Following three consecutive mass shootings in California, Texas, and Ohio, Universal Pictures has pulled the advertising campaign for its upcoming ‘satirical thriller’ The Hunt,” which depicts kidnapped, middle American “deplorables,” the film’s protagonists, being hunted by and eventually turning the tide against sniper-toting liberal elites.
Merely called “exploitative” by liberals, the film has received the greatest attention and ire from conservative commentators like Tim Young, who says that it is not satire because it lacks “comedy,” and that it “normalizes political violence,” especially against conservatives, and even President Trump himself, who said the film is a “tremendous disservice to our country.” However, both sides are missing the entire point of the film, which is to give audiences a new perspective on middle America by rehumanizing “deplorables” and exploring the unaddressed grievances, whether perceived or real, that led to Trump’s election.
Liberals’ classic exhortation of “exploitation” is easily parried by the fact that Blumhouse Productions’ films have a history of making controversial but critically acclaimed (and often mischaracterized) films like BlacKkKlansman and Whiplash, both of which were nominated for Academy awards. A prime example is Get Out, another highly controversial 2017 Blumhouse film released at nearly the height of the Black Lives Matter Movement that portrayed a black photographer escaping the horrors of his white girlfriend’s hypnotic family. The film was, at its surface, perceived by many as an anti-white tirade, but, upon closer examination, could be understood as a critique of white liberal condescension and patronizing attitudes towards black Americans in a “post-racial” society. Jordan Peele, himself a man of color, did not “exploit” the topic of race for his personal gain but, rather, attempted to start a necessary conversation in America through a medium that could reach as many people in as an emotionally penetrating manner as possible—through film.
In an era when a serious political discussion with those of differing viewpoints is nearly impossible, when attention spans have been reduced to sound bites of 30 seconds or less cut and sold for Instagram and Twitter, film remains one of the only mediums capable of piercing the cloud of anger, distrust, and myopia that hangs over our nation and seeps into every aspect of our lives. This brings me to my second, and more important point: conservatives working themselves up into a frenzy to stop the screening of perhaps the only contemporary mainstream Hollywood film that will ever give any level of credence to their beliefs is not only counterproductive but decidedly anti-American.
Before boycotting the film, consider that the film’s protagonists—from whose point of view the movie progresses and with whom one is ostensibly meant to sympathize with—are the “deplorables.” If the film were promoting violence against conservatives, surely it would have been from the point of view of the hunters, not the hunted. Second, the film’s villains are a satirical if not wholly inaccurate vision of how many conservatives view the liberal elite. “We paid for everything, so this country belongs to us,” says the film’s antagonist before she uses a stiletto to terminate an unfortunate “deplorable” who had been chosen for slaughter based on his social media activity. Furthermore, the use of violence in the film against conservatives does not necessarily normalize violence against them. Indeed, the film’s protagonists ultimately do get “even” with their hunters by their own bouts of gratuitous violence, which the film seems goes to lengths to justify to what producers know is going to be a largely liberal audience, thanks to a thousand-sample strong survey of registered voters by The Hollywood Reporter that shows Democrats are more likely to go to the movies, and have stronger positive feelings towards movies with “edge,” “violence,” and “cursing” than Republicans are. Given how Jordan Peele’s self-professsed goal for Get Out was to awaken white liberals to the contradictions of their patronizing condescension towards blacks in a “post-racial” society, one should continue to give Blumhouse Productions the benefit of the doubt and see if The Hunt may reform dehumanizing liberal attitudes towards Trump supporters.
Finally, and most importantly, even though attempting to pressure a studio into cancelling the release of a film because of its “offensive” content may be a valid use of one’s free speech, doing so goes against the tenets of free speech and thus our very country itself. Free speech exists to protect us from the tyranny of an imposed cultural homogeneity that suffocates dissent with censorship and social ostracization, and conservative efforts to prevent the film’s distribution are a manifestation of this very tyranny they purportedly aim to prevent; it is hypocrisy of the first order for those who condemn liberals’ use of social media to censor and censure conservatives then attempt to use the same tools for the same ends in the name of “safety.”
“[Free speech] may indeed best serve its high purpose when it induces a condition of unrest, creates dissatisfaction with conditions as they are, or even stirs people to anger. Speech is often provocative and challenging. It may strike at prejudices and preconceptions and have profound unsettling effects as it presses for acceptance of an idea,” wrote Justice William O. Douglas in the Supreme Court’s increasingly prescient majority opinion for Terminiello v. City of Chicago. In its ruling, the court ultimately overturned the conviction of a man whose words of racial animosity roused a crowd of opposition so great that the police were unable to maintain order, deciding that one’s right to speak one’s opinion, even in the face of a hostile public, trumped the immediate requirements of public safety. Indeed, we conservatives would be well served to remember that free speech does not exist to protect our feelings and comfort—it exists to protect everyone’s rights.
For a nation that is forgetting its constitutional rights and obligations, opting to dehumanize opposition at the expense of rational reconciliation, and facing a partisan divide not seen since the late 19th century, The Hunt is an important, necessary film that deserves the chance to see the light of day. Should Universal Studios bend to public pressure and kill the film, the precedent set for America, of media giving in to mass shooters, of an irrational, irate public chasing down “offensive” content, may prove to be fatal.