Q&A: Onur Tukel’s ‘The Misogynists’ is Outspoken Criticism We Need

In a single, fully-stocked hotel room on the night of the 2016 general election, two Trump supporters celebrate the unexpected results, in the latest film THE MISOGYNISTS from indie provocateur Onur Tukel. As the night rages on, an ensemble of characters venture in and out of the room. Some match the two’s enthusiasm while others voice their terror at the prospect of the incoming President, but most struggle to find reasons to care less about the results that caused the debauched celebration occurring around them. Led by Dylan Baker’s gleefully deranged lead performance, Tukel’s tongue-in-cheek exploration of a divided America digs deep into the night’s mass existential crisis, and leaves with some disquieting results.

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What an incredible film you’ve made! Please describe THE MISOGYNISTS in your own words.

Onur Tukel: THE MISOGYNISTS is a movie about two men celebrating in a hotel room on the night Donald Trump was elected President. Throughout the night, we tap into the thoughts of a diverse group of people (liberal, conservative, and the non-partisan) venturing in and out of the room.

The movie is about a collective sickness in America. Americans are ridden with anxiety, paranoia, and a moral certitude blanketed in hypocrisy. The movie mocks our self-righteousness, our moral indignation. It questions who we are as Americans. Are we really free? Are we just prisoners (hence the one location), enslaved by the spectacle, the media, the superficial culture? Do we seek isolation or are we terrified of it? Are we moving forward or backward? This is a movie about language. It’s about feminism. Capitalism. Cultural decay. It’s about everything.

What inspired you to make this film? Aside from the obvious, of course.

Onur Tukel: When I’m pissed off, anxious, frightened, emotionally fraught, what have you, I tend to create. So Wednesday morning, the night after the election, I began writing this script to feel somewhat less insane. Six days later, I had my the first draft (there would eventually be nine). But I didn’t want to write a script criticizing conservatives. I felt like that was too easy. So I criticized everyone (the right, left, apathetic, and in-between). I’ve always been self-deprecating. I hate myself (as much as I love myself). So this was easy. And therapeutic. But really, it’s a protest movie. And I’m protesting everything.

Not a line is wasted in the banter between Cameron (Dylan Baker) and Baxter (Lou Jay Taylor), and in the other character interactions. What was the hardest thing about writing this film? The most satisfying?

Onur Tukel: Early in the movie, the main character Cameron says, “Do you know who gets labeled an asshole in this life? Those who tell the truth, because the truth hurts.” He sees Trump as a martyr of sorts. Now, as the writer, I have to sympathize with Cameron, which means I have to sympathize with Donald Trump. That’s been tough. But it’s really the answer to everything: trying to understand how the other side sees things.

I actually feel like I’ve grown up a bit since writing this. A lot of Cameron’s bombast in his movie masks an profound loneliness. And when I look at Trump, I see a man who is also, all alone. I think he’s in pain. When you start to look at people in that way, you really start to have compassion for them. Forgiveness is how you heal. But everyday it seems like we’re opening new wounds. Instead of healing, everyone’s reaching for a salt shaker. It’s horrifying.

How much room for improvisation do you give your actors? Or is it all on the page?

Onur Tukel: I usually allow for lots of improvisation, but not on this movie. We worked off of a 150-page script and we followed almost every word. There just wasn’t time to mix it up. The actors were expected to know their lines almost verbatim. Every now and then, we added or deleted a line or two, and kept things loose, but not too often on this one. We never quite knew how we were going to end the movie, and we added a couple of unscripted elements as we went (like the TV screen that pops on and off), but there was very little improvisation here.   

How is THE MISOGYNISTS different than other films you’ve worked on?

Onur Tukel: Well, I’ve always been a fan of chamber pieces, especially hotel room movies like TAPE or THE BIG KAHUNA, and my very first feature film HOUSE OF PANCAKES, made in 1996, had a similar vibe to THE MISOGYNISTS. It takes place in one house with odd characters venturing in and out of the space. I like scenes that give the characters a chance to really express themselves. It also gives actors a chance to act. But I’ve never made a movie where the perspective shifts to dramatically halfway through the film, and this was really exciting to me.

And I have to say, this is the first time since my movie DING-A-LING-LESS where I felt like I had the time and resources to make a cinematic movie. We didn’t have to spend valuable time traveling from one location to the next, so it gave [cinematographer] Zoe White a chance to design some beautiful shots. I had time to rehearse and block the scenes in natural, organic ways, and it really allowed us to open up the hotel room. Even though we’re confined to one space most of the movie, it really feels open and alive.

What advice could you give to filmmakers working on political satires and dark comedies?  Is there such thing as “crossing the line” too far?

Onur Tukel: I would say try to include as many points-of-view as possible. Read writers that you disagree with. Liberals should read books by conservatives and vice-versa. Having your convictions challenged is great. Maybe you’ll even be convinced to go the other way. There’s no shame in that. There are some absolute rights and wrongs. Don’t lie. Don’t steal. Don’t assault someone. But there’s too so much grey area everywhere else. And it’s just so easy to dismiss a political argument with a flippant tweet or Facebook post. I should know because I’m guilty of it.

We need movies like this, where the characters have a chance to really talk. Politicians used to have debates that lasted for six to seven hours. Like Aristotle in the town square (or was that Plato?), politicians would stand in front of crowds and orate until the sun went down. Crowds listened and engaged. Now, even in supposed televised town hall debates, politicians recite memorized answers instead of speaking at length and off-the-cuff.

The political sound bite was created long before Twitter and it’s ripped the intellect out of political discourse. You can’t give a politician 2 minutes to talk about Iran, HMOs or the future of social security. That’s absurd. Can you go too far? No fucking way. This is the point of film. To push buttons. In that way, Trump has been a fascinating figure to watch. He got elected by pushing buttons. Let’s just hope he doesn’t push the big red one!

What do you want Hamptons audiences to take away from your film?

Onur Tukel: This sounds pathetically self-important, but I’d likeTHE MISOGYNISTS to unite everyone in its outspoken criticism of the culture we’re living in. We are all responsible for electing Donald Trump. And he’s now our President. And from day one, the press and the citizens have been beating him like a punching bag. The man hasn’t started a war. The man hasn’t built the wall. And maybe these things can be prevented.

Are we not all responsible for inspiring him to be his best? It sounds impossible, but he’s a human being. And if you’ve ever been bullied on Twitter, and I have been, it is psychologically harrowing. It brings out the absolute worst in people. And there are thousands of people launching nuclear tweets at Trump every day. He’s a fragile and lonely President. I’m all for freedom of speech. But this is reactionary and irresponsible. Liberals are suppose to be compassionate.

What are you looking forward to at HIFF25?

Onur Tukel: I really hope Dylan Baker can make the premiere, because I love to celebrate his amazing performance. He’s so warm and brilliant and what he’s done in THE MISOGYNISTS is so inspiring. Of course, if Alec Baldwin shows up at one of the parties, I’d love to just sip a scotch and watch him from across the room. If he’s still in the room after my fourth scotch, maybe I’ll have the balls to talk to him.

Check out the World Premiere of THE MISOGYNISTS in the World Cinema section of HIFF25. Find tickets.