‘Red Rocket’: Sean Baker’s reflection of Donald Trump’s America
(Credits: A24)


‘Red Rocket’: Sean Baker’s reflection of Donald Trump’s America

American director Sean Baker has always seen himself as a “political filmmaker”. His films Tangerine and The Florida Project focus on outsider characters whose lives are undoubtedly influenced by the socio-political environment of the United States, and his 2021 movie Red Rocket also provides a reflection on the present state of America following the presidency of Donald Trump.

Baker had once told Huck magazine that his films most often have “something to do with the people left behind by the American Dream […] the ones who are then forced to live in the shadows of it”. In this light, Red Rocket certainly continues Baker’s journey and ethos as a director by giving a social commentary post-Trump.

Starring Simon Rex, Bree Elrod and Suzanna Son, Red Rocket tells of a middle-aged former porn star who returns to his small-town Texas home from Los Angeles after being away for 17 years, trying to regain the life he once had. Having chased the American dream in Hollywood, Mikey finds that he has been failed by it and struggles to find work back in Texas City and has to turn to selling drugs instead.

By focusing on a small town in Texas ravaged by poverty and unemployment, Baker detailed the difficulties of the working class, away from the glitz and the glamour of Hollywood and California. The characters’ lives are largely defined by them going to whatever illegal lengths they need to in order to survive, which is a damning indictment of Trump’s treatment of the most downtrodden members of society.

In addition, the character of Mikey himself also seems to have parallels with the former US president. He is a problematic middle-aged man who pursues a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old girl and seems capable of manipulating those around him with his experience in the limelight and his subsequent charm and charisma, regardless of his admittedly dodgy morality.

“I mean, a lot of people have pointed out that they see Trump in Mikey, and it’s a hundred percent legit,” Baker had once told Uproxx. Pro-Trump signs also litter the town of Red Rocket and Baker had explained that Mikey shares the quality with Trump of “drawing people in the way that a celebrity [or] a reality star would”. After all, Trump himself is not a politician and yet found himself in a position of political power.

As a result, non-political individuals suddenly became vociferously political, and Baker wanted to make his protagonist “apolitical” in order for his audiences to be able to make their own minds up. While the director was keen not to give a direct criticism of Trump’s presidency, it still remains that Red Rocket managed to reflect on the consequences of his tenure, particularly in those who sought the American Dream and those who never even got close to it.

Further points concerning Red Rocket’s reflection on post-Trump America include the moral ambiguity of Mikey, akin to Trump himself, and the fact that the film’s protagonist had originally belonged to the media (albeit the adult entertainment industry), just has Trump had gained public notoriety during his pre-presidential years, whereby he gained the ability to manipulate the media and thereby find political success.

With Red Rocket, Sean Baker undoubtedly continued his path as one of America’s most important filmmakers and one of the most subtle directors commenting on the politics of contemporary America.