To those who know Hollywood, the political leanings of its stars and studio heads are often not all that mysterious, as fundraisers and endorsements quickly reveal which side of the fence famous thespians and executives lie on. Every now and then, however, an actor or a renegade player comes out of left field with a surprise statement or donation for a political cause that makes everyone scratch their head and say, “Really?”
Since its earliest age, Hollywood leaned left due to its association with the traditionally liberal arts of writing, theater, music and fine art. Artists and craftspeople alike bonded under a social empowerment mythos that created populist entertainment for the masses.
Many times, it took galvanizing real-life drama such as the outbreak of World War II or the Korean War to reveal Hollywood’s ultimately patriotic core. As an example, studio Chief Walt Disney is thought by some to have harbored Nazi sympathies until events at Pearl Harbor forced his hand and his studio turned to producing propaganda films for the American war effort.
Entertainers such as Robin Williams poked fun at the three Bush administrations until volunteering to perform for troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Today we’ll look into Hollywood’s political influence…
Because of its outsized influence on society at large, it’s little wonder that Washington quickly sought out the favor of the cinematic storytellers and mythmakers of Tinseltown to increase the appeal of its political messages. Studio heads realized that in exchange for conveying the correct political sentiment, there were regulatory and legislative favors that could be gained for themselves by speaking to the proper political parties.
And with powerful friends in Washington came equally powerful enemies — politicians who quickly surmised that Hollywood could be a convenient scapegoat and culprit for social ills and moral maladies.
In one of the most notorious scandals of the 1950s, Senator Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin convened hearings to accuse Hollywood actors, writers, directors and producers of communism and horrified America with the specter of Communist-tainted films and television programs.
Although McCarthy’s actions increasingly took on the scale of a witch hunt and later doomed his career, there really was a Red Communist-funded effort to recruit and influence Hollywood insiders that began in the midst of the Great Depression, in 1935. This movement conveniently co-opted anti-Nazi and anti-Franco zeal of the time, but later admittedly exerted a strong influence over show business’ liberal circles.
Hollywood has a long history of identifying with and supporting liberal and Democratic causes, but there have been notable exceptions.
When famous actors and entertainers such as Ronald Reagan, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Clint Eastwood and Sonny Bono decided to turn from movie stars into political figures themselves, a boundary was broken, and the first two become semi-legendary Republican governors of California.
Other actors, such as Charlton Heston, John Wayne, Chuck Norris, Jon Voigt and Fred Thompson, have all been strong supporters of conservative causes, the first most famously as a five-term president of the National Rifle Association and the last as a two-term U.S. Senator from Tennessee and 2008 Republican presidential candidate.
In the past, however, actors and actresses such as Vanessa Redgrave, Jane Fonda, Robert Redford, Warren Beatty, Jack Nicholson, Paul Newman, Martin Sheen, Susan Sarandon, Tim Robbins, George Clooney, Roseanne Barr, Jenny McCarthy and Alan Rickman have been known for taking very public, hard-left positions on issues such as peace activism, communist appeasement, gay rights, drug legalization, anti-vaccination and abortion, much to the chagrin, horror or amusement of the movie-going public.
It’s hard to say if any of these dispositions affected these actors’ paydays or offers of movie roles one way or the other, but another question that could be asked is if their politics had any impact on movie or TV fans.
Certainly, publicity stunts such as Jane Fonda’s trip to Hanoi during the Vietnam War or Chuck Norris’ stumping for Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee on the 2008 campaign trail are memorable moments that encapsulated these stars’ political positions at the time.
More disturbing are monetary statements — occasions when studio heavyweights like Steve Bing, Harvey Weinstein or David Geffen donated sums as large as $10.7 million to the Democratic Party on a federal level.
Politicians from Ronald Reagan to Barack Obama have held large fundraisers in Hollywood and Beverly Hills to capitalize on the huge sums of money that the entertainment industry can raise, with Hillary Clinton raking in as much as $11 million from the entertainment business for her recent presidential campaign as of January 2016.
In fact, many people are fond of saying the Democratic Party is financially supported by three major groups: the legal profession, organized labor and Hollywood. These fundraising events don’t just raise money for the party; they send a powerful message that photogenic and famous personalities support specific causes, and this gets splashed all over the pages of national newspapers every time one of these star-studded fundraisers occurs.
But where conservatives and other like-minded Americans get particularly irked is when Hollywood’s political leanings pokes through as bias in movie characters and storylines, such as Avatar’s anti-military theme, Titanic’s vilification of wealth, or Disney films’ all-but-acknowledged affirmation of gay lifestyles.
With fictional stories, these may be dismissible as fanciful tales of imagination. But when the stories are based on real life, the impact can be even greater, as has been seen in the cases of documentary films from political hack-activist Michael Moore and the “fictionalizations” of director Oliver Stone.
Just recently, an especially egregious example emerged in the form of an hour-long “mockumentary” about Donald Trump (with actor Johnny Depp playing Trump) produced by Funny or Die, a “leftwing outreach project” run by comedian Will Ferrell and director/producer Adam McKay.
In instances such as these, Hollywood’s influence on the public at large is undeniable, and even though one can cherry-pick pictures that tilt in the opposite direction (American Sniper, for instance, or the recent 13 Hours), the median output tends to point the arrow firmly to the left. This provides more evidence for the suspicion that Hollywood is part of the general media’s left-leaning slant that is particularly evident in the news, television programs and music.
Until the public gets fed up with the situation as it currently stands and chooses to act with their feet and their wallets — by refusing to watch particular movies, directors’ oeuvres or pictures from particular studios — this bias will continue to plague productions that are released for mainstream distribution.
Perhaps only aggressive press spotlighting of specific stars’, directors’, or studio heads’ stances and statements will call out or shame those stars who choose to broadcast such hard-left beliefs. Then again, it may not matter — or even worse — such action may have negative consequences, as the stars and their advisors are often big believers in the adage that “there’s no such thing as bad publicity.”