How Five World Leaders Reacted to Hollywood’s Unflattering Depictions

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Photo: Comedy Central

The great irony of the whole Sony-hacking fiasco is that Kim Jong-un is a noted fan of dumb action comedies. He would have loved watching The Interview at a palace sleepover with Dennis Rodman, if only it had been about killing someone else. Now that Sony has pulled the plug on the movie though, the world will never know his thoughts. Fortunately, that’s not true of the other times Hollywood produced unflattering depictions of living world leaders. We unearthed stories of five narcissistic heads of state who not only allowed Hollywood to release movies about them without issuing death threats but actually sat down and watched the films.

Adolf Hitler and The Great Dictator
There are a lot of stories about Hitler and Charlie Chaplin’s film that make him look like a hapless idiot. Most agree that the German dictator, after banning the movie in occupied territories, had a print smuggled in so he could see it. What the Führer actually thought of the film is unclear, though. One report says he hated it so much that he immediately added Chaplin to his kill list. Another says Chaplin was already on the Nazi kill list for being a “pseudo-Jew,” and that learning that is what inspired the comedian to make The Great Dictator in the first place. One undisputed fact is Chaplin’s regret for making such a light-hearted film about such a horrific person. As he later wrote, “Had I known the actual horrors of the German concentration camps, I could not have made The Great Dictator.”

Saddam Hussein and South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut
There’s no direct information about the Iraqi dictator’s reaction to Matt and Trey’s depiction of him as Satan’s lover in the South Park movie, but we can make some assumptions based on the circumstances in which he watched it. Reportedly, the soldiers who attended to Saddam following his capture by American forces subjected him to repeated viewings of the movie. It’s safe to assume that if he'd been giggling throughout the film, they wouldn't have kept playing it.

George W. Bush and W
Josh Brolin gave his third-hand account of Dubya’s reaction to W in a video interview with the New York Times a few years back. As the story goes, Oliver Stone saw Bill Clinton in China. Clinton told Stone that he lent his own copy of W to George W. Bush, who later told Clinton he liked it very much and there were sad moments. If that’s true, it’s a much more generous review than Bush’s brother Jeb gave the film. Upon its release in 2008, the former governor of Florida said, “The Oedipal rivalry is high-grade, unadulterated hooey.”

Kim Jong-il and Team America: World Police
It’s hard to know if Dear Leader ever saw Team America, but given the man’s obsession with American cinema — he was said to have had a DVD collection 20,000 discs deep — it seems pretty likely. Either way, the lack of Pyongyang’s outrage about the movie shows that Papa Kim had much thicker skin than Baby Kim. The only official requests to squash screenings of the movie came from the North Korean embassy in Prague, which asked the Czech government to ban the movie because it “harms the image of” North Korea. The Czechs said, “Nope,” and the movie went on to gross $40,439 in that country’s theaters.

Bill Clinton and Primary Colors
Neither Joe Klein’s book, nor the movie adapted from it, included a character named Clinton. But John Travolta’s Jack Stanton was clearly based on the sitting president and Emma Thompson was quite clearly playing a version of Hillary. Even though it wasn’t the most flattering portrayal, Clinton reportedly loved the movie. In his book Covering Clinton, Joseph Hayden writes that the president was so enamored with the movie that he invited Travolta to come to the White House in character. Travolta declined, saying he thought Governor Jack Stanton was best left onscreen.