If you want proof how thoroughly biased Hollywood is, take a look at how conservatives are portrayed on-screen.
They’re not all treated as evil, but they almost always fit into a few well-worn stereotypes:
- Rich corporate jerks
- Angry suburban fathers
- Grumpy old men
- Hard-edged (and usually corrupt) soldiers or cops
- Racist Southerners
- Repressed preachers or church ladies
Sometimes screenwriters combine two or more of these characteristics.
Which is not to say that they can’t be interesting or even heroic characters. Tony Stark, Walt Kowalski and Chuck’s John Casey come to mind. Still, there’s rarely much warmth, variety or demographic diversity to be found among them.
Even at their best, the vast majority of conservative characters are variations of the same archetype: the unhappy, violent, or bigoted white male who needs to change. Which pretty well sums up left-wing Hollywood’s feelings about those on the other side of the aisle.
Occasionally, though, a conservative movie character comes along who breaks the mold in one way or another. The actors, writers and filmmakers behind them should be celebrated for thinking outside of the political box.
Here are seven openly-conservative characters – some good, some bad, some who fit somewhere in between -- who defy how the right can be portrayed in movies. Let’s hope we get to see more like them in the future.
1. Flawless (1999) -- Rusty (Phillip Seymour Hoffman)
Joel Schumacher’s “Flawless” is an odd but engaging comedy-drama about a true odd couple friendship that develops between two New York men. Robert De Niro plays a reserved ex-cop named Walt who gets help with his speech recovering from his neighbor, a flamboyant drag queen named Rusty (Phillip Seymour Hoffman).
Much of the movie is about Walt overcoming his discomfort with gays and cross-dressers, but here’s the thing: he’s not the one who’s a Republican. Rusty is. In fact, Rusty and his friends are a group of cross-dressing/transgender conservatives who dub themselves “Banana Republicans.”
Of course, Schumacher doesn’t take the characters’ politics seriously -- he’s never been a political filmmaker. The director sees Rusty’s party affiliation as mainly a personality quirk, a sign that he’s a more complicated person than his swishy persona suggests (or perhaps a remnant of a more conservative family upbringing).
And considering what a complete hot mess of a person he is, he’s not exactly a model for the gay or Republican communities. It’s still refreshing to see a Republican not portrayed as the uptight character in the room for a change.
And considering that the pro-Trump #WalkAway movement just had its own LGBT Town Hall, I’d say this movie was really ahead of its time.
DID YOU KNOW? Joel Schumacher came up with the idea for the movie after a close friend of his suffered a stroke and had to relearn how to speak through singing lessons, just like DeNiro’s character does.
2. ‘Get On The Bus’ (1996) -- Kyle (Isaiah Washington)
One of Spike Lee’s better films follows a group of black men traveling together to Washington D.C. to attend the Million Man March. While it’s not a perfect movie, it is a powerful one (and probably the last excellent film Lee has made).
There’s actually a lot in it for conservatives to appreciate – including politically incorrect dialogue, a powerful rebuke to Louis Farrakhan’s anti-Semitism that most liberals are still afraid to talk about today, and the theme that while the men on the titular bus may share a race and a gender, they vary in almost every other way, including politics.
Nowhere is this more apparent than in the character of Kyle (Isaiah Washington), a gay man who reveals himself to be a Republican, leading to one of the film’s funniest lines: “Oh my God, a black gay Republican! Now I’ve seen everything!”
Some of the other characters harass Kyle about his conservatism, saying, “I don’t know how you can be black and be a Republican.” He shoots back, “I don’t know how you can be black and NOT be one,” and goes on to deliver a stinging critique of the welfare state and the effect it has had on the black community.
By refusing to back down, he earns his place on the bus and the respect of the other men (although, this being the ‘90s, some of them are more concerned about him being gay than Republican).
He’s not even the only self-identified Republican on the bus, but he is the most likeable, and the talented Washington exudes intelligence, pride and charisma in the role.
DID YOU KNOW? Ironically, Isaiah Washington would later be blacklisted from Hollywood by the PC police for perceived homophobia, and in a case of truth copying fiction, he risked their wrath even further by coming out as part of the anti-Democrat #walkaway movement earlier this year.
3. Things to do in Denver When You’re Dead (1995) -- The Man With The Plan (Christopher Walken)
Gary Fleder’s darkly comic crime drama was sadly dismissed as a Quentin Tarantino rip-off when it came out. Scott Rosenberg’s script predated “Reservoir Dogs.” The film has since gained a cult following.
One of the film’s many pleasures is Christopher Walken’s performance as the quadriplegic mob boss villain, The Man With The Plan, an oddball even by Walken standards. Paralyzed from the neck down and confined to a wheelchair he controls with his mouth, The Man nevertheless is a fearsome and hard-edged criminal who controls all of the organized crime in Denver.
This Man keep’s the movie’s hero, ex-mobster Jimmy The Saint (Andy Garcia), dangled like a puppet on a string. He’s also the last thing you expect a gangster played by Christopher Walken to be: a conservative.
Although he’s not exactly an ideal spokesman for the movement. In his introductory scene, he teases Garcia’s straight-as-an-arrow character with the kind of gay joke that could never be written in 2019:
“It’s a liberal thing. One day you’re saving the rainforest, the next you’re chuggin’ c*ck, am I wrong?”
He pulls The Saint and his crew out of retirement to do a job that will benefit The Man’s pedophile son, who he despises but still feels obligated to help out because he’s family (this could be Fleder and Rosenberg’s attempt at political commentary on conservatives’ Family Values message in the ‘90s, or maybe I’m reading way too much into it).
Naturally, things go horribly wrong, and Jimmy and his crew must endure The Man’s murderous wrath.
In a late scene, his opinions about gay people come out in a much darker way, when he angrily attempts to punish Jimmy by forcing him to perform a degrading sex act. So all in all, he is far from an ideal human being, but is definitely unlike any other conservative we’ve seen on-screen.
DID YOU KNOW? The Man With The Plan’s nurse is played by a young Jenny McCarthy, who later said that Walken “smelled like formaldehyde” on set and that he kept a rotten apple in his pocket that he occasionally took bites of.
4. Random Hearts (1999) -- Congresswoman Kay Chandler (Kristin Scott Thomas)
Sydney Pollack’s film follows two people from Washington D.C. who meet and fall in love under just about the worst circumstances imaginable. They just learned their spouses were having an affair with each other when the cheaters die together in a plane crash.
Policeman Dutch Van Den Broeck (Harrison Ford) and Republican Congresswoman Kay Chandler (Kristin Scott Thomas) are both left numb by the combination of grief and betrayal they feel from these events, and both deal with it in different ways.
Kay essentially represses her feelings, vows to move on and throws herself into her re-election campaign. Dutch obsessively investigates the affair, hoping to find some kind of closure (while simultaneously dealing with corruption in his own police department).
The two couldn’t be more different – emotionally, professionally or even politically -- but they surprisingly fall into each other’s arms, in a desperate affair that eventually develops into something more that helps them overcome their grief and move on with their lives.
For Kay, her relationship with Dutch is inconvenient not only because it represents a potential scandal during a tight re-election race, but because he doesn’t share her politics. At one point, sensing this, she asks him if he’s a Democrat, and he replies, “What if I am?” She responds, “We talk, and I give you books to read.”
Later in the film, while trying to determine if their relationship has a future, Dutch asks her, “What happens if you lose the election?” Her deadpan response: “The country goes to hell.”
Her witty dialogue and the drama of her campaign are among the film’s highlights (by contrast, the subplot about Dutch dealing with corrupt cops is straight out of a cheap potboiler).
The screenplay, by “Out of Africa” writer Kurt Luedtke, thankfully doesn’t demonize Chandler or take any cheap political shots at her. Indeed, she’s ultimately the adult in the room who helps Dutch deal with his grief in a healthy way.
Kay is many things that on-screen Republicans usually are not: smart, caring, female and above all human. We feel truly invested in her campaign, and at a crucial moment, even Dutch selflessly encourages her not to quit, even though it goes against both his personal politics and his desire to be with her.
It’s hard to imagine a scene like that in a movie today, where Hollywood’s attitude toward Republicans is that they must be destroyed at all costs.
DID YOU KNOW? “Random Hearts” was a very personal project for director Sydney Pollack. He had lost his own son in a plane crash six years earlier.
5. Slither (2006) -- Mayor Jack MacReady (Gregg Henry)
Before he became known for his offbeat superhero movies (and some very questionable Twitter jokes), James Gunn made the darkly comic tale about an alien attack on a small town that turns its residents into zombies.
Among the film’s many colorful characters is the town’s Mayor, Jack MacReady, played in a scene-stealing turn by Gunn regular Gregg Henry as pretty much the last person you’d expect to get elected to office.
His introductory scene is not the most flattering – he angrily screams out a string of obscenities at another driver who cuts him off, only to embarrassingly realize he’s being overheard by a mother and young daughter. That pretty well sets the tone for what you can expect from the character.
Jack actually seems like a pretty decent guy, as politicians go, but just not one that does well under pressure. It’s little shock that, as his town starts to fall to the alien invaders, he doesn’t handle things well.
At first, while working with the local police to resolve the situation, he dishes out a lot of smart-alecky, acid-tongued sarcasm. As things quickly go from bad to worse, he has a full-on meltdown, culminating in a hilarious scene where he freaks out, ranting because there’s no Mr. Pibb available.
MacReady spends the rest of the movie supporting the protagonists in their fight as best he can, but mostly he provides amusing quips and paranoid speculations about what’s going on, at one point blaming it on a government conspiracy against his town.
His political affiliations aren’t made known until near the end of the film, when he gets attacked by a zombie who calls him a “goddamn Republican!” (Gunn, who is a die-hard liberal anti-Trumper, may have been trying to put some political commentary into his movie with this line, but portraying a Democrat as a possessed zombie probably wasn’t the best way to bolster his case.)
At any rate, MacReady is a consistently funny and relatable character who is pretty much the exact opposite of the standard stuffed-shirt Republican politician we usually see in movies like this.
DID YOU KNOW? Mayor MacReady is named after Kurt Russell’s character in the similarly-themed “The Thing.” Gunn and Russell later worked together in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.
6. Donnie Darko (2001) – Eddie and Rose Darko (Holmes Osborne and Mary McDonnell)
Richard Kelly’s trippy, apocalyptic sci-fi mind-bender has become a bona fide cult classic over the last 18 years, even if we’re still largely scratching our heads trying to make sense out of its plot.
Jake Gyllenhaal stars as the title character, a disturbed teenager living in 1980s suburbia, who gets a shock to the system when he barely avoids being crushed by a plane engine that crash-lands in his room. He experiences an even bigger shock when a giant bunny tells him that the world is about to end.
Things only get stranger from there, as Donnie tries to figure out if there is some way he can save the world, or if he’s just hallucinating it all.
Through it all, his parents, Eddie (Holmes Osborne) and Rose (Mary McDonnell), love their son and do their best to help their son preserve his mental health, but there’s only so much they can do for him. He ultimately has to face his destiny alone.
Interestingly, both parents are outspoken Republicans, a trend that other ‘80s-set entertainment followed (see “Stranger Things,” “Freaks and Geeks”). They’re also arguably the most likeable characters in the movie.
As the movie opens, Eddie and Rose are already going through a crisis of sorts, as their teenage daughter Elizabeth (Maggie Gyllenhaal) announces she is voting for Michael Dukakis at the dinner table. Both parents make a good case for why they think that’s a terrible idea.
Later, we see Eddie watching Vice President George Bush debating Dukakis on TV, and he cheers, “you tell him, George!”
In a lesser movie, this would be a setup for some kind of attack on their politics or hypocrisy, but Donnie’s parents are consistently portrayed as loving, supportive, smart and sympathetic characters. They also fit in nicely with the movie’s running theme of satirizing the New Agey PC culture that was taking over schools at the time.
Along those lines, in fact, these middle-aged conservatives are the true nonconformists.
When Donnie is forced to participate in some silly touchy-feely exercise by a local cultlike New Age guru (Patrick Swayze) involving “emotion cards,” he tells the teacher exactly where she can shove those cards. When Donnie’s parents are called into the office about it, they are amused, not angry (his dad even has to stifle a laugh, in one of the movie’s funniest moments).
Kelly portrays them as the exact opposite of the standard uptight conservative suburban parents, which is a pleasant surprise indeed, and they give the off-kilter film a center that it desperately needs.
DID YOU KNOW? Seth Rogen made his feature film debut in Donnie Darko. His first line in the movie -- and thus his first line ever delivered on-screen -- is “I like your boobs.”
7. Layer Cake (2004) – “XXXX” (Daniel Craig)
Prior to gaining a reputation for directing ultraviolent comic book adaptations like “The Kingsmen” and “Kick Ass,” Matthew Vaughn made his directorial debut with the stylish British gangster film. A pre-Bond Daniel Craig plays XXXX, an unnamed middleman for a London drug-running operation.
What makes him so different, and thus more interesting, than the average gangster movie protagonist is that, as he explains in the movie’s opening monologue, he’s not a gangster at all, merely “a businessman whose commodity happens to be cocaine.”
He doesn’t see organized crime as a lifestyle nor does he consider himself a bad man. He’s simply an impartial one maximizing a business opportunity.
He takes this philosophy to heart, and it is best explained as, well, to be conservative -- at least by British gangster standards. Not conservative in an overly-political sense (although there are hints that he leans that way politically given he name-checks Winston Churchill and the conservative Daily Mail). He’s conservative in his values and lifestyle, the way he lives his life.
Unlike he other members of his organization, he keeps a low profile, doesn’t wear flashy clothes, party hard, do drugs or underestimate the police. He keeps his head down and focuses on delivering a quality product for his customers.
He also doesn’t carry a gun, because in his world of criminals, it always leads to violence. But as he admits in the film’s opening, “if you want peace, prepare for war”, and indeed later on, when pressed by circumstances, he agrees to start carrying a gun, and in a funny scene, we watch him fall in love with one, and with the idea of carrying one.
XXXX’s conservative philosophy toward crime has kept him away from both violence and prison, and at the beginning of the film he has already earned a small fortune and is ready to leave the life behind for good and enjoy the fruits of his labors.
But before he can, he is volun-told by his drug-lord boss to clean up two messes -- a missing girl, and millions of pounds’ worth of missing ecstacy pills -- which ironically are exactly the kinds of messes he has gone out of his way to avoid.
So reluctantly he takes on these assignments and gradually gets pulled into a labyrinthine plot involving risky drug deals, blonde temptresses and vengeful Serbian nationals who would more than happily just kill everyone involved.
His frustration at having to clean up after all of these loudmouth wannabe gangsters is palpable. At one point, he has to explain to a nearly-hysterical man the basics of supply and demand to negotiate the price of the pills he’s trying to sell. Eventually he has to negotiate some previously-unthinkable moral compromises with himself in order to survive, and he starts to become just as corrupt as the men around him.
I won’t spoil the ending, but if you’ve seen it, consider what happens to XXXX at the end and why it happened, and consider how his compromising of his own conservative credo played into it.
DID YOU KNOW: “Layer Cake” was the movie that got Craig noticed by the producers of the Bond movies. Ironically, the aforementioned gun-buying scene is a sort-of spoof of those movies, with Craig’s character humorously striking a mock Bond pose with his gun, the actor not realizing that he would play Bond two years later.