Why Hollywood studios fear political content


A South American director once observed to me that everything was political.

He was referring to entertainment in general, more specifically the films that Hollywood chooses to make, even when they seemingly have nothing to do with politics – because that, in itself, is a political choice.

That’s still true – even as we try to deny it as much as possible (and as Hollywood does its best to scrub all obvious political content from its output).

The confluence of several different things brought this to mind. One was the studios’ response to the shootings in Colorado last week. The other was a pair of documentaries – one opening today (7/27/12), the other opening a week from today (8/3/12).

Let’s start with Hollywood and its response to the Aurora massacre. The most obvious part of that was the report that Warner Bros. had pulled the film, “Gangster Squad,” from its fall schedule. A tale of 1940s-era battles between L.A. gangsters and the forces of law and order, it apparently included a scene in which there was a shoot-out in a movie theater.

(And never mind that specious New York Times piece about Warner Bros. and its history of violent movies. Yeesh. You can cherry-pick crap like that about any studio.)

So Warners freaked out, dumped the film’s Sept. 7 release and sent it back for reshoots to change that scene. The idea was to avoid rekindling memories of the actions of one armed lunatic at the first midnight screening of “The Dark Knight Rises” last week.

It calls to mind the flustered response by Twentieth Century-Fox last March when Trayvon Martin was shot by a member of a neighborhood watch. Suddenly, it was of vital importance to rename its comedy, “Neighborhood Watch,” as simply “The Watch,” lest anyone think they were making light of the killing.

It’s not unlike the panic 11 years ago after the terrorist attack of 9/11: What to do about those movies that included now-dated images of the World Trade Center before it toppled? What about movies (or TV shows, like the first episode of “24”) that dealt with terrorist attacks?

And yet this is the least of Hollywood’s worries, for my money. The major studios have a bigger problem – such as the fact that they so seldom make movies with serious themes or content. And they never address actual political issues if they can avoid it.

Otherwise, they might wind up on the wrong side of one half of the bitterly partisan divide that seems to characterize so much of our public discourse today.

This commentary continues on my website.

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