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Bemusement at the ascension of Republican frontrunner Donald Trump is turning to unease as the international film industry begins to contemplate what a Trump presidency actually would mean. During his campaign, Trump has insulted Mexicans, Muslims, Europeans and both Japan and China for being, respectively, rapists, terrorists, cowards and crooks who, via unfair trade deals, are stealing American jobs. He has promised to rip up pacts like the Trans-Pacific Partnership, to renegotiate NAFTA and to punish China and Europe for alleged currency manipulation.
In Asia, concern is focused on opposition to the TPP, a free-trade deal between 12 nations of Asia and the Americas, which Trump has labeled “insanity.” One key aspect of the agreement for the film industry is the extension of tough, U.S.-style copyright protection across signatory countries, which include Japan, Vietnam, Australia and Singapore, though not China. “I don’t want to comment on Donald Trump, but from the standpoint of the film industry, the trade agreements, on paper, have been good for us,” says Jean Prewitt, CEO of the Independent Film & Television Alliance. “The TPP is a pretty strong agreement on intellectual property and the digital marketplace, and we got countries like Canada to open up their more restrictive policies and allow more U.S. product in.”
A broader worry is that Trump’s policies could trigger a trade war. If Trump enacts tariff hikes and other punitive measures, countries could respond with quotas or increased restrictions on U.S. goods, including films and TV shows. China, set to soon overtake the U.S. to become the world’s largest theatrical market, has been loosening its quotas for imported films, and cooperation between U.S. and Chinese production companies is becoming more common. Trump’s China bashing could chill that thaw. “Trump opposes China to his own detriment,” a representative for a Hong Kong distributor tells THR.
“I hope he won’t become president because it will affect relationships with countries in Asia,” says Sunny Sun, who works in the international sales department at a major Chinese entertainment corporation. “And politics does influence business: I’m in charge of Vietnam [as a sales territory], and when there were tensions with China in 2014, I couldn’t sell anything to them.”
Even in Europe, where the industry until now has been content to mock the Donald, concerns are growing: A currency war, foreshadowed by Trump’s attacks on the European Central Bank and its attempts to devalue the euro, would have a major impact. “Buying films from the U.S., you pay in dollars. The more stable the exchange rate [with the euro], the better,” says one European distributor. “A currency war means unstable rates, which means more risk, which usually means fewer deals.”
Then there’s Mexico, where his anti-immigrant rhetoric has made Trump public enemy No. 1.
Mexican director Jonas Cuaron, son of Alfonso Cuaron and a co-writer on the script for his dad’s Oscar winner Gravity, used Trump’s infamous “criminals and rapists” speech as a voiceover for the trailer for his new thriller, Desierto. In it, Jeffrey Dean Morgan plays a racist vigilante who hunts down Mexican immigrants (among them star Gael Garcia Bernal) as they struggle to cross the border into the U.S. Call it Mexico’s first anti-Trump propaganda film.
“Trump is legitimizing hate speech,” said Cuaron, “it’s not a gringo rhetoric, it’s not just about the U.S., it’s about the whole world.” Mexican director (and multiple Oscar winner) Alejandro G. Inarritu agrees with that sentiment. In a recent press conference he condemned Trump’s racist bombast, noting that “words have real power, and similar words in the past have triggered enormous suffering for millions of human beings.”
Real suffering is what Mexico’s national film chamber, the Canacine, is predicting if Trump goes ahead with his proposal to “eliminate” or “renegotiate” the NAFTA free-trade agreement. In a statement, the Canacine says such a move would spell major economic trouble for the film industry and cross-border cooperation on movie and TV projects: “It’s a lose-lose scenario. We hope that for the good of Mexico and the good of the United States Trump does not become president.”
Gavin Blair in Hong Kong contributed to this report.
A version of this story first appeared in the May 13 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
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