“The Hunt” is hardly the first controversial film to get canceled, and it won’t be the last. Violent, politicized entertainment isn’t a groundbreaking concept, but given the ever-more blurred lines between politics and entertainment and under the influence of daily social media grievance cycles, carefully marketing controversial projects is becoming increasingly important for film and television distributors.
Case in point: Two upcoming television projects, HBO’s “Watchmen” and Fox’s “Almost Family,” both deal with hot-button issues and could be in a similar line of fire as “The Hunt.” To date, the two shows are taking vastly different approaches to quelling concerns.
“Watchmen,” the acclaimed graphic novel, is getting a television adaption on HBO in October. The series will take place in contemporary America, several decades after the comic book’s plot, and will focus, in part, on the aftereffects of a white supremacist group terrorizing police officers.
Since “Watchmen” premieres in October, HBO’s heavy marketing for the series is still a few weeks away. That said, an HBO spokesperson said they were confident with their marketing plans for the series and do not plan on changing their strategy in response to recent real-world events.
“HBO has a long history of championing thought-provoking storytelling like ‘Watchmen,’ a blend of fantastical science fiction and political/social commentary which is based on the original iconic graphic novel,” the spokesperson told IndieWire in a statement. “We have approached the marketing of ‘Watchmen’ with great care from the outset. The first two trailers for the series have already been released and our future materials will continue in the same vein. There are no current plans to alter the marketing strategy in any significant way.”
Regardless, even if the series’ marketing to date de-emphasizes its more controversial themes, its handling of white supremacist terrorism and policing will inevitably be brought up by reporters and TV critics when “Watchmen” creator Damon Lindelof, who also co-wrote “The Hunt,” and others begin doing more press for the show.
Though Lindelof’s representatives did not return requests for comment, he is prepared; he received several questions about the series’ dramatization of white supremacist terrorism during the “Watchmen” panel at TCA in late July. He noted that the original “Watchmen” comic also directly addressed then-contemporary political issues and said his upcoming HBO series would similarly deal with topics that are relevant to American audiences in 2019.
“(The ‘Watchmen’ comic) was about what was happening in American culture at the time,” Lindelof said at TCA. “What, in 2019, is the equivalent of the nuclear standoff between the Russians and the United States? And it just felt like it was undeniably race and policing in America. And so that idea started to graft itself into the ‘Watchmen’ universe and needed to be presented in a responsible way.”
So far, nothing revealed about “Watchmen” has been as nakedly pandering as the references to “deplorables” and “elites” in “The Hunt.” While the mere mention of white supremacist villains in “Watchmen” spawned the predictable kinds of pushback and vitriol in the cesspool that is every online comment section, the upcoming series has yet to provoke any anger worth taking seriously.
On the polar opposite end of the spectrum you have Fox’s “Almost Family,” a lighthearted drama about half siblings who learn they are related because a fertility doctor used his own sperm to conceive at least 100 children throughout his career. The series has been mired in controversy since its announcement, and the show’s creators — who include Annie Weisman and Jason Katims — have failed to alleviate concerns about its premise of nonconsensual insemination.
Defending how your television show won’t focus on the “medical rape” — a term used by reporters during the show’s TCA panel — that inspires the series’ entire plot in the era of #MeToo is, by most measures, not exactly a great way to generate positive buzz. IndieWire has reached out to Fox.
Studios axing projects in the face of considerable controversy seems inevitable in the face of corporate profits and moronic Tweetstorms, but the significant financial costs of doing so could be mitigated by carefully marketing these projects at the outset. In short: be more like HBO and own it, and be less like Fox, who seems surprised by the backlash.