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When a photograph of Kathy Griffin holding up an effigy of Donald Trump’s severed head hit the Internet May 31, 2017, life for the comedian was never the same. “I didn’t commit a crime,” she told The Hollywood Reporter the following year, following a months-long break from her career during which she attempted to manage the international scandal that, by the end, involved the FBI, a Secret Service investigation and a pummeling on social media. “I didn’t rape anybody. I didn’t assault anybody. I didn’t get a DUI.”
What she did was kickstart a politically charged dialogue that spread beyond the world of comedy that begged the question: How far is too far? A new movie project being presented during the Cannes Film Festival’s Market has added itself the conversation.
It’s called When Women Rule the World and the poster image — circulating at the Cannes Market and in trade publications including The Hollywood Reporter — features a bikini-clad woman (a Melania Trump-type character called Maria Putin, played by actress Anna Hera) holding two decapitated heads. One is bloodied up to look like Trump in a Make America Great Again hat and a shaggy blond wig. The other, a gray-skinned, bug-eyed zombie. “Meet the First Lady of the Future with her Heads of State,” reads the tagline for the film from writer-director-producer Sheldon Silverstein.
On the film’s official website, Silverstein describes himself as “an internationally accomplished” auteur who lived in Rome for 20 years and “worked with such notable directors as Sergio Leone and Federico Fellini, and was greatly influenced by these icons.” When Women Rule the World marks his directorial debut following producing credits include such projects as The Erotic Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, The Pumpkin Karver and Hazard Jack.
Don’t be fooled by the B-movie-style poster. In an interview with THR, Silverstein says the film is a high-concept, sci-fi satire with sociopolitical themes that align with movements like #MeToo and Time’s Up and contain storylines that comment on toxic masculinity. He describes a key plot point: “Donald Trump gets in a fight with Putin over who has the biggest penis, and he pushes a button that starts World War III. … It’s kind of crazy.”
According to the official synopsis of the film — produced by Mark Headley and executive produced by Silverstein — the plot follows reality-show mogul Michael Bray; his Russian fiancee, Maria Putin; and another couple on their way to Las Vegas to begin production of the TV series Showgirl Wars. They blunder into a time vortex and are transmitted to the future, after Trump has pushed the button. The surviving women have completely separated from men, blaming them for all the destruction, and live together in a village protected by female warriors while men have been banished to the desert. The cast includes Hera alongside Francisco DeCun, Chris Gooch, Sandra Glagla, Brielle Gearson, Aizhan Lighg, Victorya Brandart and Mantha Balourdou.
“The film has a consciousness and has something to say about what’s going on in the world,” Silverstein notes. Like Griffin, Silverstein shares a disdain for the current commander in chief. “He’s a moron and doesn’t care about the environment. It’s all about money to him,” he tells THR. “It’s a shame he got elected and [this movie] is a put-down on all of that.”
Silverstein is in Cannes showing footage of the film and searching for distribution partners. “Everybody seems to like it so far,” he says of the 90-minute film. He describes the process of finding partners for his film “painful,” but admits he already made it through a dramatic production in the Valley of Fire, Nevada, where they battled extremely high temperatures (120 degrees) and weather conditions.
“People were having heat stroke and going to the hospital,” he recalls of the shoot last summer. “It was so hot, people mostly stayed in their rooms during the day and at night there were monsoons and flash floods. It was unbelievable. Our lead actress [Anna Hera] was great and very supportive. Most women would’ve quit.”
A version of this story appears in the May 22 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
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Lisa Marie Presley