DID HOLLYWOOD JUST THREATEN ‘CIVIL WAR’ AGAINST A TRUMP PRESIDENCY?

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I recently had the opportunity to watch the 2024 Hollywood dystopian thriller “Civil War” and my reaction was laughter and disgust. This social science fiction from Alex Garland about a US uprising against a far-right dictator was released within the context of an increasing probability of Donald Trump (a far-right dictator) winning the November elections in the US. Another symbolic reference to this context in the movie is the division of US states between red and blue states that’s a common feature of US elections, and the division of loyalist states and rebel states in the movie.

Given this context, this article is not just going to be a critical review of this movie and the context it was produced in, but also a call to action for those who genuinely wish to defeat Trumpism and the system it represents. The movie was the perfect representation of the pro-establishment opposition to Trump that seems to be failing. This pro-establishment opposition to Trump, represented in the call for support for US Democrats, has always tried to obscure systemic issues that the Democrats are as guilty of as the Republicans, reinforce harmful ideologies like neoliberalism and imperialism, and prioritize spectacle over substance. This is exactly what happened in “Civil War” as the movie plot relied on violence, performative progressivism and propaganda to reinforce the very systems of oppression that the plot claimed to challenge. Just the same superficial tweaking of the symptoms of the problem and some fetishization of violence and spectacle!

I cannot boldly claim to know the intention of this movie, but if the intention was to threaten Trump’s political base with a Civil War, then the movie is a bigger joke than Trump himself. It is not only morally bankrupt but also strategically inept to think that authoritarianism and fascism can be defeated with gun violence. The fact that there are movements worshiping Hitler till today despite his death in 1945 and his movement’s subsequent defeat at the end of World War 2 should be enough to show us that Trumpism and fascism cannot and will not be defeated with a Civil war. While it is understandable that graphic violence and explosive action sequences can have some entertainment value because of our culture of voyeurism and sensationalism, the political substance of this movie is lost if the intention was to critique a future Trumpian authoritarianism. Even if we were to ignore the numbness, political desensitization and apathy of the reduction of political conflict to just another violent spectacle, the total silence about the complex power dynamics and structural issues that drive the political oppression and social inequality represented in far-right authoritarianism or fascism is loud. Even when real-world political violence has consequences, the movie reduced to struggle for Justice and human rights to a game of power and might.

The movie ended with a scene where a black female soldier killed and is standing over the slain dictator. I could not help but burst into an angry laughter. The same angry laughter I burst into during Pride Month when tokenistic representations of diversity and inclusivity becomes the order of the day. The last scene came with liberal posturing and usual identity politics that tries to mask and substitute meaningful critical value of the art with a shallow appeasement of liberal sensibilities. As if the simplistic “good vs. evil” narrative is not enough political bankruptcy on its own, this flick even failed at the minimum reformist requirement of being a political action movie – which is in its message of liberal complacency and political inaction by implying that the audience should wait for a Trump disaster to happen before a resistance to fascism comes to an head.

Capitalism is at the root of fascism. The superficial narrative of the pro-establishment opposition to Trump, which is to blame individual political actors alone instead of connecting them to systemic structures, was the theme of the movie. The “Civil War” ended as soon as the dictator was killed. History testifies that that’s an outright lie! The reduction of fascism to one single villain or political party is a lie. Fascist ideologies are perpetuated by systems of power and profit. Trump is the face of fascism in America because he was first a powerful billionaire exploiter. Capitalism emphasizes competition for hierarchical power for exploitation. Capitalism is the reason why authoritarianism and fascism is flourishing all over the world. Fascist ideologies will not exist if capitalism did not first commodify human life, attack social safety nets and concentrate wealth and power in the hands of very few elites.

My rule for political movies (I mean movies that are directly about political issues) is – don’t make political movies at all, if you can’t be critical. Don’t make political movies for propaganda! Propaganda is not art! ‘Non-political’ movies take care of that already. ‘Non-political’ movies already exist to push liberal propaganda of individualism, even while pretending to have nothing to do with politics directly. If you are going to make a political movie, at least go beyond the usual narrative of changing society through individual heroism and military might, and input conversations that speak to the systemic and structural issues. These are dialogues that are pointedly missing in “Civil War”. For example, the plot of Game of Thrones was about individual heroism and military might, yet the dialogue was politically critical and enlightening. This movie emptily perpetuates the culture of fear, nationalism, militarism and “strong leader” ideology that has been used to justify the fascism of far-right authoritarians. It is a politically obtuse waste of film that exposes the emptiness of the pro-establishment opposition to Trump, and was only released in this politically charged climate to opportunistically capitalize on the fears and anxieties of a deeply divided America to make money. It is advisable to watch it, only with a critical eye.

(Omole Ibukun is a socialist activist based in Abuja, Nigeria)




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