Hollywood Blacklist? Cancel Culture? Accountability!

Show Trial: Hollywood, HUAC, and the Birth of the Blacklist by Thomas Doherty (Columbia University Press)

Journalists and politicians started discussing a Hollywood blacklist in light of Lucasfilm firing Gina Carano from the Star Wars franchise.

They are wrong to compare conservatives being held accountable for their actions to what took place during the Red Scare.  The Red Scare is the result of the United States government cracking down on communist infiltration regardless of proof.  The House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) was started to investigate Nazis.  Instead, the government decided that Communists were a bigger threat despite knowing how bad things were in Germany.  Because of the HUAC hearings in the 1940s, the major Hollywood studios pledged to never hire the Hollywood Ten or other communists.  It was a dark time in America.  Trade outlets like The Hollywood Reporter were complicit for their actions.

It is infuriating when I see someone like Jonathan Chait writing an article about a new Hollywood blacklist for conservatives.  There is no comparison.  Gina Carano needs to be held responsible for her actions.  She is not the target of a government investigation.  Nor is the government restricting her speech.  Carano mocked transgender identities.  She appropriated Jewish pain and trauma during the Holocaust as her own.  Chait argues differently but this is anti-Semitic in and of itself.  Carano previously posted numerous conspiracy theories on social media.  She LIKED tweets that were in support of the insurrection against the government.  Her posts regarding the Holocaust were the last straw.  Does Chait not see this?  Moreover, it is disappointing to see MSNBC host Chris Hayes tweet the article in support.

There is no room for transphobia, anti-Semitism, racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia or the like in 2021.  Private companies have every right to hold their employees accountable for their actions.  I applaud Disney and Lucasfilm for their decision.  Non-Jews should not be appropriating Jewish pain and trauma for themselves.  It is really this simple.  This is not limited to any one side of the political spectrum.  Carano get a free pass for appropriating Jewish pain and trauma among her other transgressions.  I can go on and on.  Her social media history is problematic.  Mocking masks, vaccines, election conspiracy theories.  Reminder: Roseanne was fire because of a racist tweet.  Where is Chait’s article on her firing?  Or is he just using this to give a free pass to right-wing anti-Semitism?

Dalton Trumbo might be the biggest name in the Hollywood Ten.  Chait names him but nobody else.  Others were impacted.  Their careers ended because they wouldn’t name anyone.  You want to talk about a witch hunt?  This WAS a witch hunt.  The lasting impacts would be devastating.  Richard M. Nixon would use his committee membership to become a Senator.  We already know what happens next.  Look at John Garfield, for example.  Two Oscar nominations were not enough to prevent the actor from being blacklisted.  He denied being a communist and wouldn’t name names.  His career effectively came to an end.  Unfortunately, Garfield would die of a heart attack at 39 years old.  He’s not the only one but Chait looks mostly at Trumbo in his piece.

HUAC’s history starts with Samuel Dickstein (D-NY) and John McCormack (D-MA).  From 1934-1937, they led the initial investigation into Nazi propaganda and other propaganda taking place in America.  Martin Dies (D-TX) would revive the committee in 1938.  Under Dies, the committee focused on both Nazis and Communists.  This is before dropping investigations into Nazis altogether.  During a screening of Confessions of a Nazi Spy, Dies couldn’t believe that Warner Bros. “ignored or soft-pedaled Communism and portrayed Nazism as the greater menace” (Doherty, 20).  Dies would publish findings in 1940 with more coverage of Communists than Nazis or Fascists.  I should stress that the United States Congress was largely anti-Semitic during this era.  Nor did they want to enter war with Germany.

I suggest reading Hitler in Los Angeles by Steven J. Ross.  It is simply astounding to see the government caring more about threats from Communists than Nazis.  However, this is proven again by the 1941 Senate investigation.  The anti-Semitism certainly shows in this investigation.  Not surprising.  For more on the investigation, check out Hollywood Hates Hitler! Jew-Baiting, Anti-Nazism, and the Senate Investigation into Warmongering in Motion Pictures by Chris Yogerst.  These two books are essential reading along with Thomas Doherty’s Show TrialShow Trial will tell you everything you need to know about the Hollywood blacklist history.  Again, it is among the darkest stains in American history.

There are conservatives working in Hollywood.  But here’s the thing: they know better than to post abhorrent views online.  If you show yourself to be racist, anti-Semitic, sexist, anti-LGBTQ, you’re going to lose your job.  This is not something immune to just Hollywood but small businesses and corporations, too.  Look at how many people got fired for participating in the insurrection!  But you don’t see Ted Cruz tweeting about people getting fired for participating in the insurrection…

If you want to talk about a modern Hollywood blacklist, let’s talk about actors losing out on jobs because of turning down sexual favors from studio executives.  They are not losing out on roles because of something they tweeted on social media but because they turned down sexual advances of someone in a higher position of power.  If you so much as think of comparing actors blacklisted because of sexual harassment to those who post their abhorrent views on social media–well, you are wrong.  There is no comparison.  I’m writing this to remind you that there have been actors to lose out on roles because of turning down such favors.  Look at what The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit filmmaker Peter Jackson said in 2017 about Ashley Judd and Mira Sorvino:

“I recall Miramax telling us they were a nightmare to work with and we should avoid them at all costs. This was probably in 1998,” Jackson said.

“At the time, we had no reason to question what these guys were telling us – but in hindsight, I realise that this was very likely the Miramax smear campaign in full swing.

“I now suspect we were fed false information about both of these talented women – and as a direct result their names were removed from our casting list.”

All this is to say that people are not being blacklisted or fired because they are conservative.  People are being fired because studios and production companies are holding them accountable for their actions.  Gina Carano, like others who share abhorrent views, must be held accountable for her actions.  Private employers, like The Walt Disney Company, are saying that her views are not welcome at their company.  Being someone whose identity was mocked by Carano, I frankly agree with the Disney decision.

Show Trial: Hollywood, HUAC, and the Birth of the Blacklist by Thomas Doherty is available in bookstores.

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.