation in film is not a trivial issue, particularly in the wake of years of Oscar controversies. Racial identity is not a joke to be used as a smear on progressives, but an important topic that merits further discussion and careful handling. A seemingly Middle Eastern man claims to “identify as white,” which seems ridiculous except that the U.S Census and College Board both classify Middle Eastern as a white identity. This is truly ridiculous, but not for its political correctness but rather for its ignorance of racial distinctions and discrimination felt by Americans of Middle Eastern descent. Their struggle is not something to be joked about but rather demands solidarity.
Further, the film accomplishes what it hopes to avoid by showing a general contempt for middle-class and rural Americans. While it’s hard to agree with President Trump on most things, he is correct in saying it’s a bad look to make a film about wealthy liberals hunting blue-collar conservatives. Regardless of the satire aimed at liberal elites, targeting working-class people for their political beliefs carries implicit judgment of Trump supporters.
In the eyes of the filmmakers, Trump supporters have no valid complaints or redeemable qualities but instead are a blindly devoted monolith ignorant of facts and immune to persuasion. This assumption ignores that the only path forward for progressives is to build a broad coalition of workers which necessitates persuading Trump supporters to switch sides. Treating the idea of hunting them for sport as a satire on their views reinforces the belief that liberals don’t really care about them or their problems. Southerners, Midwesterners, and Trump supporters are not a monolith and while some carry intense prejudices, others feel ignored and are begging for a candidate to speak for them. Treating them like mindless prey and laughing at their beliefs is not convincing anyone to abandon Trump.
The filmmakers claim that their satire is even-handed, but it only makes fun of the worst aspects of each side. It’s true that there’s a disconnect between wealthy elites and working-class Americans, but maybe the reason for that lies in the impulse to stereotype Trump voters as rabid and dumb rather than struggling to get by like everyone else, including the service employees, civil service employees, and wage workers in major cities. It may seem like political correctness and identity politics are on the rise, but their emergence is not absurd as much as it is an effort by systematically oppressed people to finally gain recognition and validity in a predominantly white society. Laughing at others’ identities is not satire, it’s punching down at the most vulnerable people in Trump’s America for simply demanding recognition and dignity.
Considering that the director and his co-writer are both white men, their ignorance of the struggle of people of color in America is depressingly common. Given that both men are prominent Hollywood figures, their critiques of wealthy elites ring phony, sounding less like social commentary and more like the pot calling the kettle black. It’s hard to imagine what co-writer Damon Lindelof, who’s built off his Lost success with a recent stint writing for HBO’s Watchmen miniseries, can claim as credibility for critiquing elites and understanding the plight of average Americans.
Ultimately, The Hunt promises to shamelessly divide America further, taking as much joy in “triggering” Americans as the worst Trump trolls on Twitter. This kind of satire ought to be reserved for high school group chats, not American box offices.