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'Julius Caesar' has sparked controversy. But where was corporate outrage when a movie killed President Obama?

On Sunday, Delta Air Lines' and Bank of America's decision to pull funding for the New York Public Theater over a production of "Julius Caesar" which featured a titular character resembling President Trump sparked debate over the role of corporate sponsors in the arts.  

"House of Cards" creator and playwright Beau Willimon tweeted a call to action to boycott the companies. "Now I know where not to bank & who not to fly with," he wrote. "Actions like this create a culture of fear. We must support free expression, not punish."

"Freedom of expression," tweeted "The Leftovers" star and Tony-nominated actress Carrie Coon. "Also, try reading the play."

As my former Daily Beast colleague Asawin Suebsaeng reminded me Monday morning, nary a corporate suit batted an eye in 2015 when a Hollywood blockbuster blew the head off of an Obama-esque POTUS in even more spectacular fashion. 

I wrote then of the historic cinematic killing of President Obama in 20th Century Fox's "Kingsman: The Secret Service," the first film to depict the then-POTUS's death onscreen. In it, an Obama look-alike, one of several world leaders in cahoots with Samuel L. Jackson's bad guy Valentine, gets his head blown up in the film's bombastic denouement.

"The White House and Obama-ish president — there's no other symbol about a global power than the White House," director Matthew Vaughn said of the depiction months before its release. Later he backpedaled, insisting that the onscreen president bearing an unmistakable resemblance to Barack Obama was not officially supposed to be Obama. 

"First of all, it’s not Obama," he told Entertainment Weekly. "I just want to be clear. This is not an attack on Obama at all. This is an attack on all politicians, but the easiest way to making the point where people knew that Valentine was in power was to have the White House. We needed someone who was reminiscent of Obama, so that people got the point." 

The point of "Kingsman" was much less pointed than fitting Julius Caesar (played by actor Gregg Henry) with a familiar blond coif and a business suit. But no corporate partners distanced themselves from "Kingsman." It opened in wide release, grossing $414 million worldwide, and now has a sequel set for release in September.

The Trumpius Caesar-disapproving Delta Air Lines even extended its partnership with 20th Century Fox post-"Kingsman," launching a big cross-branded campaign for the studio's "Snoopy" movie later that year.

The difference between "Kingsman" and the production of "Julius Caesar"? Pressure from right-wing outlets such as Breitbart and Fox News and tweets from Donald Trump Jr., which led Delta and then Bank of America to withdraw their support of the production. One which was not, in fact, financed by the National Endowment for the Arts, as Donald Jr. had asked on social media, the NEA clarified.

Los Angeles Times columnist Michael Hiltzik points out that a similarly contemporary production of "Julius Caesar," Shakespeare's masterwork about perceived tyranny and its consequences, was staged by Minneapolis' Guthrie Theater in 2012 featuring an Obama-esque protagonist. "Delta, which was a sponsor of the Guthrie though not of this particular production, wasn’t heard to object," Hiltzik wrote. (Read more on the Delta issue here.)

Perhaps a celebrity-led boycott will nudge Delta and BofA into reconsidering their de-patronage. We'll find out in September if the "Kingsman: The Golden Circle" sequel will take similar aim at President Trump -- and if any corporations care then too.

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