Remember “Death of a President”?
It was a movie about the imagined assassination of then President George W. Bush that premiered in 2006. It was directed by Gabriel Range, produced by a British public-television outlet, and at the time, was seriously critiqued by the mainstream media. It even won an award at the Toronto Film Festival.
“Is it politically provocative agitprop or merely a cynical, exploitative stunt?” wrote The Washington Post film critic Ann Hornaday. “Probably the latter, but one that has been performed with unusual dexterity. Structured like an installment of ‘Frontline,’ ‘DOAP’ often has the taut urgency of that PBS series, with witnesses providing a detailed tick-tock of events as they unfolded. Indeed, ‘DOAP’ is so convincing that, like most he-said, he-said documentaries, it eventually suffers from a fatal, talking-head inertness.”
Not a bad review.
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette gave the movie three stars, and went as far as labeling Republicans appalled at its content as artistically shallow.
“It would be naive to think that Bush faithful will be able to sit through the picture and appreciate its technical artistry or originality or the way it uses the assassination to inspire debate about the post-9/11 world,” Barbara Vancheri, of the Gazette wrote. “They probably won’t be in the theater to start, although one of the smartest comments I heard about ‘DOAP’ came from the man seated behind me in Toronto.
David Schwartz, chief curator of the Museum of the Moving Image, said, ‘I think there are a lot of people who are so angry at Bush this is almost a fantasy film for them or a feel-good film but … the film doesn’t make you feel that way,’” Ms. Vancheri wrote.
Oh good. So it’s not so incendiary, after all.
The director, Mr. Range, said it was meant to be reflective.
“It struck me that imagining the assassination of President Bush was a very potent way of saying, ‘Where has the prosecution of the war on terror taken us?’” Mr. Range told MTV in an interview. “The purpose of the film was not to imagine how the world stage would reset with the assassination of George Bush. The intent of the film is really to use the assassination of President Bush as a dramatic device — using the future as an allegory to comment on the past.”
In the end, CNN and NPR refused to run advertisements for the film, and theater’s Regal Entertainment Group and Cinemark USA declined to show the film.
But it was featured in art houses and at regional venues. Broadcast and digital ads for the movie were accepted by MSNBC, Fox.com and CNET.com, and print ads appeared in The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, Boston Globe, Chicago Tribune and Philadelphia Inquirer, according to Deadline.com.
And the fact the movie wasn’t widely distributed, or received in an all-out welcoming manner — well, that amounted to an assault on American values.
“What we find especially troubling is that these decisions are being made by people who we believe have not seen even seen the movie. This rush to judgment tramples on the basic American values of fairness and free expression,” the film’s U.S. distributor Chris Ball said at the time, about some theaters’ decision not to air the film.