It’s a myth that the Great Wall of China can be seen from space. Still, with an awesome span of 5,500 miles, it stretches more than twice as long as the U.S./Mexico border. This past summer, when I was offered a directing gig in Beijing, I jumped at my chance to finally see, firsthand, the progenitor of culturally divisive barrier protection.
Most of what I know about the Great Wall comes from martial arts movies and Wikipedia. As a lifelong fan of stories featuring Evil Warlords with supernatural fighting skills, I’ve also tracked Donald Trump’s promises to build an impenetrable wall of his own. This trip would be my reconnaissance mission on behalf of the American people– and I wanted to take The Donald with me, like one of Amelie’s garden gnomes.
Regrettably, the real “The Donald” now comes with secret service detail (I couldn’t afford to fly them all), and the two very best Trump impersonators (Alec Baldwin and Anthony Atamanuik) were unavailable.
Enter: HANKSY. I first crossed paths with the shadowy street artist’s work in 2008, when I stumbled on one of his early mashups fusing Tom Hanks with Banksy, his even more mysterious, more elusive, scene-stealing namesake. Both creators are like a blend of Shaolin Fantastic with Keyser Söze and Mister Snuffleupagus– mixed at slightly different ratios.
Hanksy’s masterpiece may well be a one-story-tall poop emoji with the face of a bombastic real estate developer. It has adorned an Orchard Street apartment building for over a year– next to a sign that reads “No Dumping.”
Stumbling home late on the night of August 25, 2015, I happened on a friend– paint and brushes in hand– sketching a familiar face on a freshly painted-over white wall. I had, at long last, unmasked the rogue painter’s secret identity. I now knew how Alfred felt the first time he discovered Bruce Wayne’s Bat Gauntlets in the hamper.
The resulting iconic image has appeared all over Instagram, been invoked by protesters, and even makes a cameo in the latest Pussy Riot video. It has been knocked off all over Chinatown, but it’s never once visited the Great Wall– which is ridiculous, because Trump loves walls. He says so all the time.
Meanwhile, there are times it seems nothing that I do can get me any attention from the Chinese government. I’ve already tried making a dystopian sci-fi film starring China’s most outspoken dissident. So what did the Communist Party do? They gave me another tourist visa.
I laid out my master plan with Hanksy, received his rolled up facsimile a few hours before departure, flew halfway round the world, hired a car, trekked past the refurbished wall with its tchotchkes and tourists, and found a quiet corner, not far from the wild wall, where it’s all ruins and rubble. Middle ground in the Middle Kingdom: the perfect location for my photoshoot. The air was crip, the sky was clean, and the Donald was as disgusting as ever.
Hanksy Instagrammed this image:
It’s been liked nearly 3,000 times, which is about 3,000 times more love than any of my pics ever got, though not nearly as much attention as I received for a surreptitious snapshot of me riding the subway this past spring.
At least I finally got some attention for something.
Says Hanksy: “For some reason my image resonated with people. Years from now, when we’re all looking back at Trump’s failed presidential campaign, this silly painting will be associated with it. And that’s rad.”
Construction of the Great Wall of China took centuries, and countless workers sacrificed their lives to build it. Let’s not even talk about what minimum wage looked like back then. I’m not nearly as optimistic about the upcoming election as Hanksy, so I voted early. Hopefully, this pic will get a few likes in a swing-state: