On Movies, Money & Politics
movies heroize the LAPD, which is seen by many people as a racist police force, little better than an army of occupation. How do you reconcile your own politics with this kind of representation of the LAPD?
It's a very, very, very difficult thing to--it's almost like I become apolitical when I do this. On the one hand you want to applaud the potential of what you believe could be good law enforcement, and certainly the relationship between these two cops, one white and one black, stands out. The analysis of the department itself doesn't become the focus, as opposed to the things it's fighting against. We tend to look at these officers as individuals, aside from their work as part of this force of occupation. It's almost as if they are above this in some way.
Are there going to be any more
I hope not [laughs].
What has changed in black-themed movies since you participated in
The Color Purple
Everything has been cheapened in some sense, so there's no clarity in the issues around race. Black films tend to ape white films. Black films begin to be about nothing. What is Soul Food about? What is there besides Boyz N the Hood? I mean, look where Spike has gone, from She's Gotta Have It to Do the Right Thing to the movie about a basketball player and his son, He Got Game. Where are we going when it's all about how much the movie has to make at the box office? It's eliminated a whole slew of films. No one has benefited from this situation. And particularly black people. We have to find some way of expressing what we really are. You see, the industry is incapable of revitalizing itself through the images that it has created over the last hundred years. We have to try to break those. I don't think we can break them by playing some of the same roles that create the same kinds of relationships that you see in white films. So you take a film like Beloved, which is a story about how people make the adjustment into being full-fledged human beings, how they take their own freedom, entitlement to themselves as human beings, their own dysfunctionalism, neurosis, not seen in relation to white people--there's no framework for people to look at the film. Because black audiences feel safe with the images they've been inculcated with in the past. They have not begun to forcefully assert their own image. And whenever they've done that, it's been connected with the kind of bravado we saw in blaxploitation films, and the kind of insensitivity and arrogance and anger, but no sense of the subtleties of who we are as human beings.
What do you think of the honorary Oscar for Kazan, and the legacy of McCarthyism in Hollywood today?
I'm split on it. I understand the point of view of the people who were blacklisted--that it wasn't about naming names as much as about the symbolism of Kazan reneging on dissent. Because dissent is what died in the fifties. On the other hand, the body of work is very distinguished.
Had it not been for the period of scapegoating and purging of radical forces in the late forties and the early fifties--if you want to talk about conspiracies--by the House Un-American Activities Committee, the whole civil rights movement would have been much more radical. A whole aspect of Hollywood was weeded out. Because you look at the films that came out--the films that were really talking about something were written by people who were blacklisted. Money always had an important place in Hollywood, but it was in that critical period that Hollywood began to change and became a place where money became the main force within that community, so that now it's like taken over.
Do the endless takeovers and conglomeratization make it easier or harder for these companies to stand up to pressure groups?
Generally that kind of pressure makes a company frightened. The stockholders don't want any kind of turbulence is generally the story you're given. It's always an easy out. Like when Dino De Laurentiis told me he wouldn't make Platoon because "the MGM board of directors have some problems; it will cause disturbances." You know who's on the board? Alexander Haig and Henry Kissinger. There's always a film that will disturb them. Where does it end? Wal-Mart and Blockbuster won't carry NC-17 tapes. These people go to the studios, say, "Oh, we can't carry NC-17s in our little precious department stores" because of the leases in the malls, the insurance companies, blah-blah-blah. Ergo, the studios don't make NC-17s. Because they can't sell them through Blockbuster or Wal-Mart. Just recently, our suit to dismiss the Natural Born Killers suit against Time Warner and me was thrown out by the US Supreme Court in an egregious denial of the First Amendment [see Susan J. Douglas, page 50]. But what the hell--you know, art is subversive.
You see [the consequences of] the vertical integration of the entertainment companies. I have been going to every major outlet--the Discovery Channel, A&E, the History Channel, every PBS outlet in the major market, NET, KCET, KQED in San Francisco, WGBH in Boston--looking for financing to help me produce a documentary, titled The History of Food, about the political and economic determinants of what we eat in this country. And every single person I talk to who has an IQ over 100 is overwhelmingly intrigued by the idea of this show. But all these outlets, they're like, "Oh, God! We can't do that, because of that Oprah Winfrey beef lawsuit." I mean, this is what I'm getting from The History Channel. They just say, "We'll call you." And I never hear from them.
What kind of America would you like to see?
Well, believe it or not, I see that America out there. Overall, people are pretty decent in this country. There's a lot of compassion and understanding. I live in New York City, so I see a tremendous democracy at work, people from all over the world and all over the map, with different political philosophies, religions, who are walking next to each other on the street coexisting peacefully. There's a certain madness within human nature that is violent, and has always been violent, but the news is not that there's murder, violence, but that there isn't more. You see the reaction to the Matthew Shepard [murder in Wyoming], the reaction [to the James Byrd murder] in Texas; generally we are repulsed by these things. And you don't have to be a leftist or an activist to be repulsed; it's a human thing. The real question for the future, as far as our participation in the world goes, is ultimately using the Third World as our labor force, and how complicit we are in that. I think that's a very uncomfortable area for all of us, which we have to come to terms with in the coming years.