Hooray for Hollywood — unless you’re a conservative
Hollywood’s obsession with the 1950s-era blacklist shows little sign of waning.
We’ve already seen “Good Night, and Good Luck,” “The Front,” “Guilty by Suspicion,” “Yoo-Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg,” “The Majestic,” and two films based on the life of blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo. Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre Company will host the world premiere adaptation of George Clooney’s “Good Night, and Good Luck” starting in October.
The film industry’s connection to that chapter in history makes sense. It’s un-American for artists to lose work, let alone face incarceration, for their political beliefs — or, as was often the case at the time, mere rumors of “subversive” beliefs.
And yet, Hollywood, Inc. ignores a similar brand of blacklist, one that grows darker, more powerful, in the Age of Trump.
Actor Antonio Sabato, Jr. told Variety earlier this month that his public embrace of then-candidate Donald Trump effectively ended his acting career: “I had to sell everything … I had to pay all my debts. I was blacklisted. All my representatives left me, from agents to managers to commercial agents. I literally had to move, find a new job to survive and take care of my kids. It’s been terrible. It’s mind-blowing. It’s a disgrace. It’s tough, because if you’re in that environment in Hollywood and you have something to say that they don’t like, they’re going to let you know.”
Sabato’s story, assuming it’s true, is far from an isolated incident, and it started before he unsuccessfully ran as a Republican for a California congressional seat in 2018 — and well before a brash real estate mogul commandeered the GOP.
The director of “2016: Obama’s America,” a documentary highly critical of the 44th president, told me that some crew members worked under pseudonyms for fear of career reprisals. A secretive group of conservative stars, huddling under the “Friends of Abe” banner, met around Hollywood for years to network and commiserate; they understood that being openly conservative could invite trouble.
That politically-charged threat only intensified in the Trump era.
Here’s The Hollywood Reporter (THR) noting how show business conservatives approached Trump’s 2016 campaign: “While THR spoke to dozens of Trump voters, few wished to announce their support, citing their desire to avoid backlash from co-workers. One makeup artist, for example, says longtime clients stopped hiring her after learning she was a Republican.”
Outspoken conservative actor James Woods shared how his own agent cut ties with him for purely political reasons: “It’s the 4th of July and I’m feeling patriotic. I don’t want to represent you anymore. I mean, I could go on a rant but you know what I’d say.”
Tim Allen joked to “Jimmy Kimmel Live” in 2017 that being a conservative in Hollywood wasn’t easy. “You get beat up if you don’t believe what everybody believes. This is like ’30s Germany,” the veteran comic cracked. ABC canceled Allen’s popular “Last Man Standing” show less than two months later despite hearty ratings. (Fox eventually snagged the sitcom, which still draws a sizable crowd.)
Former “Home Improvement” alum Zachery Ty Bryan told “Fox & Friends” two years ago that conservative stars aren’t as rare as people may think. They just stay “anonymous,” he said — to avoid blowback.
Actress Julienne Davis of “Eyes Wide Shut” fame told Fox News in 2017 that coming out as a conservative cost her personally and professionally. “The written and very public insults from Hollywood peers on social media and elsewhere have been numerous,” she said. “I’ve been attacked with obscenities, called a racist, and had one person tell me he hoped I would die.”
Openly conservative comedian Steve McGrew once enjoyed a professional connection to Brad Garrett, the “Everybody Loves Raymond” alum who owns a Las Vegas comedy club where McGrew played each year. That ended when Garrett, citing McGrew’s pro-MAGA social media messaging, cut ties with his fellow comic.
More recently, “Will & Grace” stars Debra Messing and Eric McCormack publicly said they wouldn’t work with any Trump donors. Here’s McCormack’s Tweet on news of a Hollywood-based fundraiser for Trump: “Hey, @THR, kindly report on everyone attending this event, so the rest of us can be clear about who we don’t wanna work with. Thx.”
I’ve spoken to several other artists, including some whom readers would instantly recognize, who asked not to have their right-leaning views made public for fear of reprisals.
How much more proof does one need?
A simple, nagging question remains: Where is the outrage?
Hollywood in 2020 thrives on outrage. Name a topic, and you’ll find dozens of stars sharing their views on it: Abortion. Trump. Voting rights. Immigration. Trans rights. Body shaming … but not this.
The same holds true for the media. Reporters framed 2019 coverage of airlines editing out a lesbian kiss from the film “Booksmart” in the most sympathetic way possible; People magazine called the snip “censorship.” Indiewire’s coverage carried all the urgency of a breaking news story complete with bolded updates.
Yet, the reporting on Sabato’s career bust merited none of that anger or passion. Instead, various news outlets blandly regurgitated Sabato’s interview quotes without any follow-up reporting or impassioned op-eds.
Now, the original blacklist involved significant government pressure as well as the risk of jail time. That isn’t happening, at all, with the current blacklist iteration. But that’s hardly comforting to the artists who fear losing their livelihoods for voting the “wrong” way or expressing the “wrong” political beliefs.
It might be tricky for Hollywood to one day make a movie about how conservatives were blacklisted during the Trump era. After all, an honest look at the story would cast them as the mustache-twirling villain.