Madison Patterson headshot

The room was dark. 

An audience waited in suspended anticipation for the moment they knew would approach. Through the barrel of a gun, they got their first glimpse of him: sharply dressed, suave in spades, 007 seemingly caught off guard. He turns, he shoots, he kills. The fantasy world of spies and villains begins.

The opening of any James Bond film is a favorite of many film lovers, but it’s also illustrative of Hollywood’s reliance on a particular plot-driver; the films heavily feature firearms, as do many other films. And if you’re Donald Trump, this gives you the perfect ammunition to pass the buck on gun violence.

After the shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, that left 31 dead, Trump cited Hollywood as a cause of the violence. 

"You talk about racist, Hollywood is racist,” he said. “What they’re doing with the kind of movies they’re putting out is actually very dangerous for our country. What Hollywood is doing is a tremendous disservice to our country."

Out of context, some of what he said has truth to it. There’s no denying that Hollywood has struggled, and struggles still, with representation and racism. There’s also no denying that many beloved films within the American cannon involve gun violence. Almost all of the last eight best picture Oscar-winning movies featured gun violence in some way. A majority of the highest-grossing movies of 2019 so far feature violence from firearms. 

So what Trump said about movies isn’t completely baseless. Study upon study has supported a modest correlation between violent media exposure, whether that be film, TV or video games and aggressive behavior. 

It would be irresponsible not to note those truths. 

But what’s even more irresponsible is to conflate “aggressive behavior” with criminally violent behavior. The American Psychological Association concluded in a 2015 report that, although there’s a link to increased aggressive thoughts and behavior, there’s insufficient evidence to establish a connection between violent behavior and violent media. “All violence is aggression, but not all aggression is violence,” the report cautioned.

The gunman in the 2012 Aurora, Colorado shooting of “The Dark Knight Rises” had certainly been influenced by the aggressive nature of movie supervillains, given he dubbed himself the joker. But what of the 12 murdered moviegoers and the 70 more he injured with his firearm? Those who came to see a movie about a hero and shielded their loved ones, heroically? If Donald Trump blamed Hollywood, wouldn’t anyone who bought a ticket to consume Hollywood’s “dangerous” pictures be complicit? 

That implication is faulty at best and deadly at worst.

The perpetrator bought all four of his firearms legally. One of the deceased, Jessica Ghawi, had even survived another shooting at a mall previously. And yet Trump sees no problem with this weapon of mass devastation, only with movies and games, and those who love them. 

Yet again the president used misdirection to avoid being held accountable for problems he helped create. 

Hollywood shouldn’t do nothing, though. And in fact, many of its biggest stars and companies have done something. The planned release of “The Hunt,” a movie where elite liberals hunt poor Trump supporters, was stalled indefinitely in light of August’s massacres. That’s a good start. Actors like Julianne Moore and Zendaya have taken to social media to express support for gun control and have donated to organizations seeking to save lives. 

Meanwhile, Trump took a whopping $30 million in campaign donations from the National Rifle Association for his 2016 campaign, according to Federal Election Commission data. 

So the next time you’re watching a film about activists taking down corrupt politicians, superheroes stopping violent villains or courageous children fighting against stacked odds, compare it with the president who takes bribes from special interest groups and looks the other way. 

Who’s the real danger? 

Contact her at mpatte26@kent.edu

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