"Anyone But Trump": Hollywood Still Hasn't Reached Consensus on a Presidential Candidate

Trump color: Spencer Platt/Getty Images. Trump black and white: Win McNamee/Getty Images.

"No clue yet," says producer-director Ava  DuVernay as the industry refrains from going all-in on a contender and California's early primary raises the stakes for voters — and showbiz donors.

After four televised debates, dozens of fundraisers and thousands of dashed-off checks, the entertainment industry seems no closer to reaching a consensus on a presidential candidate to challenge President Donald Trump than it was a year ago. "No clue yet," says producer-director Ava DuVernay (When They See Us) of whom she will be supporting in the primary. "Haven't decided," seconds Disney co-chairman Alan Horn. "Anyone but Trump," says writer-producer Kenya Barris. Those featured on this year's THR 100 — the annual ranking of Hollywood's most powerful — mostly echoed the Black-ish creator's response when asked for their 2020 pick. There's no shortage of eagerness to get behind the right candidate, but even with the Iowa caucuses a mere three months away, it's just that no one knows who that should be. (An Oct. 21 Suffolk University/USA Today poll of Iowa showed former Vice President Joe Biden leading at 18 percent, followed by Sen. Elizabeth Warren, with South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg in third place.)

"It's too early to be able to name any one," says director-producer J.J. Abrams, one of Hollywood's top Democratic bundlers who has hosted events for Sen. Kamala Harris. The Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker helmer adds that he will support "anyone who will restore dignity to the office and who will treat the job and the country and its citizens with the respect they deserve." A more pessimistic take on the industry's splintered support points to possible — and reported — dissatisfaction with the Democratic field. Some candidates with early heat, like Beto O'Rourke, have failed to launch (then again, he wasn't exactly courting Hollywood; he hasn't held any major Los Angeles fundraisers during the primary).

With California's primary moved from June to March's Super Tuesday, the state's impact on the primary overall will be greater than in previous years, so voters may be weighing their choice with even greater care. By this point in the 2008 cycle, Hollywood may still have been divided — between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama — but one heavy hitter had placed her bet. Oprah Winfrey had not only endorsed Obama, she'd also held several fundraisers for him, including one at her Montecito, California, home that raised millions. This time around, Winfrey hasn't gotten behind any one candidate — and has reportedly asked Disney CEO Bob Iger to jump in.

Even during a packed Oct. 21 event at L.A.'s Saban Theatre — a live reading of the Mueller Report titled You Can't Make This Shit Up, with Debra Messing as Trump and Larry David narrating — organizer and retired Sen. Barbara Boxer made it clear to the 1,000-plus audience that the only clear imperative is to remove Trump and "bring sanity to the Oval Office."

Not every Hollywood executive is holding out: Lionsgate CEO Jon Feltheimer, producer and MACRO founder Charles D. King, Universal film chief Donna Langley, NBCUniversal vice chairman Ron Meyer and Disney TV Studios/ABC Entertainment chairman Dana Walden all tell The Hollywood Reporter they're supporting Harris (for now); Disney Studios president of production Sean Bailey says he's backing Sen. Cory Booker; producer Dan Lin (It Chapter Two, The Two Popes) declares himself "a Yangster," getting behind entrepreneur Andrew Yang. "I wanted to focus where I thought I could have the most impact," says manager Ellen Goldsmith-Vein, who announced months ago that she was going all-in on Harris. "She could go toe-to-toe with Trump any day of the week. But there are a number of amazing candidates and we'll support whoever emerges."

Warren also enjoys significant industry support — from the likes of producers Nina Jacobson and Brad Simpson; Scarlett Johansson; John Legend and Chrissy Teigen; Lionsgate TV chairman Kevin Beggs; and Fox Searchlight co-president Nancy Utley — but has shunned the cash-machine fundraisers Hollywood loves to host. Likewise Sen. Bernie Sanders, who boasts vocal industry fans (hello, Cardi B.) but didn't register in THR's survey of top execs. Buttigieg has attended many high-dollar L.A. shindigs and has surged in the polls since the Oct. 15 debate. "He could have gone anywhere after Harvard, right?… The fact that he decided to go back to South Bend, Indiana, and work where he comes from really shows a level of integrity that is absent right now," says Grey's Anatomy star Ellen Pompeo. "He reminds me of a Kennedy or Obama."

Biden entered the race in April as the clear favorite and immediately enjoyed the support of showbiz execs including Sony Motion Picture Group chairman Tom Rothman, Paramount CEO Jim Gianopulos and Legendary CEO Josh Grode. After several poor debate performances and a slow-footed response to the Ukraine scandal, an Oct. 10 fundraiser at Gianopulos' Brentwood home presented the 76-year-old with an opportunity to reassure supporters that he was up for the challenge of a bruising general election. A number of attendees tell THR that they left the event still unsure.

But Hollywood Democrats can't afford to waffle for too much longer, says activist Gloria Steinem. "We're at a time of huge danger and also huge opportunity," she says. "It's important that we look at each other and say, 'We're going to win this election,' instead of looking up to say, 'Who can win?'"

— Ingrid Schmidt contributed to this report

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Last night we came together to read “You Can’t Make This Sh#t Up,” selected readings from the Mueller Report. Word for word, Trump’s crimes were articulated, and although there were moments of laughter— Laraine Newman doing a brilliant Russian accent—-it was also stunning and depressing to hear how Russia interfered with our election in order to help Trump win. So much more has happened since the report became partially public ( extorting Ukraine for help with the next election, asking China to help manufacture dirt on a political opponent, etc.)We know that right NOW Russia is actively attacking every state. And today, the Republicans vetoed 2 bills that would support election security. Think about that. They said “no. We don’t want our elections to be protected from foreign influence.” What has happened to us? Politics has blinded members of Congress to the threats to our national security. They are betraying their oath of office. All we can do, is use our vote to force change. I am thrilled to say we raised $250,000 last night. The money will go to support Democratic races across the country. Thank you Senator Barbara Boxer for your leadership, and for bringing us all together. { I played Trump. This my combover.}

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A version of this story appears in the Oct. 30 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.