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On Movies, Money & Politics

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The Nation asked six politically active members of the entertainment community to comment on recent developments in the realms of politics and popular culture. Most of the participants agree that President Clinton has badly let down the liberals who supported him, although none think he should have been impeached. Most agree that there is little difference between the two parties, and all decry the influence of money on American politics, and on films as well. The participants are: Warren Beatty, Danny Glover, Norman Lear, Oliver Stone, Tim Robbins and Alec Baldwin. (We regret that Susan Sarandon, who was scheduled to participate, could not do so because of illness.) Thanks to Carl Bromley and Jon Wiener for conducting the interviews.

About the Author

Peter Biskind
Peter Biskind, a contributing editor to Vanity Fair, is the author of a forthcoming book on the independent film...

Also by the Author

THIS IS THE THIRD of what now threatens to become The Nation's annual Hollywood issue. Following in the footsteps of the catholic Mr. Soderbergh, whose Y2K output ran the gamut from Erin Brockovich to Traffic, this time around there is not even the shadow of a theme. But a little eclecticism never hurt anyone. In the forum, GENE SEYMOUR engages black filmmakers, who, as a group, appear to be enjoying unprecedented success, although he finds clouds within the silver lining. ELLEN WILLIS puts The Sopranos on her couch with a dazzling appreciation-slash-deconstruction of the East Coast's favorite soap (interestingly, the West Coast appears to be more taken with Gladiator), while MARC COOPER does the same for Hollywood's version of the labor movement, giving us an eye-opening glimpse into the internal politics of the guilds on the eve of what at this point seems to be an inevitable strike.

GEOFFREY GILMORE, who has run the Sundance Film Festival for eleven years, takes on "purists" and "ideologues" in a spirited assessment of the current state of independent film. Also in the not-so-pure department, AMY WALLACE reports that Jodie Foster is looking to make a feature out of the life of infamous filmmaker-cum-Hitler- groupie Leni Riefenstahl. The byzantine Oscar documentary process gets put under the microscope by CARL BROMLEY, who notes that the academy's snub of Wim Wenders's Buena Vista Social Club last year was only the most recent in a long history of mind-boggling misjudgments. We've tossed some candy throughout the issue in the form of reflections--both visual and verbal, from some names you'll recognize--on the allure of certain matinee idols. Finally, there is a real treat: an excerpt of newly published letters that present RAYMOND CHANDLER in a wholly unexpected light.

*Last year, I was the guest editor of The Nation's first issue devoted exclusively to Hollywood and politics.

Q: Has Clinton done damage to the liberal agenda?

Stone:

He never really had a liberal agenda. He caved on military issues, tax issues. He could at least pardon Leonard Peltier before he leaves office. But I doubt it. He's the ultimate pragmatic man--Republican or Democrat; although I do think the impeachment humiliation may finally crack through his desire to please all and let loose the JFK-like man inside. Perhaps the last year and a half of his presidency will be surprising.

Lear:

I wouldn't say we should entirely blame Clinton. He wasn't there alone. The Democrats aided and abetted him.

Robbins:

I've never been a Clinton supporter. Never appeared at anything for him, never went to the White House--have been invited, turned it down. My film Bob Roberts is about the subversion of a culture for one's own gain. Both parties are guilty of that. But Clinton, as time goes on, is becoming closer to Bob Roberts than Bush ever was.

Glover:

I don't think I've ever really supported Clinton's presidency. He's just someone who has taken his personality and used it in a way to seduce people into believing that he is something that he's not, that he's someone who really fights for issues. When it came to really difficult decisions, he certainly didn't step to the plate.

Baldwin:

I think it's an oversimplification to say that a lot of support for Clinton is based on a lesser-of-two-evils foundation. I don't consider Clinton a progressive, but I think some credit should be given to the fact that when he came into the White House, he did try a relatively progressive agenda in the work he was doing on healthcare and gays in the military, and he got smacked down pretty quickly for it. A lot of people are saying he then ran off and co-opted the Republicans' agenda. I don't think that's wholly true. Clinton is somebody who said, Listen, if I can't accomplish what I want to do, let's go and accomplish those things they want to do that I think are worthwhile.
   And then, every once in a while, Clinton will step up and do something that reminds you that he does have some liberal stripes, that he's not been completely co-opted by their agenda. He'll give Orrin Hatch a heart attack by setting aside the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and wiping out all the mining and tourism. Or, the EPA made an announcement the other day about air quality emissions standards, which always gives Detroit a little bit of a chest pain. But it's certainly not enough for people on my side.

Q:

What did you think of the impeachment?

Glover:

I've not looked at a stitch of television in reference to it, and part of that is just a reflection of just how absurd I think the mess is.

Stone:

I rooted for him during the impeachment process, of course, because fanaticism and puritanism in any form are my enemies. On the other hand, I have very ambivalent feelings about the rest of his behavior. He reminds me so much of Nixon: The pathology. The need to lie. A President who says, I smoked but I didn't inhale. A President who refuses to be proud of, or even to acknowledge that he didn't go to Vietnam for reasons of principle, and makes it sound like he's running away from what he did. Total pandering to the right wing. Clinton and the teenager. Like an Elvis movie. The poor man couldn't even get laid well. He's so cautious. Was he into Tantric sex? I don't think so.

Q:

Why is the right so intent on destroying Clinton?

Baldwin:

He was conciliatory toward them, but they viewed it as, "Oh, God! Clinton stole our playbook and he's quarterbacking their team with it." They didn't want him to get credit for their ideas, which is why I think they wanted to kill him.

A lot of these guys who are in there now cut their teeth on Watergate, and they've been carrying around the deep, deep shame that Republicans since then have pretty much been synonymous with. These guys--Lott and Gingrich and the archconservative leadership of the party--just can't seem to get out of the shadow of Nixon. They wanted Clinton to be our Nixon. They were on their knees praying to God at night for some kind of situation that would create an ethical parity between the two parties that would enable them finally to put Nixon to rest, where they could say, We're not the only party of rich white guys who want to keep women down.

Robbins:

This impeachment business is really about morality, or their version of morality, and also it's about abortion, and about--I think you have to understand why these people hate this man so much, and it can't be his policies because he's been a true Republican in his policies, economically. It's got to have something to do with this radical Christianity. It's got to have something to do with not only morality but white supremacy and the role of women in the world. It must really bug some of these people that he's appointed so many women, people of color, to his Administration. The good news is that generally the American public has not gone for it. But the scary thing is that radical Christians have a foothold.

Q:

Does Clinton's vindication, if you can call it that, indicate that the level of sexual hypocrisy in this country has diminished?

Beatty:

There's a very large issue, which emerged around the time of Gary Hart, that's come to a boil at the end of the century, and that is whether the sexual puritanism of the Massachusetts Bay Colony can long survive with our technology's effect on privacy, our speed of information, our advertising and our rising excitement about sexual matters. And the country seems to want to take the sacrificial lambs off the skewer before they're cooked to death. If the unintended consequence of this sexual McCarthyism is that the baby boom generation insists on a more realistic evaluation of sex--let's not call it sex, let's call it ethics, truthfulness, human frailties--then the religious right may have made a mistake bringing this subject to the table. Speaking of unintended consequences for the religious right, the US has the highest divorce rate on earth. We are also the most puritanical country. If our puritanism declines, maybe our rate of divorce will also. The religious right should be happy with that.

Baldwin:

I think there will still be people who view sexual behavior as an effective way of derailing certain people's political fortunes. The extremist Republican leadership are destroyers, they're not builders. How can you come in and say that a welfare system, with as many warts as there were on that system, wasn't a valid attempt by a very intelligent and well-meaning group of people several decades ago to address a serious problem? They didn't wake up one day and say, "How can we burn and blow and waste billions of dollars over the next several decades giving away money to poor people?" The extremist Republicans would rather shut it down and have nothing, rather than repair it. And if we consign a generation of people to abject poverty and ignorance and poor health and illiteracy and so forth, then that's just too bad.

Q:

So in 2000, will candidates have to answer as many questions about their private lives?

Robbins:

Bob Roberts is thinking about running for President right now. Being that he's paralyzed from the waist down, he's kind of the perfect candidate. The slogan would be, No sex, just business.

Beatty:

Now people are saying, "Nobody who ever had sex in their life will be able to run for office." I think the antithesis may be true. The length of time it took to play this out--the amount of embarrassment, humiliation and degradation--has dramatized the triviality of the issue. It may cause the public to tire of the subject of what mischief Daddy's doing at the office all day, and cause them to think about the work he's doing.

Q:

Many of the power brokers in the Hollywood community have embraced Clinton closely. Is this a good thing, or mutually destructive? Hollywood liberals get co-opted, while Clinton gets tarred with showbiz schmaltz and progressive advocacy in general suffers?

Glover:

Campaigning and raising money, the whole thing with Clinton or Gore and those guys--I refuse to do it. Those guys who want to sleep in the Oval Office, sleep in the mansion, it's about access.

Beatty:

It's not a question of Clinton, but I don't see enormous passion from the creative community for the Democratic or the Republican Party. It's hard to have passion for something that polling gives you. It doesn't need your passion.

Robbins:

I don't believe it's our job to endorse candidates. I believe in using your celebrity and your fame to call attention to issues that are not getting press. If your appearance at a fundraiser or at a rally can bring press that otherwise wouldn't be there, and you believe in the issue, then I think that's almost an obligation, certainly for me.

Q:

What issues is the press ignoring, in your view?

Robbins:

The recent civilian casualties in Iraq. I remember being adamantly opposed to the Gulf War. And you talk about the Hollywood left, where the hell were they? The same people who will be absolutely crazy about animals being sacrificed in the name of medical research will not raise a voice about human beings who are killed in the name of oil. That's an uncomfortable issue for people. We've all turned our eyes away for whatever reason, religious or political.
   And refugee issues--the people who are in jails in the United States for wanting political asylum here, for trying to cross into the United States illegally and because their skin happens to be a darker hue. I think we have a really racist immigration policy that we don't think twice about.

In New York City there is finally some attention being paid to this overly enthusiastic police state that's happening here--the erosion of civil liberties in the name of fighting crime.

Q: Do you call yourself a Democrat?

Beatty:

I've always been a Democrat and I guess I'll always be a Democrat, until I get a better idea.

Lear:

No. I ceased to be a Democrat in the middle of the Clarence Thomas/Anita Hill hearings. I was just fed up with the whole array of white, largely Protestant, out of touch, elderly guys. So I'm a registered Independent.

Q:

Do you believe that the parties have converged?

Beatty:

That became an issue as soon as the Democratic National Committee decided there's only one way to win this thing, and that's to become Republican Party Lite. There is very little difference between a conservative Democrat and a liberal Republican. We're living in an era where Mary Matalin can be married very happily to James Carville.

I'm not naïve enough to say that winning isn't important, but the Pyrrhic nature of that victory does not thrill me. The question is now, What will happen within this centrist party that we call the Democratic Party? Will it go back to its roots? Or will it stay mired in the centrist lack of ideology? At the moment, it seems as if it will stay in that centrist track. People are reluctant to break up the Yankees. By that, I mean a winning team.

Lear:

I think the last six months have proven there is a very significant difference between the parties. Since 1980 I've been extremely concerned about the growing threat of the religious right. And the Democrats have been far less, if at all, susceptible to that threat. We figure the Republican Party apparatus in some thirty-one states is largely owned by the religious right.

Q:

Are there any Democratic candidates on the scene today whom you like? Could you work on a campaign today?

Beatty:

In truth, if the campaigns involve the careers of individuals, the answer is usually no. But there is one idea that underlies everything, one issue, what Bulworth tries to address, and that is campaign finance. And that interests me very much. If people find that interesting enough--I think we're getting closer to that--it will be too embarrassing for the incumbents to remain against it.

Baldwin:

Campaign finance reform is the key to solving probably nearly all of the significant political problems we have in this country. People are turned off because the current system has forced the political parties to recruit candidates who are guys that are just trying to get their hands up your blouse in the back of the car. Look at Michael Huffington, who ran as an archconservative Republican [for the US Senate from California in 1994] whom nobody knew anything about. He didn't have any record; I mean, the guy was a complete paper tiger, but he had lots of paper dollars, obviously. People are just suffocating. This is why we have Jesse "The Body" Ventura. Every now and then you reach a critical mass of people--it's as rare as diamonds, I suppose--who will take what's new and refreshing. Ventura just represents a kind of political oxygen to these people.

Q:

Paul Wellstone has already pulled out of the race for the Democratic nomination for President. Jesse Jackson did in the past. Does electoral politics have a future for progressives in this country?

Lear:

This is where money is killing us. Some very good people with some fresh thinking would absolutely be there if they thought they could raise the money, or if they didn't think they'd have to kill themselves to raise the money. Wellstone says it was his back that kept him out of the race. I think he was projecting how his back would feel after he tried to raise $40 million. I would have helped him every way I could, because I think his voice is important to be heard. But then it would be my aching back.

Beatty:

Well, the present is not like the past, with Eugene McCarthy or Bobby [Kennedy]. Now these frontloaded presidential primaries will be rigged to respond to money in the same way that movies opening on a Friday night are rigged by money. There are exceptions, but in the main, it is the money that controls public opinion on movies and in politics. So it's almost--I won't say impossible, but it's difficult to make relevant the attributes of a given individual and attract attention to him and make his point of view clear even if he's charismatic, without the money.

Q:

Alec Baldwin, in your campaign financing activism, you talked about getting the tobacco industry out of politics, referring to the way that they're almost buying elected offices.

Baldwin:

I think the influence of corporations in American political life is no more and no less than it was seventy-five years ago. It just has a greater impact today because the consequences seem to be so much more dire. There really is a sense that in certain areas, time is running out. We have to start coming up with answers for emissions and greenhouse gas effects and things like that before it's 120 degrees six months out of the year and the polar icecaps are gone and nobody's laughing at all those jokes about ocean-front property in Nevada. The biggest change today is that the media are now part of the conspiracy. I don't want to pull a Hillary Clinton conspiracy theory thing here, but the----

Q:Did you ever buy that?

Baldwin:

Oh, I totally bought what she said. I think there's a right-wing conspiracy to get Clinton. I think there's a right-wing conspiracy to get anybody who represents real progress and change in this country.

Stone:

She seems to have been correct. Quite a bit of money was funneled in, serious money, to keep this thing alive. Richard Mellon Scaife and his right-wing money came very close to toppling the presidency.

Q:

Money is corrupting politics, and nobody seems to want to do anything about it. Why?

Glover:

Well, it's sort of obvious [laughs]. That's why people don't vote anymore. People feel disempowered, disillusioned. And they feel as if their vote has no impact on the status quo. I mean, that's the reason why they're not voting.

Q:

Is there any point in voting?

Stone:

Yes, by all means. Do not as I do, but do as I say. You've got to make the effort, man. It's like moving the cube an inch at a time; if you give up it doesn't move at all. Water can break down rocks. I do believe the message of Steinbeck and Kazan's Viva Zapata!, the great last lines--I'm paraphrasing--where Brando says, "They don't need me. A strong people don't need a strong leader when they're strong themselves."

Robbins:

It's a myth that we have a choice between candidates, but I still vote. More importantly, for local elections, and to stave off the religious radicals.

Glover:

I still think it's important that people vote [if only] as a catalyst to realize how disempowered they are. And then in doing so, they begin to form the institutions that will effect their agenda. Voting is a means to an end, not an end in itself. One thing about this quote, unquote, representative democracy is that voting has become an end in itself. And then you elect those people who are supposed to be accountable to you, but have proven over and over again that they're not accountable to you. They're accountable to being re-elected, one, and to those other people who give the large money and support. So we get fooled in it, but what choices do you have?

Q:

Some people in Hollywood prefer to campaign for particular issues rather than involve themselves in electoral politics.

Stone:

I don't do anything that specific. I give to various charities, Vietnam causes, human rights, Amnesty [International]. I support family and friends who are in need--one-on-one charity.

Baldwin:

I think it's a struggle for everybody not to give up your principles on a specific issue. Like, for example, animal protection is an issue that my wife and I have been involved with. If I go to a fundraiser to raise money for Christopher Reeve and the American Paralysis Association, I will get letters saying, how can you as an animal rights activist raise money for medical research where vivisection and animal experimentation, which we know you're on the record as opposed to, are part and parcel of that activity? I write them back a form letter that says, rehabilitation and counseling are a fundamental element of that research, and I'm hoping that the money I raise is going to that. And I express to the researchers my desire that they move more in the direction of cellular research and computer modeling. The single-issue thing comes back to haunt me.

Glover:

My politics come from growing up in a city like San Francisco, where you have labor politics--Harry Bridges, with the longshoremen's union. I'm a child of the civil rights movement. I watched mass change effectively alter the course of this country. Even as a student in the late sixties at San Francisco State, I saw that kind of organizing--mobilizing people around issues. You had cops out on campus every day, and you had the community and the faculty, who virtually shut the whole campus down. I don't think change happens from within institutions. Change comes from without. [Institutions] have to be challenged. I'd like to be in an organization that could set forth some sort of a left agenda; that's what I want to be involved in.

Q:

That doesn't seem to exist right now, at least in Hollywood.

Glover:

The left has been decimated. There's a lack of any dialogue, a lack of any institutionalization of progressive ideas. We have the same pundits who are all saying basically the same thing, who are all paid by the same people, and those who are on the fringe have no voice at all.

Stone:

To be David Letterman is the ideal. Just kind of like make fun of everything, be light and clever and move it along.

Q: Alec, given that some of the activist organizations in the movie community have fallen on hard times, what sort of shape is your political group, The Creative Coalition, in?

Baldwin:

Very good shape. When I was running it in '96 and '97, we were involved in specific campaigns. In Massachusetts we helped leverage the Clean Elections law, which passed on the ballot last fall, a great victory. Then we testified at the re-authorization hearing for the NEA in the spring of '97. In '98 my brother [Billy] took over as president and they went the opposite way: very little programming and a much stronger concentration on raising money, which they were very successful at, I must say.

Q:

Tim Robbins, your new film,

The Cradle Will Rock

[based on an Orson Welles radio play], is financed by Disney. That's surprising.

Robbins:

I think there's a lot of potential in the studio system to produce works of quality. Disney has been incredibly supportive. You have to understand first and foremost that it is a business that you're dealing with, and if you can create a product that's potentially profitable, that's what they're looking for.

Q: Nation

readers will be excited about

The Cradle Will Rock

because the film portrays a group of creative artists for whom politics didn't just mean fundraising but actual revolutionary practice.

Robbins:

No [laughs]. It is much more about the human dimension of it and the extraordinary courage of the people involved on the night that Cradle was performed against the government's wishes. The larger themes--you can't really humanize those kinds of things on film. I have to find something that I can key into that's very simple, very emotional and very personal. For me that's much more compelling than the grand statement. In other words, if you're talking about a strike, for example, you don't need a hell of a lot of ideology or belief in any kind of socialism, communism, unionism, whatever. I would say, eight out of ten workers didn't have that. What they had was hunger. Hunger and fear of losing jobs and not being protected. You're approaching it from a personal point of view--how do you write this character, how do you play that character. I think you'll find it gets you a lot farther to understand where he lives, what his family is like, what he will lose, what he could gain. That's one of the traps that some period movies fall into--the fallacy that you have to express the philosophy in order to understand the time. I think what you have to do is express the hunger to understand the time.

Q:

But there is a contemporary content to the film.

Robbins:

Oh, absolutely. I wouldn't have done it if there hadn't been a window into the present. The power of the individual, the conflict between art and politics, the constant threat of censorship, self-censorship to get your next job or not make waves, what it really takes to make a choice that's unsafe and does not guarantee your future.

Q:

How do you see your role as a member of an elite group that has access to the tools of communication?

Beatty:

It takes money to be heard. The underbelly of this country isn't being heard. They don't have the means of being heard, and the disparity of wealth does not decrease, it increases. My beliefs--even though I am a pampered, rich, Hollywood cultural plutocrat--my leanings are to articulate something on behalf of those people. And there are an incredibly large number of them. But I would say that commercially speaking, political movies don't do well. I don't think they ever have done very well. Even Frank Capra said, "I don't make political movies, I make movies about people." But if we go back and examine the Capra movies, I cannot tell you where his social or economic interests lie. Very few movies about politicians have had their central character go in one ideological direction or the other, because the assumption has usually been that you would lose half your audience. It would be considered financially quixotic to take a position.

Q:

Do you see parallels between the world of politics and the world of film?

Beatty:

The pitfalls and degradations that exist in politics are the same ones that occur in movies. Because it's the same thirty-second spot that sells both. In this state [California] in last year's election, one-third of 1 percent of TV news broadcasts were devoted to the state elections. Which means that what we used to call free media are practically extinct. It's all paid media. Now, with the front-loading of the primaries, even if someone less known emerges in Iowa or New Hampshire, the financial ship will probably already have sailed. Most political advertising has been based on movie advertising, entertainment. And it's very hard to compete against the investment of large sums of money and get noticed, whether it's movies or politics. Those thirty-second spots cost money.

Stone:

It's ugly because television drives the whole deal. It's the marketing costs. And to that degree, television has destroyed movies. You have to advertise on television in order to open your movie big. If you're going to make a movie for $20 million, they tell you, "We're going to spend $30 million to market it." Then you get very discouraged--your movie's being marketed for more than it cost to make it. Then they say, "OK, if I'm going to spend $30 million marketing my product, it's worth it to me to put, say, John Travolta or Harrison Ford or whoever in for 20, because, if I'm spending 30, I got Travolta for 20, I can get that back." He's worth $100 million or however they compute it. They do it ass backwards. Then, it's--oh yeah, I need a movie. I got to put this face, this product into something that is palatable, I need a painting for the frame. You hire the writer, blah-blah-blah. You get a director who can at least deliver a semblance of a movie, and all the producers, and you figure, "Well, minimum I gotta spend, maybe minimum with a cheap director, I'm still in 25­30, so then I'm 20 more with Travolta, I'm in 45­50, marketing 30--I mean 80, right?" Spend 80 million bucks--with a nobody director.

Q:

Did Fox give the money that was needed to really promote a film like

Bulworth

?

Beatty:

It was unfortunate for the promotion of Bulworth that it was made by a company whose head is very Republican. And who has contributed tremendous amounts of political money, and sincerely feels that that is the democratic way. I think the company did not know what to make of the movie, in that it has an underlying theme that is anticorporate, that the greatest danger to democracy is big corporations. Since the goal of the movie corporation that released the movie is to make a profit, and since that corporation is so utterly efficient, it caused, I think, a strange sort of ambivalent paralysis. Selling a movie about politics and race has never been done very successfully. It might be romantic for me to say they were out to get me, to stifle the movie, but I don't know enough about what really happened behind their marketing doors because they didn't let me know. I had complete artistic control, but no marketing control at all.

Stone:

It's always been hard to make political movies. I'm sure Warren Beatty had to have a fight on Reds just to get it made. It was a personal vision. I don't think these movies get made in this system, period. I think Spike Lee in a sense was blessed because he was coming after the success of JFK at Warner Brothers, that he got the go-ahead at a reduced budget for Malcolm X. That was the right time for him to get it approved. Unfortunately, it didn't do well at the box office. Each time, of course, this dampens the possibility of a body of political films.

Q:

Has the audience changed?

Stone:

I don't know. I think the audience will come if it's there. Do you think there was a market to see JFK in 1991? Not really. It was like an excitement that was in the air that was created by the movie.

Q:

Do you try to get your political passion into your work?

Baldwin:

You struggle. I think political activism has negatively impacted my career. I wish I had been more like Danny Glover, aggressively steering my career more toward a box-office franchise kind of career, doing the Lethal Weapons, and having those successes, over and over and over again. And you say to yourself, That's a guy that's generated enough economic good will in the community to be able to do some of the other things he wants to do. Whereas, for me, it's like if you're very outspoken in the media, I know people who won't give me a job, because they think----

Q:

Can you name names?

Baldwin:

No [laughs]. It's only going to worsen my situation. There's a very reductive attitude within certain segments of the media toward Hollywood people, actors in particular and musicians. They must always be portrayed as fornicating, drug-taking children. What 95 percent of the entertainment media are doing--Premiere magazine, Entertainment Weekly--is they do a Nexis search on someone and come up with the ten or twelve incendiary elements that have happened in their public life in the past decade and they just rehash that. Most celebrities I know talk to the media only under a contractual obligation with a movie studio to promote a film. Otherwise, they would never speak to these people ever, in their entire lifetimes.

Q:

Alec, recently Jack Valenti, president and CEO of the Motion Picture Association of America, attempted to give you a dressing down for your joke on

Conan O'Brien

about stoning Henry Hyde. Now that the brouhaha has settled, what's your impression of Valenti's intervention?

Baldwin:

Valenti is someone who--he's got a very strong Washington constituency. So of course these Congressmen call him and say, "Well, what do you intend to do about this as a kind of mouthpiece for your industry?" So on one level I understand why he felt he had to respond; the only thing I would have hoped was that he had seen the tape. My publicist called him and said to him in no uncertain terms, "Did you view the tape of the show before you issued your statement?" And he said, "No." When she said, "What did you base your statement on?"--he said, "What I read in the paper." And I then wrote a letter to Valenti and said, "For a man who has made his prominent career in two areas as mediacentric as Washington and Hollywood, I'm a bit surprised that you based so important a statement on what you quote, unquote, read in the paper." And I never heard from him again.

Q:

Danny Glover, how do you manage to balance political and financial concerns in choosing the films that you make?

Glover:

I did The Saint of Fort Washington and To Sleep With Anger because of the box-office success of Lethal Weapon. I've been trying to get Warner Brothers to do a film on [eighteenth-century Haitian revolutionary] Toussaint L'Ouverture. I have a white character, Laveaux, who had come to Haiti as Toussaint's officer--a general who later became a confidant. So I wanted to see it through both of their eyes

.

In Hollywood you have a white character and a black character, like in Marlon Brando's Burn! When you talk about passion, when you're trying to finance a project like this, passion becomes almost the only thing you have.
   See, the difference between now and forty years ago is they say, "Oh, that's Danny Glover's thing, South Africa"--or, "That's Danny Glover's thing, Haiti." They're able to kind of dismiss you in that way by tolerating you, as opposed to the enormous fear that caused the backlash during the McCarthy era.

Q:

The

Lethal Weapon

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?

Glover:

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.

Q:

Are there going to be any more

Lethal Weapon

films?

Glover:

I hope not [laughs].

Q:

What has changed in black-themed movies since you participated in

The Color Purple

?

Glover:

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.

Q:

What do you think of the honorary Oscar for Kazan, and the legacy of McCarthyism in Hollywood today?

Stone:

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.

Glover:

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.

Q:

Do the endless takeovers and conglomeratization make it easier or harder for these companies to stand up to pressure groups?

Stone:

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.

Baldwin:

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.

Q:

What kind of America would you like to see?

Robbins:

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.

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