Six months after sending right-wing media into a rage spiral, Universal Pictures has announced its intention to finally give The Hunt its theatrical release.
It had been unclear whether the film, co-written by Damon Lindelof and Nick Cuse of HBO’s recent Watchmen series, would ever see the light of day following a Fox News-fueled campaign to have it pulled.
Fox and other conservative media outlets took aim at The Hunt for supposedly pushing the message that it was acceptable to hunt “deplorables” for sport. This was an obvious misinterpretation of the film, which, according to the synopsis listed on its website, was about “a group of elites” who gather to hunt humans for sport, only to have the tables turned on them by one of the hunted, who goes on to pick them off one by one. Just from that, it was pretty clear that the strangers kidnapped and hunted -- and not the “elites” -- were the protagonists.
Fox News -- along with President Donald Trump and the Republican National Committee -- pushed hard to get the film shelved, running multiple segments decrying its release and even suggesting that it could cause future mass shootings.
“I guess it’s good to know how they really feel about us,” said former child actor Zachery Ty Bryan in an interview with Fox & Friends co-host Ainsley Earhardt. “They kind of dehumanize us, calling us racists and bigots. And when you dehumanize somebody like that, I mean why not hunt them?” Earhardt replied by saying matter-of-factly that “encouraging violence is what they’re doing in this movie.”
“How did a film like this even get made?” one-time Superman Dean Cain asked in a separate Fox & Friends segment. A FoxNews.com headline claimed that The Hunt “glamorizes the killing of Trump supporters.”
Laura Ingraham introduced an August segment on her show by saying that the “new grisly Hollywood film could inspire more mass shootings.” Fox contributor Raymond Arroyo added, “Consider the cultural impact of a movie like this, that you should kill your political adversaries.”
Fox also interviewed media critic Jeffrey McCall, who called the movie “harmful” and added, “It says something sad about the state of the ‘entertainment’ industry that this movie ever got conceived and produced. Hollywood clearly thinks it is OK to stereotype so-called deplorables and set them up for a hunt. Thank heavens some sensible outlets are pulling the promotional ads.”
Each criticism came from someone who had almost certainly not seen the movie or read its script.
As it turns out, right-wing criticism of the film was off base, though that shouldn’t shock anyone.
Ahead of its announcement of the new release date, Universal Pictures screened the film for reporters and critics. Forbes senior contributor Scott Mendelson called The Hunt a “harmless exploitation action-comedy.” Even Ben Shapiro, whose own site The Daily Wire published multiple articles about the film around the time of the original controversy, pointed out how misguided that early criticism seemed to be.
The Hunt shouldn’t have been canceled in the first place, but now that it’s back, it’s good to reflect on how willfully misinformed the original right-wing criticism was. In the only mention of the film’s revival on Fox News, Fox hosts Harris Faulkner and Carley Shimkus laid bare the network’s intellectual dishonesty during the February 12 edition of Fox News’ Outnumbered Overtime:
CARLEY SHIMKUS: They changed the trailer of the movie a little bit -- they made it a little bit lighter to show that it’s a political satire, not a straight horror movie, but the basic premise of the movie is exactly the same. It’s about these rich, liberal elites hunting down and killing people from rural America. But I said this in July, when the controversy first erupted, and I’m gonna say it again. If the rich people are the ones that are doing the killing, doesn’t that make them the bad guys, and then won’t the audience root for the “deplorables” to get away? And now we are learning, Harris, that that is the premise of the movie. And it seems like the conservative characters are actually the good ones in the end, that you’re rooting for. What a plot twist there.
HARRIS FAULKNER (ANCHOR): So -- I think my mind was just blown.
Shimkus’ point makes little sense. It’s not new information that the “elites” are intended to be the villains in the film. As previously mentioned, that was on the movie’s website all along. This is a great example of conservatives moving the goal posts when it comes to cultural outrage. Later in the segment, Faulkner says that it may still be a bad idea to release The Hunt because it’s an election year. Setting aside the absurdity of that as an argument, it’s worth noting that until Fox News went into DEFCON 1 over the original trailer, it would have been released outside of an election year in the first place.
While Fox News is relatively quiet in its half-hearted attempts to find something new to be offended by in the film -- which gets much harder now that people have actually seen it -- others have taken a different, more interesting path.
Breitbart ran a series of pieces about the film leading up to and after its original cancellation. The site targeted Louisiana’s Democratic governor for extending tax credits to Universal Pictures to film The Hunt in the state, and later quoted his political opponent calling him a “sicko” over the movie. This is a common thing that states do, but Breitbart attempted to suggest that Gov. John Bel Edwards was somehow signaling approval for the film’s message. In another article, Breitbart referred to The Hunt producer Jason Blum as “a notorious Trump-hater.”
Now that The Hunt will finally see the light of day, Breitbart has declared the news a “free speech victory,” completely rewriting the role it played in helping to get it canceled in the first place.
These are important moments to remember the next time someone tries to trot out the argument that “cancel culture” is a problem specific to people on the left.