Bret Easton Ellis on 'Bohemian Rhapsody' China Censorship, Kathryn Bigelow Tweet, Trump

Lauren Christensen, Bret Easton Ellis - Publicity - H 2019
Ben Rosser/ for TimesTalks

The author, whose first nonfiction book, 'White,' is out now, also spoke about his "hostile" New Yorker interview from earlier in the week.

American Psycho author Bret Easton Ellis isn't fond of political correctness — something he's made known in the past, and again in his new book, White.

Part-memoir, part-social commentary, Ellis' first nonfiction work is a larger look into everything he thinks is wrong with the world today, from social media outrage to different forms of censorship. When discussing the latter at a TimesTalk in New York City on Thursday, Ellis specifically mentioned overseas censorship of the Queen biopic Bohemian Rhapsody.

"The global marketplace plays such an intense role in creative decisions made by the movies. And that kind of bums me out, especially in terms of gay representation in movies," Ellis said to a packed theater. "Even though, yes, Bohemian Rhapsody did very well here [and] in Canada, the version they released in China and other territories, Freddie Mercury is not gay. If the American corporations are fine with that, then so be it. But don’t tell me Hollywood is progressive and inclusive and that it’s so proud of its values and everything when they are willing to go along with that."

Ellis has been outspoken about censorship throughout his career, especially after Simon & Schuster deemed American Psycho too controversial and canceled it just two months before it was scheduled to be published. Though Ellis touches on the ensuing challenge to release the book in White, he said Thursday that there's "still a book to be written" about everything that happened. But he's not quite ready for that.

As for American Psycho's role in his current book, Ellis made sure to include his thoughts on where Patrick Bateman would be today. His hero would almost certainly be different, seeing how it was Donald Trump in the late 1980s — a decision that Ellis said was the result of research and talking to those who worked in finance.

“Trump is Patrick Bateman’s hero. He’s his daddy; he’s his father figure. And Trump was ubiquitous in the 1980s — well, compared to now. But he really was," Ellis said. "And I thought he was so much a tenor of the times, and so many of the guys on Wall Street who I interviewed and talked to when I was doing research on American Psycho, they were so into him.”

To Ellis, a self-admitted absurdist, Trump's evolution is, well, "absurd."

But he doesn't find himself getting "Trump'd," unlike his oft-mentioned "socialist democrat millennial" boyfriend, who, Ellis said, finds nothing about the president funny. Instead, he tries to avoid social media.

Ellis has a particular disdain for Twitter, which he said lacks context and nuance. He cited his 2012 tweet, "Kathryn Bigelow would be considered a mildly interesting filmmaker if she was a man but since she's a very hot woman she's really overrated," which drew a significant amount of backlash, as an example.

“Kathryn Bigelow is lovely. She’s talented. The fact that she’s had to work in this system dominated by men, and actually got to the Kodak Theater to get her Oscar, is great in a way," Ellis said. But then there’s this other side to it, what I was trying to talk about, is Hollywood patting its back for representation and, are the movies as good as they say they are because of that? It did not work on Twitter at all. It should’ve been an article, and I should’ve written an article. And I shouldn’t have—”

Ellis stopped himself, explaining that he didn't want to say he shouldn't have posted the tweet — though he did say he would rewrite it or contextualize it — because to him, "Twitter isn't real."

Ellis' aversion to Twitter likely grew stronger earlier this week. Throughout White's publicity tour, the author has been challenged on the criticisms he makes in the book, but no more so than when he spoke to the New Yorker's Isaac Chotiner and seemingly dodged questions and spewed contradictions. The result was, of course, online evisceration.

“I got punk’d. It was one in a series of interviews I was doing that day, and I immediately located the hostile tone. Within a minute," Ellis said. "And I thought, ‘Oh, it’s going to be this kind of interview. Do I hang up? Do I pretend the reception is not working in the apartment?’"

But Ellis continued the interview, even though he "knew it was going to be bad."

"Something kicked in — I don’t know what it was. It was, ‘I’m going to fight this. I’m going to make sure that I can control this narrative.’ And I thought I was, then I realized I wasn’t," he said. "Then I was trying to be kind of a performance artist; then I was trying to be super earnest because maybe he’ll like me and stop being so mean."

Though Ellis thinks the resulting article isn't representative of him or White, he said Thursday that he has to "own it."

He added, "It really reminded me of the last chapter of White, which is talking about the overreaction, over-hysteria — especially among the media and among millennials — and this interview, like, proved every single point that I made in that chapter. It was like exhibit A. It perfectly encapsulated everything I was criticizing in the last chapter.”

Though Ellis said he doesn't necessarily want to trigger millennials, doing so is "kind of delicious."