Trump strategist Steve Bannon wrote an insane Shakespearian rap-musical
It's hard to think of a world leader in living memory who has been discussed so comprehensively, and whose motives are interrogated as thoroughly as Donald Trump. Yet, it's important to remember just how many of the decisions made during Trump's campaign and tenure were informed by his aides, allies and advisors. Running the country isn't a one-man game and many of the Trump administration's actions have been aided by the billionaire's eclectic staff.
Up until his disputed firing/resignation in August 2017 (shortly after the violence at the Unite the Right rally at Charlottesville, Virginia), Breitbart News founder Steve Bannon was considered the most controversial member of Trump's White House staff. Trump appointed the notoriously anti-establishment Bannon to be his chief strategist during the first seven months of his term and many political commentators believed that Bannon held an uncommon amount of power and influence. Now, an unmade movie that he co-wrote has given us an insight into his mindset.
A self-described "economic-nationalist", Bannon allegedly clashed with more moderate members of Trump's staff, such as Jared Kushner, and has been accused of anti-semitism and white nationalism by critics in the past. He has advocated restrictions on immigration and advanced an anti-globalist industrial agenda, as well as increased military intervention in Syria, Afghanistan and Venezuela. But even now, months after being ousted from his initial position, Bannon remains an enigmatic figure. For a start, his career has been anything but a straight line, and he's held a number of different jobs over the years.
Bannon started out as an officer in the navy, before moving on to become an investment banker at Goldman Sachs. In the 1990s, he funded the research facility Biosphere Two and worked as a Hollywood executive producer, using his considerable influence to found Breitbart News, the platform on which he would introduce alt-right ideology to the American mainstream. However, it might surprise a lot of people to learn that he has also worked as a scriptwriter and that the movie he co-authored is so strange, it's almost unbelievable. Apparently, Bannon has written a screenplay for a bizarre rap-musical about the Rodney King riots in LA.
For those who are unfamiliar with this particular chapter in the history of American civil rights, the Rodney King riots were first instigated in Los Angeles, after videotaped footage emerged of a number of LAPD officers employing the use of excessive force against African-American taxi driver Rodney King on March 3, 1991. The four police officers involved in the incident were acquitted of charges of police brutality one year later and the outrage felt by black Americans sparked six days of violent rioting. In total, 63 people were left dead and a further 2,000 were injured. Bearing this in mind, it's hard to imagine that the far-right figurehead of Bannon would approach the subject matter, which is steeped in identity politics, very sensitively.
Bannon's hip-hop musical "The Thing I Am" (co-written with Julia Jones) is allegedly an adaptation of William Shakespeare's tragedy Coriolanus, which tells the downfall of the eponymous general Gaius Marcius, whom the Roman senate wants to prop up as an election candidate. Gaius Marcius Coriolanus refuses and the furious public subsequently turns against him. In tribute to the source material, Bannon's rap lyrics are delivered in The Bard's trademark iambic pentameter but peppered with a strange combination of jive, gangster slang and straight-up nonsense.
Just observe the following verse: "You sorry ass gangsta who puts the vote above/ Your own voice; know this: When two are up and none's/ Superior, it's a who ride to the finish … You who'd be less chicken-sh*t than Uncle Tom/ Who loves a noble life more than a long, who likes to/ Jump the body in the clouds with substance that/ Overcome a certain death-in-life/ Pluck out your simpering tongues." Picture Steve Bannon himself saying it out loud and you're probably doing a double-take. Imagine Bannon (as the character of Brutus) saying: "We're cheap, not dear. White folks are dear. Their kibbles 'n' bits would relieve us, but they call us 'dear' and cast us nothing. Our suffering's their gain. Let's avenge with guns and knives. I speak from hunger. Let's do it."
Coriolanus is often used to illustrate the dangers an iconoclastic political figure can pose to society (sound familiar?), but Bannon has turned the rhetoric of the tragedy upside-down. In Bannon's inner city reinterpretation, the Republican Romans are transformed into the Bloods, the barbarian Volscians are the Crips and the infamous gangs are feuding on the South Central streets after the controversial King verdict. Marcius (the titular Coriolanus) is recast as a gang enforcer who, in the wake of the urban chaos, emerges as a formidable leader. Despite the idiosyncratic style of language, Bannon's script is driven almost solely by the experiences and suffering of its minority cast, and in typical Bannonese style, Coriolanus is characterised as a renegade, rebelling at the corruption exercised by the ruling elite.
Bannon's distrust and suspicion of the mainstream news media is on full display, particularly when Marcius rails against "monstrous talking heads chewing the scenery — as they’re about to chew up Coriolanus." Later the character of Aufidius, Marcius' Crip ally, states: "All yield to him - the press, whitey, the colour aristo-cracks of his own set. Only the trash is weak, and I think he'll view them as birds do fish and take them as his due. He served the hood and lost it ... Whether from bad choice, pride or the inability to move from war to peace, it made him feared and hated by the media."
Co-author Julia Jones previously collaborated on another cinematic Shakespeare adaptation with Bannon: a sci-fi remake of Titus Andronicus which she described as "truly terrible." When contacted about the script by the New York Times, the notably left-wing Jones was reportedly sad that her drama never made it to the big screen. However, that's not to say that it will never see the light of day. The digital news organisation NowThis has recently decided to produce its own performance of Bannon's movie in the form of an impromptu table reading of the script. The cast includes Gary Anthony Williams as Coriolanus/Marcius, as well as Nyima Funk, Jordan Black, Cedric Yarbrough, Daniele Gaither and John Henson.
Commenting on Bannon's authorial intentions in an interview with the Washington Post, Williams stated "I do think he was trying to understand race relations and take this overseer look of 'Here's what you're not seeing.' I think he thought he had a greater understanding than the people who were going through what they were going through. Now, whether he had the tools to do that or not is open to everyone's interpretation. My answer would be no, spelled in pretty large letters, with a very curly font. … Again, I think Steve Bannon thought he had figured out black people, much in the way of Trump: 'Carnage! Chicago is carnage! … American carnage! That I have the answer. That if you could listen to me, this can fix that.'"
Since leaving the White House amid a media furore in August of 2017, Steve Bannon has been vocal in his criticism of Donald Trump. In a recent interview with Vanity Fair, Bannon went so far as to call Trump "an 11-year-old child" and had very few kind words to say about Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner either.