Harvey Weinstein's November Surprise

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In May, we speculated that staunch Democrat and Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein was planning an October Surprise with the release of his special ops thriller SEAL Team Six: The Raid on Osama bin Laden, a dramatization of the mission to kill al Qaeda's leader. Turns out, we were one month off: Weinstein is releasing his film two days before the election.

In so many ways, the move by Weinstein, who has raised more than $500,000 for president Obama's re-election, fits perfectly in the conservative script of liberal Hollywood as handmaiden to the Democratic Party. The Abbottabad raid is President Obama's signature foreign policy achievement and Hollywood is presenting it to voters just days before going to the polls. (Naturally, today's news featured prominently on right-leaning portal The Drudge Report.) But the release of SEAL Team Six (formerly Code Name Geronimo) is a little more complicated than some initially realized and a strong case exists that the film's timing is purely financial. Here's the case for both.

Hold the conspiracies, this is a business decision first and foremost.

Weinstein may be an avowed liberal activist, but he's not the only one pulling the strings here. In a surprise move, the film will premier on TV instead of theaters, and the conduit for the Nov. 4 premier is The National Geographic Channel owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation, a company few would associate with Democratic Party boosterism. As the channel's president Howard Owens explained to The New York Times, the film's release was not pegged to the election, but to "take advantage of our fall schedule," which premiers shortly after SEAL Team Six. "Other than being commercially opportunistic, we weren’t considering the election,” he said. The Times adds that "Buying the TV rights to the film also makes a statement about the channel’s foray into scripted programming." (The channel is debuting a film about the killing of Abraham Lincoln later next year as well). 

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The other big financial incentive is being first to market. As many know, Hurt Locker director Kathryn Bigelow has a film on the bin Laden raid premiering on Dec. 19 called Zero Dark Thirty. It may have a bigger budget and a sexier cast, but how many are going to see a second killing bin Laden movie after seeing one just a month prior? You've got to imagine this will dampen the public's appetite in Zero Dark Thirty, and if Weinstein and National Geographic waited, they'd suffer an even worse fate given the film's lesser status (Don't get us wrong, SEAL Team Six director John Stockwell was great as "Cougar" in Top Gun, but he didn't have the kind of resources Sony gave Bigelow). Finally, Owens spokes to Weinstein's involvement specifically to the Associated Press. "Harvey obviously doesn't schedule our network." What more do you conspiracy theorists want?

Give me a break. This is naked Hollywood electioneering.

Keep in mind, there's a reason Weinstein is now beating Zero Dark Thirty to market: Sony Pictures retroactively pushed the film's release date back to December to assuage critics accusing it of playing politics. The Weinsteine Co. and National Geographic clearly don't have any qualms about the appearance of bias. And why should Weinstein? Besides being a longtime fundraiser for Democrats and President Obama, he's dabbled in politics before in the form of Michael Moore's anti-Bush documentary Fahrenheit 9/11. That project didn't make any bones about its political intentions of helping out Democratic candidate John Kerry in 2004: Moore claimed his film would be the "atomic bomb of this campaign.

As of late, Weinstein also hasn't been shy about singing Obama's praises on TV. In August, he told CNN's Piers Morgan that liberals need to unite behind Obama. "What I think we could do is all communicate just how sunny all the achievements are." At an $8 million fundraising event for Obama, he also told the AP, "He's done a fantastic job, and he's the most underestimated president I've seen." Sure, maybe National Geographic had no intentions of playing politics, but Weinstein successfully landed the project at a place that would air it just ahead of the elections to help his beloved president. Not only that, but he's also set up the "unusual distribution deal," as The New York Times puts it, of making the film available for streaming on Netflix 24 hours after it premiers. Is he just trying to get the message of the movie out anyway he can? It certainly provides grist for critics to say so. 


This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.