Martin Donovan, from left, Maria Bakalova, director Ali Abbasi, and...

Martin Donovan, from left, Maria Bakalova, director Ali Abbasi, and Sebastian Stan pose for photographers at the photo call for the film 'The Apprentice' at the 77th international film festival, Cannes, southern France, Tuesday, May 21, 2024. Credit: AP/Daniel Cole

NEW YORK — Two weeks after its much-anticipated premiere at the Cannes Film Festival, a film about Donald Trump in the 1980s is still seeking distribution in the United States.

In Cannes, “The Apprentice" unveiled a scathing portrait of the former U.S. President as a young man. The film, starring Sebastian Stan, chronicles Trump's rise to power in New York real estate under the tutelage of Roy Cohn (Jeremy Strong), the defense attorney who was chief counsel to Joseph McCarthy’s 1950s Senate investigations of suspected communists.

“The Apprentice,” directed by the Danish Iranian filmmaker Ali Abbasi, immediately sparked controversy. After its premiere, Trump's reelection campaign spokesperson, Steven Cheung, called the movie “pure fiction” and said the Trump team would file a lawsuit “to address the blatantly false assertions from these pretend filmmakers.”

Whether influenced by that threat or not, “The Apprentice” is yet to secure distribution from either a major studio or a leading streaming service — none of whom have put in a bid on the movie. While the film has picked up international distribution in most territories worldwide, it doesn't yet have a home in the country where Trump is running for president.

Though high-profile films typically find buyers either before or shortly after their festival debuts, negotiations can drag on. A spokesperson for the film's sales team declined to comment. A person close to the film who requested anonymity because they weren't authorized to comment publicly said there are numerous offers for the film domestically.

Earlier this week, Abbasi's frustration seemed to boil over on X, the social media platform. In a response to a news article blaming a stream of sequels and remakes on the recently dismal performance of films at the box office, Abbasi offered “a new proposition."

“Its not a (expletive) sequel nor is it a (expletive) remake," wrote Abbasi. "Its called #The_Apprentice and for some reason certain power people in your country don’t want you to see it!!!”

Gabriel Sherman, from left, Maria Bakalova, director Ali Abbasi, Sebastian...

Gabriel Sherman, from left, Maria Bakalova, director Ali Abbasi, Sebastian Stan, and Martin Donovan pose for photographers upon departure from premiere of the film 'The Apprentice' at the 77th international film festival, Cannes, southern France, Monday, May 20, 2024. Credit: AP/Scott A Garfitt

Representatives for Trump didn't respond to requests for comment. Last Thursday, Trump was convicted of 34 counts of falsifying business records arising from what prosecutors said was an attempt to cover up a hush money payment to porn actor Stormy Daniels just before the 2016 presidential election.

One scene in the film is especially explosive. Late in the movie, Trump is depicted raping his wife, Ivana Trump (played by Maria Bakalova ). In Ivana Trump’s 1990 divorce deposition, she stated that Trump raped her. Trump denied the allegation and Ivana Trump later said she didn’t mean it literally, but rather that she had felt violated.

Variety earlier reported alleged behind-the-scenes drama surrounding “The Apprentice.” Citing anonymous sources, the trade publication reported that billionaire Dan Snyder, the former owner of the Washington Commanders and an investor in “The Apprentice,” has pressured the filmmakers to edit the rape scene. Snyder previously donated to Trump’s presidential campaign.

Attorneys for Snyder didn't respond to requests for comment.

Releasing “The Apprentice” in most years could be challenging. In an election year, it's a potential lighting rod. Distributors would be faced with the option of launching it either shortly before the election in November or after it.

“The Apprentice” received largely positive reviews in Cannes but didn't factor into the festival's juried awards. Strong's performance was particularly praised as a possible awards contender.

At the film's premiere, Abbasi argued for the movie's direct approach, saying “there is no nice metaphorical way to deal with the rising wave of fascism.”

The following day, the filmmaker shrugged off the threat of a lawsuit.

“I don’t necessarily think that this is a movie he would dislike,” said Abbasi. “I don’t necessarily think he would like it. I think he would be surprised, you know? And like I’ve said before, I would offer to go and meet him wherever he wants and talk about the context of the movie, have a screening and have a chat afterwards, if that’s interesting to anyone at the Trump campaign.”

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