In a fairly predictable move, President Trump riffed on this year’s historic Best Picture winner, Parasite, during one of his tired comedy routines doubling as a campaign rally on Thursday night in Colorado Springs.
Parasite is the first non-English-language film to win Best Picture in the Oscars’ 92-year history, which made it an obvious target for a rally designed to appeal to Trump’s supporters. And if there’s one thing Trump knows how to do, it’s get attention from those both smitten with and exhausted by him.
“What the hell was that all about?” the president said of Parasite’s Best Picture win. “We’ve got enough problems with South Korea with trade. On top of that, they give them best movie of the year. Was it good? I don’t know.”
The audience booed at the president’s initial mention of the Academy Awards, then cheered when he said, “Can we get, like, Gone with the Wind back, please? Sunset Boulevard? So many great movies.”
You could read those two films as deliberate choices — especially because Gone with the Wind, the 1940 Best Picture winner, is both a respected classic and a film that perpetuates racial stereotypes and various Civil War myths, which can also make it a handy racist dog whistle. (Sunset Boulevard, the 1950 film about an aging silent movie star, did not win Best Picture.)
But Trump’s rally speeches are usually rambling, off-the-cuff, stream-of-consciousness monologues. The general formula is simple: Hit buzzwords and ideas that will make the audience clap, often gleaned from the Fox News feedback loop, and hopefully grab enough notice on social media to rile up the “libs.” And it worked.
Gone with the Wind is a romanticized white wash of slavery and the antebellum South and the author Margaret Mitchell had tremendous "economic anxiety." Of course Trump would prefer it over PARASITE, a brilliant movie commenting on classism and income inequality.— Wajahat Ali (@WajahatAli) February 21, 2020
Live shot of Stephen Miller on his honeymoon suddenly realizing that Trump should trash Parasite. pic.twitter.com/dxCsv7mM73— Mark Harris (@MarkHarrisNYC) February 21, 2020
In any case, what’s known is that Trump has never been much of a cinephile. His love of Jean Claude Van Damme’s 1988 martial arts flick Bloodsport was famously chronicled in a 1997 New Yorker profile, in which he revealed that he preferred to fast-forward through the film so he could watch only the very violent scenes. Trump has also declared, in several interviews, that the 1941 epic Citizen Kane is his favorite movie — but his take on the film entirely misses the point. Most recently, he tweeted obliquely about the upcoming horror film The Hunt, a day before the film’s release was canceled. (It’s back on now.)
So his comments at the rally probably shouldn’t be taken seriously as an actual commentary on Parasite — or on Gone with the Wind or Sunset Boulevard, for that matter. More likely, he’s throwing out lines for applause fed to him by either some rally-savvy advisers or his favorite TV programs.
At the rally, Trump criticized Brad Pitt as well: “I was never a big fan of his. He got up and gave a little wise guy statement.” At the Oscars, Pitt accepted his Best Supporting Actor award with a speech that criticized Republicans’ decision not to allow former National Security Adviser John Bolton to testify at Trump’s Senate impeachment trial. Pitt’s speech (and his use of former Clinton and Obama speechwriters to help him craft it) was picked up as a theme in conservative news coverage of the Oscars.
Meanwhile, both Pitt and Parasite are doing just fine. Pitt can continue to celebrate earning his first-ever Oscar for acting; after its big night at the Oscars, Parasite expanded into 2,000 theaters nationwide, making it far more accessible than during its initial limited release. Even though it’s currently streaming as well, its domestic box office gross went from $34 million to $44 million in the eight days following its Oscar win. The film’s director, Bong Joon-ho, made a hero’s return to his home country as well.
Truly the most entertaining response to all the hubbub came from Parasite’s distributor, Neon, which decided the only way to answer ridicule was with a bit of ridicule in return: