The Apprentice: The Controversy Over the Donald Trump Movie

Screenwriter Gabriel Sherman, actress Maria Bakalova, director Ali Abbasi, actor Sebastian Stan and actor Martin Donovan leave after the screening of the film "The Apprentice" at the 77th edition of the Cannes Film Festival in Cannes, southern France, on May 20, 2024. Credit - Loic Venance—AFP/Getty Images

“Garbage.” “Lies.” “Dumpster fire.” “Malicious defamation.”

These are some of the words that Donald Trump’s presidential campaign has used to describe The Apprentice, a new biopic chronicling the rise of the former President as a real estate mogul in the 1980s. The film premiered on May 20 at the Cannes Film Festival in France, earning an eight-minute ovation from the crowd while sparking backlash within Trump’s orbit.

Trump’s team is particularly upset by a scene that depicts Trump raping his then-wife Ivana Trump—an allegation that they both deny. Following the premiere, Trump campaign spokesperson Steven Cheung said in a statement that they plan to file a lawsuit “to address the blatantly false assertions from these pretend filmmakers,” blasting the film as “pure fiction which sensationalizes lies that have been long debunked.” Asked in Cannes about the Trump campaign statement, director Ali Abbasi told reporters: “Everybody talks about him suing a lot of people—they don’t talk about his success rate though, you know?” He added that he would be happy to screen the movie for Trump and discuss it with him. “I don’t necessarily think that this is a movie he would dislike.”

Other Trump allies are reportedly upset about the film, too. Billionaire investor in the film Dan Snyder, who is a friend and financial supporter of Trump’s and the former owner of the Washington Commanders football team, is said to have been “furious” over the cut of The Apprentice he saw in February, according to reports from Variety.

Despite the controversy, the film has been praised by critics for its storytelling and performances, featuring Sebastian Stan as a young Trump and Jeremy Strong as Roy Cohn, a lawyer who was Trump’s mentor and fixer. (TIME’s critic Stephanie Zacharek writes, “If it isn’t a great movie, it’s at least a fascinating and thoughtful one.”) The film traces Trump's journey from his beginnings as a 27-year-old playboy serving as vice president of his father's real estate firm in 1973 to his emergence as a formidable real estate magnate, navigating the complex intersections of power, ambition, and personal relationships in the dynamic landscape of New York City with the help of Cohn.

Read More: Donald Trump Has Called The Apprentice ‘Garbage.’ But the Actual Movie Is Almost Too Real

The biopic often doesn’t paint a favorable image of the former President. The most contentious moment arises when Trump allegedly assaults Ivana following her critique of his appearance. This depiction parallels past accusations made by Ivana during a divorce deposition in 1990, where she accused Trump of marital rape. She later retracted that claim in 2015 as Trump was running for President.

The movie also features scenes where the business magnate undergoes cosmetic procedures, including liposuction and a scalp treatment to address his baldness. (Ivana claimed Trump had those procedures in her 1990s deposition; Trump has in the past denied having any plastic surgery.)

There is no date for when the film will be released in the U.S., and no American distributor has secured the rights to The Apprentice. But Abbasi is hoping for a mid-September release, which would mean his movie would be available just before voters head to the polls in the November presidential election. “We have a promotional event coming up called the U.S. election that’s going to help us with the movie,” Abbasi told reporters.

Write to Nik Popli at