Back in 1996, I was lucky enough to get to interview Charlton Heston, who, at the time, was still a much-in-demand character actor (he made three movies that year) and also at the height of his outspoken political advocacy for the right. He complained to me that conservatives in Hollywood felt besieged and believed they wouldn’t get jobs if their politics were known. “There are more conservatives in the closet in Hollywood than there are homosexuals,” he said, repeating a line he’d used in many a stump speech. But surely, I said, his implied comparison with the 1950s blacklist wasn’t serious; after all, he was there in Hollywood at the time, when some movie-industry leftists actually did lose jobs and were even jailed because of their politics. Nothing comparable to that was happening now, was it? Well, sometimes it feels that way, he said. A couple years later, having heard Heston say that the Oliver Stones of the industry wouldn’t hire him, Stone made a point of hiring Heston for Any Given Sunday. So I guess the griping worked.
Cut to today, and nothing’s changed: Conservatives in Hollywood are still complaining that they’re being shunned in an industry town consisting predominantly of liberals. The latest set of complaints comes via this Hollywood Reporter article about the impending launch of BigHollywood, a blog at breitbart.com that hopes to be a right-wing answer to the Huffington Post, with a group of 40 conservative Hollywood insiders as group bloggers. (Andrew Breitbart announced the planned blog back in August, but it doesn’t appear to be live yet.) The gripes in Monday’s THR article follow a similar airing of grievances by conservative screenwriter Andrew Klavan a week ago in a Washington Post op-ed. While I’m not buying any of these claims that openly conservative actors and screenwriters can’t find work — people like Klavan, Jon Voight (pictured), Kelsey Grammer, Patricia Heaton, Dennis Hopper, Robert Duvall, Tom Selleck, David Zucker, Clint Eastwood, and Bruce Willis aren’t hurting for opportunities in Hollywood, just as they weren’t when Heston spoke to me 12 years ago — but the conservatives are correct that there aren’t many overtly conservative movies made in Hollywood. I don’t believe, however, that liberal intolerance is to blame.
Why aren’t more conservative movies greenlit? One might ask that question of Fox chief Rupert Murdoch, who has been willing to lose millions to promote a conservative ideology via his paper the New York Post, but whose entertainment projects at the Fox broadcast network, cable’s FX, and the Twentieth Century Fox film studio are all over the political spectrum. Perhaps he knows that, in entertainment, people want escapism, not spinach or propaganda. It’s why (as conservatives note) few went to see last year’s group of movies critical of the War on Terror (In the Valley of Elah, Rendition, Lions for Lambs, etc.) or this year’s W., but it’s also why few went to see American Carol, either. (It’s not a liberal conspiracy that both Carol and W. are being roundly ignored in favor of talking chihuahuas.) Explicitly partisan movies, left or right, don’t seem to do as well as those that give both sides a voice or whose ideology takes a backseat to plot and character development.
Still, if conservative Hollywood wants to make more openly ideological movies, it should stop whining and make them. That’s what Zucker did with American Carol (and with his conservative affirmative-action program of hiring fellow travelers like Voight, Grammar, and Hopper), and more power to him for raising the money and getting the movie widely promoted and distributed. That’s also what Mel Gibson did with The Passion of the Christ, even putting his own money into the picture (and his $25 million investment certainly seems like a modest sum well spent after the movie’s enormous box office success). Conservative tycoon Philip Anschutz has promoted his agenda by backing Walden Media’s slate of family-friendly movies, which includes the Narnia series, Charlotte’s Web, and Nim’s Island.
Grammer was, for a long time, the highest-paid actor on TV; why isn’t he producing the kind of movies he and his colleagues want to see? Go, make the movies, and let the invisible hand of free market capitalism work its magic with them. Isn’t that how conservatives say it’s supposed to work? If the movies are good, and if they sell tickets, and if there are enough hits among them so that mainstream Hollywood can’t dismiss them as a fluke or a niche product, the studios will come to you to make more of them.
More on conservatives in Hollywood:
Conservative Hollywood unites for An American Carol
Television Commentary: The AMC Project: Rated R: Conservatives in Hollywood
The Final Cut: Columnist Mark Harris on why TV’s quasi-conservatives do liberals a disservice
Ask the Critic: Do you ever get sick of Hollywood’s liberal yarns?
America is from Mars, Hollywood is from Venus
PopWatch: Are stars’ liberal politics turning off moviegoers?