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“I support Hillary,” says a woman peddling anti-Hillary buttons, bumper stickers and T-shirts (“Life’s a bitch — don’t vote for one”) outside the Republican National Convention in mid-July in Cleveland. “But a girl’s got to do what a girl’s got to do.”
What this particular girl — who declined to give her name — is doing is making a killing, and she’s not the only one. For the four days of Donald Trump’s convention, the streets outside the Quicken Loans Arena were turned into a Marrakech bazaar of Trump-pumping, Hillary-dumping merchandise. There were Trump yard signs, Trump bottled water, Trump breakfast cereal (“They’re Great Again,” it says on the box), endless racks of bright red “Make America Great Again” baseball caps as well as tables full of stuff that maybe should have been sold in brown paper wrappers (a T-shirt, for instance, with caricatures of Hillary Clinton and Monica Lewinsky that reads, “Hillary Sucks, But Not Like Monica”).
Of course, all elections spawn merchandise — remember Barack Obama action figures? — but the money being made by bashing Hillary, often in extreme ways, is huger than even Trump himself might imagine. And the scores of independent vendors who flocked to the convention in Ohio are just the tip of the iceberg; there is, it turns out, a vast right wing Hillary-hating industry — including an entire genre of documentary filmmaking and book publishing — that’s booming like never before now that Clinton has won the Democratic presidential nomination.
Conservative filmmaker Dinesh D’Souza’s latest anti-Clinton movie, Hillary’s America, opened July 15 — right before the RNC — and already is the highest-grossing documentary of the year, earning $9.1 million (it cost $5 million to make, money put up by unnamed conservative investors). A book based on the film will add more gold to the pile — it will debut at No. 2 on The New York Times best-seller list Aug. 7. “Hillary has made a lot of money off of the American people,” D’Souza tells THR. “So we’d like to make a little off of her.” Clinton Cash, another anti-Hillary movie, debuted at Cannes in May and again screened in Cleveland during the RNC. But, according to producer Stephen Bannon, theatrical release is not this doc’s business model. Bannon, who made a fortune as an early investor in Seinfeld by negotiating the sale of Castle Rock Entertainment (and who now is executive chairman of Breitbart News), is hoping to recoup his $1 million investment in the film by selling rights to TV outlets and digital platforms. “The movie is a public service,” he says. “But we’re capitalists, so we hope to make a little money.”
A scene from D’Souza’s latest documentary, Hillary’s America. His 2012 film, Obama’s America, earned $33.4 million, becoming the second-highest- grossing political doc ever (behind only Fahrenheit 9/11).
Aside from the occasional opportunistic Democratic — like the Hillary supporter selling anti-Clinton T-shirts — most involved in the Hating Hillary business are largely ideologically motivated. They believe in their cause and also hope to profit from it. One vendor in Cleveland, a self-published author named Loren Spivack, estimated that he was making about $150 an hour selling his anti-Hillary “children’s” books — with titles like The Wizard of Iz and The Gorax — at the RNC (with sales from his website raking in another $25,000). But that’s not why he writes them. “My favorite character is the Cowardly RINO,” he says, referring to not-conservative-enough politicians deemed “Republican in Name Only”). “He knows Democrats are up to no good, but he’s too timid to do anything about it.”
Still, given market forces, even Trump supporters must be conflicted about the outcome of the election. “If Trump wins, my movie and book will be slightly dated,” admits D’Souza. “So I have a vested interest in Hillary winning. But I’m still rooting against her.”
This story first appeared in the Aug. 12 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
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