05 December 2008

Blacklisting The Mormons

One of the courses I took while at UCL working on my MA in Modern History was a two part course (stretched over the fall & winter terms) that examined Hollywood history and American film & genre history.

I won't get into the nitty gritty of historiography of either one, other than to say that one of the things we learned about film, was that those which looked at historical periods, typically used the past anachronistically to teach or lecture or moralize about the present.
(oversimplification, but it gets the point across)

Thus, The Patriot, ostensibly a film about the Revolutionary War, but done in 2000, told us more about what the writers and producers and directors and actors thought about things in 2000 than they ever did about the actual period the film was supposed to treat.

Obvious, I know, but also important.

As many of you know, one of the results of so-called McCarthyism and HUAC (House Un-American Activities Committee) was to focus on the "reds" in Hollywood. Famously, the committee held hearings in which they examined the patriotism and support for communism of several leading talents in Hollywood.

Some, like Cary Grant, fled to the UK. Others collaborated and outed their friends and associates. Still others talked about their own involvement but refused to talk about their friends.

The long and the short of all this was to create a sort of Hollywood "blacklist" in which those who were communist sympathizers were no longer allowed to work in Hollywood as writers or directors or whatever.

In the years since this period, Hollywood has produced numerous films celebrating those who stood strong against the committee and condeming those who cooperated. What's that you say? A whole genre of film devoted to Hollywood congratulating and condemning those who agree and disagree with them politically (respectively)? I know, I know, hard to believe.

The Big Lesson to come out of all of this was that when another political question threatened Hollywood, they wouldn't blacklist people and force them out of the industry--they would be, in modern parlance, more open minded and tolerant.

Now I know I'm late with this news, but that doesn't mean it's not still relevant. In fact, in historical terms, I'm rather early to the game. That caveat said, consider exhibit A:
Under mounting pressure, Los Angeles Film Festival director Richard Raddon has ankled his post.

Raddon and Film Independent (FIND), the festival's parent org, have faced a barrage of protests over Raddon's contribution [ed. note: He contributed $1500] to the successful Yes on Prop. 8 campaign that banned same-sex marriage in California.

After bloggers published his name, culled from public records of donors, Raddon tendered his first resignation on Nov. 13 to Film Independent's board of directors. It was not accepted, and Film Independent released a statement saying, "Our organization does not police the personal, religious or political choices of any employee, member or filmmaker."

Yet Internet message boards and other published reports kept the issue at the center of a growing protest movement that has targeted "Yes on 8" donors including the Mormon Church and Cinemark Theaters, whose CEO was a contributor.

On Monday, Raddon submitted a second resignation. Those close to the org described Monday's conference call with the board of directors as emotional. While Raddon's contribution had caused some internal angst, he was well liked within the org.

On Tuesday, Film Independent issued a statement saying, "With great reluctance, Film Independent has accepted Richard Raddon's resignation. Rich's service to the independent film community and to Film Independent has been nothing less than extraordinary. He has always shown complete commitment to our core principles of equality and diversity during his long tenure."

Raddon, a devout Mormon who took the reins of the fest in 2000, said: "I have always held the belief that all people, no matter race, religion or sexual orientation, are entitled to equal rights. I prefer to keep the details around my contribution through my church a private matter. But I am profoundly sorry for the negative attention that my actions have drawn to Film Independent and for the hurt and pain that is being experienced in the GLBT community."

Unless I'm mistaken, this is exactly the type of unpopular speech and political opinion Hollywood spent the last 40 years making movies about that said, in essence, 'never again.'

Sanctimonious hypocrite, thy name is Hollywood.

(thanks to M. H.)

If you have tips, questions, comments or suggestions, email me at lybberty@gmail.com.