Hollywood’s new McCarthyism

Every year, my attention turns to the entertainment trade papers in anticipation for awards season.

This year, I was alarmed to see that some actors are banding together to try and blackball the new Kathryn Bigelow film, “Zero Dark Thirty.”

The film details the killing of Osama bin Laden and makes it clear to audiences that the intelligence leading to his capture was at least partially gleaned from “enhanced interrogation techniques” — a fancy term for torture. This has caused some wonder as to whether or not the movie condones the torture of prisoners and enemy combatants.

As a result, some actors including Ed Asner and Martin Sheen have publicly called for Academy Awards voters to refuse to vote for the film for Best Picture as a way of making a “moral” statement.

I am no fan of torture, but reality is reality and should not be watered down — especially in a case as pertinent as the demise of bin Laden.

However, these actors have decided to put politics above art.

It is ironic that an industry that knows the pain of public blacklisting over political differences is so quick to do the same to others.

It reminds me of another recent example in the Best Documentary category, Davis Guggenheim.

In 2006, he won the Oscar for his famous documentary “An Inconvenient Truth” about the global warming crisis. His accolades lead to him making two documentaries about President Barack Obama’s political life with direct input from the president himself on those films.

But in 2010, Guggenheim dared to make a film called “Waiting for Superman.”

This documentary criticized the public education system as flawed and placed a lot of the blame on teachers’ unions. This did not go well with the political left in Hollywood.

Despite being one of the most successful and acclaimed documentaries of the year, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences actively held its nose and refused to nominate the film.

You cannot complain about the persecutions you have suffered if you deliberately go out of your way to heap those identical persecutions on others. The Oscars are supposed to be a time to recognize achievements in the craft of film, not to give your ideological buddies a pat on the back.

When Oscar voters put politics over art to isolate and demonize those with whom they disagree, they create a new McCarthyism.

Just like the original McCarthyism, it is a double-edged sword that will wound their moral credibility.

This is not the best time for Hollywood to wound itself this way. Oscar ratings over the years have been getting worse and worse with record lows over the past decade.

Showing the world that you’re an “old boys club” that values political conformity over individual achievement is not very enticing to audiences.

 

Reach the columnist at crgavin@asu.edu or follow him at @coltongavin

 

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