March 4, 2016
(ANTIMEDIA) — And so it begins. With the litigious vitriol of mogul-turned-presidential candidate Donald Trump now a part of the national zeitgeist, censorship and threats to free speech are already emerging. Last week, Anti-Media reported on Trump’s plan to wage a legal war on journalists who cast aspersions on his character or actions.
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Now, a major entertainment company, Sony Pictures, is trying to censor filmmaker Sasha Baron Cohen over a satirical scene in his new movie.
Evidently, in the forthcoming film, The Brothers Grimsby, there is a scene in which Donald Trump contracts the AIDS virus. While Cohen retains final creative authority on the film and is unlikely to remove the scene, Sony has decided to restrict the marketing of the picture. According to sources close to both Sony and Cohen, the studio wants the scene removed because they are afraid of Trump filing a lawsuit.
Despite positive reactions to the film, Sony executives are treading cautiously, likely in part because of the company’s late 2014 imbroglio with North Korea over the film The Interview, as well as the hack on Sony that occurred amid that controversy.
The world premiere in London inspired one audience member to post the following tweet:
Went to watch Grimsby and the whole cinema clapped when Donald Trump got given AIDS in it
— HollyDolbear (@hollydolbear2) February 27, 2016
According to Huffington Post, the nervous executives added a disclaimer to the film stating that Trump was not involved in the making of the movie. A source confirmed, “If you were told that they’re shying away from the movie because of the political implications, I can tell you that’s 100 percent true.”
In this particular case, direct censorship did not occur, but only because the filmmaker had control over the final cut, which is relatively rare. It’s pretty clear that Sony would eliminate the scene if the studio had the authority to do so.
What does this say about possible ramifications of a Trump presidency on creative satire and free speech? With his admitted disdain for journalists and stated plan to do everything in his power to restrict negative stories, it seems fair to expect a Donald Trump term in the White House to have a disturbing impact on not only journalists, but satirists and artists, too. If creative thinkers begin to self-censor themselves out of fear of being sued for libel, it could have a dramatic effect on every avenue of artistic expression.
Political satire is an invaluable diagnostic tool in a fertile democracy. Imagine if Mark Twain had censored The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn because he was afraid President Ulysses S. Grant would be displeased. . . or if Mike Judge had nixed Idiocracy out of concern that George W. Bush might drone strike him. . . or if Trey Parker and Matt Stone blunted the sharp edge of South Park for fear of litigation.
Trump isn’t the only candidate in the 2016 race who has made disturbing overtures with regard to censorship. Last year, a troubling report surfaced that the Hillary Clinton campaign tried to intimidate the Comedy Store, a Los Angeles venue, into removing an online video that mocked the candidate.
Comedic satire is one of America’s greatest exports. Let’s hope the next president doesn’t outsource it.
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