On Wednesday, US President Donald Trump tweeted a morphed photo showing himself in a boxing outfit. The image, which is still viral, has Trump’s face superimposed on a poster of the 1982 film Rocky III, while the body of actor-writer-director Sylvester Stallone remains in place. Trump wrote no caption to explain the tweet.
The Rocky films
Running since 1976, the series is one of the most successful ever. Six Rocky films between 1976 and 2006 show the boxer fighting against various odds, followed by the spin-off Creed (2015) and Creed II (2018) that feature an older Rocky Balboa as the trainer of Adonis Johnson, son of his deceased rival-turned-friend Apollo Creed. Rocky Balboa remains the definitive role, alongside Rambo, in making Stallone one of the best-known action heroes of his generation.
The series also owes much of its success to the critical acclaim earned by the first film in 1976. It shows Rocky Balboa, then a small-time boxer, taking on champion Apollo Creed and aiming not to win, but to survive the entire fight (without being knocked out) and earn self-respect. In a list of the 100 most inspirational American films compiled by the American Film Institute in 2006, Rocky (1976) is ranked fourth, after the classics It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) and To Kill a Mockingbird (1962) and the relatively modern Schindler’s List (1993).
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 27, 2019
The occasion & the mismatch
Wednesday happened to be the anniversary of the release of Rocky IV, which had opened in US theatres on November 27, 1985. The poster that was morphed in Trump’s tweet, on the other hand, was of Rocky III (1982), which had released in May that year, not November. It is not clear whether Trump chose the wrong poster for the right occasion, or whether the anniversary was on his mind at all.
A number of replies to his tweet made mocking references to Trump’s perceived relationship with Russia, which has been accused of influencing his election in 2016. “Yeah, but Rocky actually fought the Russians,” tweeted Eric Strangel, a TV and radio show writer-producer. In fact, in only one film in the Rocky series is the boxer’s rival connected with Russia — Ivan Drago of Rocky IV is a Ukrainian boxer backed by the Soviet Union.
Trump & Stallone
Stallone’s signature runs across the series, and even the spin-offs. He created the original characters, wrote all six Rocky films and co-wrote the screenplay for one of the Creed films, directed four of the first six, was boxing choreographer for five of the six, and co-produced both Creed films.
The relationship (or lack of it) between Trump and Stallone — both 73 and one born within a month of the other — has been a subject of interest in the past. In 2016, Stallone told Variety magazine: “I love Donald Trump.” In December that year, The New York Times reported that Stallone had been offered an arts-related position in the Trump Administration, including as chairman of the United States’ National Endowment for the Arts, but the actor issued a statement suggesting that he was not interested in such a role; he thought he would be more effective in helping military veterans “find gainful employment, suitable housing and financial assistance these heroes respectfully deserve”. Earlier this year, Stallone told Variety that he did not vote for Trump (or anyone) in 2016.
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