There’s a well-known legend about Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin, who used to enjoy repeat screenings of a Russian-made musical from the era while he was kicking up his heels with friends and sycophantic underlings—evenings heavily fueled by fine wine (of the kind that the peasants couldn’t afford), vodka, and the ever-looming threat of political execution. According to Stephen Kotkin, author of the brilliant second volume of his continuing biography on Stalin, Waiting For Hitler, the film (called “Chapeyz”) was a carefree, pastoral narrative about life in communist Russia. (Of course, during the period, life in Russia was anything but carefree given Stalin’s forced collectivization of the Soviet countryside.) Stalin, nonetheless, would sing along with the music, insisting that everyone else join him.
When the Soviet film industry wasn’t producing clumsy feel-good films that glorified communist genocide, it devoted itself to a genre that Stalin himself coined: “Socialist Realism.” (A misnomer if there ever was one.)
The Soviet dictator, it seems, was something of a cinephile. When the Soviet film industry wasn’t producing clumsy feel-good films that glorified communist genocide, it devoted itself to a genre that Stalin himself coined: “Socialist Realism.” (A misnomer if there ever was one.) Socialist Realism was pure propaganda, a kind of state-controlled ideological medium that subordinated artistry or creativity to promoting messaging that life in the Soviet Union (despite the tyranny, despite the purges, despite the famine, despite the Gulags) was pure pleasure and a paradise state for workers.
That same nefarious logic has infected the American Academy of Motion Pictures, Arts and Sciences. The organization announced in June that it will now be enforcing diversity and inclusion rulings. That means that any production, in order to be considered a viable candidate for recognition from the motion pictures associations Academy Awards (The Oscars), must subordinate art to a political agenda.
The New York Times explains: “To meet the onscreen representation standard, at least one of the lead actors or a significant supporting actor must be from an underrepresented racial or ethnic group, whether that means Asian, Hispanic, Black, Indigenous, Native American, Middle Eastern, North African, native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander.”
For those struggling to meet the racial quota, the Academy generously some alternatives: “Thirty percent of all actors in secondary or more minor roles could come from two of the following categories: women, L.G.B.T.Q., an underrepresented racial or ethnic group, or those with cognitive or physical disabilities. Or the main story line must focus on an underrepresented group.” (Needless to say, white people don’t count.)
It is difficult to read this and not think this is a parody directly from the pages of The Onion. Why would we want to compel film industry professionals to disclose sensitive medical information, like cognitive disabilities, to qualify for an award? And where do these numbers even come from? Why, for instance, should people who identify as LGBTQ constitute 30% of the onscreen appearances on a movie—when they actually make up far less than the 10% of the American population that activists claim? (And, again, why does the Academy feel empowered to force disclosures about the private sexual lives of actors and actresses—just so they as a guild can fend off negative publicity?)
Far more pressing is the question of whether it really matters what the racial and sexual identity of a film cast is. This seems to be the foregone conclusion that the Academy and Hollywood writ large has accepted, without question. That demographic representation—not, say, writing, production quality, creativity, artistic talents, etc.—is what’s essential in producing quality film. This crude, out-moded quota system (something that’s been rejected as unconstitutional in other professional fields) exposes the racialist thinking of film industry elites. It’s a racialist thinking that’s intended to accede to the demands of cultural wokeness, while needlessly punishing white industry professionals who’ve become the film industry whipping boys for all intents and purposes. (Can you imagine a world where white people can eventually constitute an “underrepresented group” for these people?)
This may be one of the worst form of reverse discrimination, mindlessly masquerading as “affirmative action,” ever to infest the American body politic.
DESTROYING OUR CULTURAL HERITAGE, ONE TERRIBLE REMAKE AT A TIME
One way to consider its merit is to ask: what if this new standard had been applied to any of the movies that the Academy has recognized as a best picture over the last century? And I don’t mean just the new racial/sexual preference/medical history quota. I mean this standard of politicizing the process of determining what qualifies as good film or art.
Actor Dean Cain joked that the Academy would soon be giving out awards for participation awards in a tweet: “How about we judge on this criteria—which film was the BEST PICTURE? (Also, when do we start handing out participation Oscars?)”
How about we judge on this criteria–
which film was the BEST PICTURE?
(also, when do we start handing out participation Oscars?) https://t.co/UX1IBfgpRC
— Dean Cain (@RealDeanCain) September 9, 2020
The conservative author and humorist Mark Steyn also addressed this issue, last week on Fox News’ “Tucker Carlson Tonight.” He noted the similarity between Hollywood’s obsession with race and the communist insistence that art be subordinated to political ideology, regardless of how it all translated to the screen or what it meant for the art that was produced. “This is the death of art. This is art by quota, and there is no future in it,” Steyn told Fox News.
Steyn also took note of what kind of films are the most successful today—films like “Avengers: Endgame,” which became the highest-grossing film of all time, earning $2.8 billion. The Avengers movies are nothing but recycled versions of comic books from the early 1960s, an era when nobody in America gave a damn whether art reflected a rigid political agenda. Or consider the James Bond franchise, which continues to rack up huge box office receipts despite there being another film on the brink of release. 2015’s “Spectre” made $880 million, and did so with a character resembling an Arnold Schwarzenegger action hero more than an MI6 agent. Under the new cultural regime, however, the iconic but ultimately politically incorrect character of James Bond, and his creator, Ian Fleming, would not be welcome on any Hollywood set.
Rather than kill their darlings, some in Hollywood have demanded that these creations from the last century be updated with homosexual, transgendered, or equally “representative” characters. However, these “creative” re-imaginings resemble none of the originality or talent of what they’re based on; they’re just invidious social re-engineering.
Other classic films have been so eviscerated by lefties that, despite their cultural prestige for decades, they’re now considered beyond redemption. The 1939 classic “Gone With the Wind,” was recently dropped by HBO Max because it reflects the “Lost Cause” narrative of the Old South. (This despite the fact that “Gone With the Wind” is likely the only production from American film archives that meets the Academy’s new racial quota, given the large and significant contribution of black actors and actresses to the film). In fact, if you go through America’s rich cultural legacy in film, production after production fails to meet the new racialist bar that’s being set. 1955’s “Marty,” which starred Ernest Borgnine as a working-class butcher, wouldn’t have made the grade. Too white. And such classics as “Grand Hotel,” “Casablanca,” “The Lost Weekend,” “All About Eve,” “On the Waterfront,” “The Apartment,” “The Sound of Music,” “Annie Hall,” “Kramer Vs. Kramer,” or dozens of others? It is highly doubtful that any of these would have achieved acclaim within the new diversity guidelines—or even have been produced in this new climate of cultural sensitivity.
Yet these films were met with great critical praise in their time. In those days, the Academy was not run by a host of guilt-ridden has-beens intent upon producing American Socialist Realism as it is today (socialism based not on class, but on race, ethnicity, and sexual preference).
KILLING THE AMERICAN DREAM IN CINEMATIC EXPRESSION
Under this new regime of cultural production (and conformity), I find myself reflecting on what the American film always was. Consider, for a moment, the story of one director who was responsible for two of those films judged by the Academy to be the best of its year: “The Lost Weekend” and “The Apartment.” Austrian born Billy Wilder won six competitive Oscars during his career, and did so writing witty, sophisticated, and uncompromising screenplays for most of his films—quite an accomplishment for someone who adopted English as a second language. Wilder never hesitated to poke his finger in the eye of American society, criticizing its hypocrisies and failings with good humor. But in the end, he loved America for the very fact that it allowed him to make these objections and gave him maximum creative control over his work. Wilder fled Berlin in the 1930s because he refused to subordinate his art to the political agenda of the Nazis—and because he was Jewish.
“You might as well question why we breathe. If we stop breathing, we will die. If we stop fighting our enemies, the world will die.”
I don’t think if Wilder—whom this writer would certainly herald as the greatest Hollywood director of all time—ever really cared whether the people in his movie or who contributed to it were white, black, socialist, Republican, or Jewish. He just wanted people who could do their job and not promote their politics. That’s what the American film industry provided him—and that’s, obviously, a value that Hollywood has forgotten.
Perhaps it shouldn’t offend us that liberty-hating Hollywood is on the warpath again, with its constant demands for political correctness. These rich liberals are just making mindless entertainment that reflects whatever cultural zeitgeist holds the public mood. It’s not as though they’re careful or responsible with this politicizing. After all, if Hollywood endorses reverse discrimination and insists on a quota system for hiring, have they fully considered how this will inflect on American society as a whole?
This is a symptom, an alarming symptom, of a disease in America. Art, no more than science, should not be forced to sell political opinions—good or bad. To coerce filmmakers to adopt the latest progressive whims on inclusion or diversity is no different from forcing them to promote a political narrative of society based on race or class consciousness. And we could dismiss the Academy’s inclusiveness as just another political stunt, a repulsive belch of political correctness from the tired, self-destructive progressives who rule America’s entertainment industry and who dominate much of its national media. But rules that are both mindless and dangerous need to be identified and criticized—or else those who promulgate them will be encouraged to give us more of the same, and feel fully confident in their quest to extinguish the flame of freedom.
As the Paul Henreid character, resistance fighter Victor Laszlo said in “Casablanca,” “You might as well question why we breathe. If we stop breathing, we will die. If we stop fighting our enemies, the world will die.” Amen.