HOLLYWOOD’S SACRED COWS
by John W. Cones, JD
The phrase “sacred cow” traces its lineage back to the veneration of the cow by the Hindus, but over the years, the phrase has come to refer to people or things that are often unreasonably immune from criticism or opposition. In that context, our modern day mania for political correctness is an evolved form of sacred cows.
One unassailable and never changing fact about the Hollywood-based, U.S. film industry is that there is a lack of diversity at the top in Hollywood. No one questions the accuracy of that statement. Unfortunately, some will unnecessarily and erroneously cry foul when and if anyone goes beyond that unassailable fact to demonstrate a healthy and responsible level of curiosity to study, observe, discuss or write about the logical questions that reasonably follow from that fact. These are the sacred cows of Hollywood. Their discussion is taboo. It is not considered politically correct by most people to even raise such issues. Those questions include:
(1) Who has been disadvantaged and arbitrarily excluded from positions of power in Hollywood all of these years?
(2) How did this more than one hundred year lack of diversity at the top in Hollywood occur?
(3) Who exactly is at the top in Hollywood?
(4) Besides the widespread reverse discrimination, what additional results flow from this lack of diversity at the top in our nation’s film capitol?
The first question can easily be answered by simply listing all of those groups who are not now and have never been adequately represented in the top level positions within the most powerful Hollywood motion picture entities: the so-called major studio/distributors [currently consisting of Warner Bros., 20th Century Fox, Sony (including Columbia and TriStar), Disney (Buena Vista), Paramount and Universal]. Such disadvantaged groups include African-Americans, Latinos, women, Irish Americans, Italian Americans, Asian Americans, Native Americans, Whites from the American South, political conservatives, Christians, Mormons and Muslims. No one has ever made the claim that any of these groups are adequately represented in top level positions of authority in the Hollywood-based U.S. film industry and there is no evidence to suggest that such a claim would be true.
The answers to questions (2) and (3), are presented in a series of books and articles published in recent decades by nearly a dozen authors. In 1988, Neal Gabler wrote An Empire of Their Own – How the Jews Invented Hollywood. His book provides an historical view demonstrating how the original Jewish movie moguls dominated what we have come to think of as Hollywood and how their direct or cultural descendants continued that dominance through the mid-‘60s.
Then, in 1992, several additional books were added to the literature of the Hollywood-based U.S. film industry and sought to bring this story up to date. Hollywood film critic and author Michael Medved published Hollywood vs. America – Popular Culture and the War on Traditional Values, which pointed out that most of this Hollywood control group is not very religious and is mostly politically liberal. Medved, an Orthodox Jew, very familiar with the Hollywood community complained that many of the scenes and themes of Hollywood movies promoted a secular world view as opposed to a more conservative religious world view.
Also in 1992, Los Angeles attorney Pierce O’Donnell and journalist Dennis McDougal published their book Fatal Subtraction – How Hollywood Really Does Business taking the business practices of a single major studio/distributor (Paramount), some of whose business practices had been declared unconscionable by the trial court in the Paramount v. Buchwald case, and demonstrating that such business practices were commonly used by all of the Hollywood major studio/distributors. Since Paramount chose not to appeal the court’s adverse decision, no court-made precedent was created in the process, thus the major studio/distributors have been able to continue the same or similar practices to this day.
My own 1992 book contribution, Film Finance and Distribution – A Dictionary of Terms included among the 3,600 terms defined and discussed, an earlier monograph listing “337 Reported Business Practices of the Hollywood Major Studio/Distributors”, business practices which are accurately described in the book as unfair, unethical, unconscionable, anti-competitive, predatory and/or illegal. This list explained in no uncertain terms how the Hollywood control group both gained and maintain their illegitimate control over the Hollywood-based U.S. film industry. Those business practices included the regular use of nepotism, cronyism, favoritism and other forms of discrimination, which in the context of Hollywood is actually a form of reverse discrimination.
Another book, also published in 1992 added to our understanding of how Hollywood works (Paul Rosenfield’s The Club Rules – Power, Money, Sex, and Fear – How It Works in Hollywood). Journalist Terry Pristin followed in 1993 with an article in the Los Angeles Times Calendar Section (“Hollywood’s Family Ways – Who Can You Trust Better than Kin”) explaining what an important role that special form of discrimination called nepotism played in the so-called Hollywood control group’s ability to maintain their dominance over the film industry into the modern era. Also in 1993, academic David Prindle explored the business practices of the Hollywood film community in his book: Risky Business – The Political Economy of Hollywood.
The following year, an article edited by Victor Marchetti appeared in the New American View newsletter making the argument that any denial of Jewish control over the film business is false. His article was entitled: “The Big Hollywood Lie: Denying that Jews Control the Film Business”. On the other hand, Marchetti’s analysis is flawed in the sense that his argument for Jewish control of Hollywood is too broad. In other words, it is unfair to the millions of Jews around the world who have no interest in or influence over Hollywood to paint with such a broad brush and implicate them as being part of any Hollywood control group.
Skipping forward into the 21st century, another academic, Martha Lauzen, confirmed the ongoing difficulty of women in achieving positions of power in Hollywood in her “Celluloid Ceiling 2006 Report – Behind-the-Scenes Employment of Women in the Top 250 Films of 2005”. Continuing with the plight of women in Hollywood, Jane Louise Boursaw, in her article “Film Fatales – Shocking Statistics About Women in the Film Industry”, goes on to cite the opinion of Cari Beauchamp, Hollywood historian and author of several books, including Without Lying Down: Frances Marion and the Powerful Women of Early Hollywood (Scribner, March 1997) and Adventures of a Hollywood Secretary (University of California Press, 2006). Boursaw points out that Beachamp claims that the phrase “white men” is the best way to describe those who dominate or control the Hollywood scene.
On the other hand, as noted earlier, this description has the same flaw of imprecision that the phrase “the Jews” has, as used in the false statement that “Hollywood is controlled by ‘the Jews’” (again, a false and misleading assertion). To say that “white men” are the dominant group is once again an overly broad and imprecise description of the Hollywood control group, thus making it less likely that any effort to resolve what is clearly a long-standing tradition of reverse discrimination in Hollywood will ever be resolved.
In 2007, another of my books (Hollywood Wars – How Insiders Gained and Maintain Illegitimate Control Over the Film Industry) was published. It traced the history of this dominance and/or control over Hollywood by a small, narrowly-defined group from the earliest days of the film industry through the end of the century. It also took the honest step of more accurately defining exactly who the Hollywood control group is, relying partly on the previously cited literature of the industry as well as original research. Thus, the most accurate description of the Hollywood control group is that they are mostly politically liberal, not very religious, Jewish males of European heritage. This definition adds clarity to the discussion, but does not implicate all Jews and does not state, suggest or imply that members of this small group behave the way they do or engage in the cited business practices because they are Jewish. It simply states the observable facts (see my manuscript Who Really Controls Hollywood and the explanation of my research methods in the Peter Lang e-mail transcript cited below).
With respect to question (4), a series of my own heavily annotated manuscripts and other cited sources present the thesis that control of Hollywood in the hands of any narrowly-defined group will inevitably result in a limiting of the ideas presented through this “significant medium for the communication of ideas”, since movies tend to a great extent to mirror the values, interests, cultural perspectives and prejudices of their makers (i.e., those who control the medium).
With this background, I was asked by Peter Lang Publishing of New York to author a book for their communication series to be entitled: Motion Pictures – A Complete Guide to the Industry. One of the eight chapters of the completed and edited manuscript dealt with film industry problems. Such a book would not be “complete” without discussing important industry problems. One of those problems was the well-known and never denied fact that there is a lack of diversity at the top in Hollywood. Of course, based on the literature of the industry cited above, and my own research (explained in detail to Peter Lang) I went on to point out that the most accurate description of this Hollywood control group which is responsible for the lack of diversity at the top in Hollywood is the narrowly-defined control group described above. Peter Lang’s Managing Director Chris Myers and Acqusitions Editor Mary Savigar refused to publish the book with that statement in it. In complete disregard of the extensive discussion of this issue contained in the existing industry literature, these individuals actually used as their reason for their refusal to publish the already completed book, the false allegation that the statement was anti-Semitic (the classic anti-Semitic sword – a false allegation of anti-Semitism used to distract attention from the truth). In other words, some amongst us do not know the difference between bona fide criticism of the business practices of the Hollywood control group and anti-Semitic writing (a chapter in Hollywood Wars traces some of the history of Hollywood’s use of the anti-Semitic sword to squelch criticism of the Hollywood establishment and chill the free speech rights of film industry critics).
Following a similar publishing experience on one of his many books about the film industry, Boston University Professor of Film and American Studies (Ray Carney, PhD) offered the opinion that:
“America is a land of censorship, but most of it is not so obvious or explicit. The more pervasive censorship is implicit: It is the self-censorship of the cowardly; the censorship of the mob and the majority that doesn't tolerate minority opinions; the censorship of individuals not daring to speak the truth for fear of getting into trouble with their bosses, co-workers, or friends; the fear of saying something that might ‘offend’ someone else, that might ‘alienate’ someone else. Those forms of censorship are everywhere I look – in publishing, in academia, in business.”
With respect to Hollywood, this sort of pervasive censorship is only one side of the coin. Historically, it appears that at least since World War II when Hollywood, working closely with the U.S. government, discovered or confirmed how effective the motion picture was in communicating propaganda (see Clayton Koppes and Gregory Black’s Hollywood Goes to War – How Politics, Profits and Propaganda Shaped World War II Movies) Hollywood has quietly continued to use the feature film as a propaganda vehicle (see A Study in Motion Picture Propaganda – Hollywood’s Preferred Movie Messages). One of those favored themes has been to consistently portray Jewish characters and themes in a favorable light or as perennial victims and advocates for tolerance (with the exception of portrayals of the studio executives themselves). Partly as a result of this flood of consistent movie and other mass media messages over a 60 year period, it is extremely difficult for Americans to consider Jewish individuals as perpetrators of wrong doing and thus the first reaction from many people when they hear or see criticism of the film industry business practices of people who happen to be Jewish is to assume that the author of that criticism is prejudice. That assumption then tends to block further inquiry and discourage academics or other observers of Hollywood throughout the country from investigating any of the perfectly legitimate questions posed above. Hollywood thus gets a free pass.
Dr. Carney goes on to compare my assertions about Hollywood to those of Neal Gabler in his book An Empire of Their Own – How the Jews Invented Hollywood, saying:
“You're both saying the same thing: Namely, that a certain ethnic group and cultural set of attitudes is largely responsible for a distinctively deplorable set of organizational structures and corporate entities. Gabler burns incense to that situation and you don't, but there is no difference in the basic assertions each of you make.”
Many people confronted with some of these issues automatically assume that since we are supposedly a nation of laws that if the Hollywood establishment was actually engaging in the hundreds of unfair, unethical, unconscionable, anti-competitive, predatory and/or illegal business practices as alleged, somebody would attempt to enforce the laws, wouldn’t they? Not exactly. The economic law of supply and demand is so out of whack in the film industry and it is so difficult for people at all levels to obtain and keep their jobs, that anyone who complains is ostracized by the close-knit Hollywood insider group (see for example Julia Phillips’ You'll Never Eat Lunch in this Town Again). Further, the MPAA PAC (the political action committee of the major studios’ trade association), along with the individual company PACS, the excessively overpaid top level studio executives and their spouses contribute so much money to political candidates from the President on down that it is nearly impossible to get any governmental agency to take action against Hollywood for antitrust, employment discrimination or other violations. Thus, Hollywood is, in fact, the perfect crime.
The good news is that the complete book Peter Lang was afraid to publish, including the short sentence expressing the truth about Hollywood’s control group is being published under another title by a more thoughtful publisher (Marquette Books of Spokane, Washington) whose owner has the courage to allow authors to write the well-researched truth. The bad news is that topics relating to the lack of diversity at the top in Hollywood and those associated issues cannot be honestly and openly researched or discussed in America generally, even though we claim to have free speech, an intellectually honest academic community and a democracy based on a free marketplace of ideas.
As I pointed out to Peter Lang’s Chris Myers and Mary Savigar, the publisher could publish the book with the disclaimer that the views expressed therein are those of the author. In addition, other subsequent authors could disagree, if they chose, and support their positions with facts, as I had done. But no, Myers and his associates (including one or more so-called peer reviewers from Hollywood) preferred the embarrassingly dishonest approach of refusing to publish a book containing truthful statements. Thus, we see that the tentacles of Hollywood’s sacred cows reach into the publishing field and our free speech in this country is not only sometimes susceptible to government interference, but it is also susceptible to the arbitrary whims of misguided New York publishers who are more concerned with their perception of political correctness than the truth. If this practice of bullying authors into leaving accurate information out of their books is widespread, what else has been kept secret from the American and world reading publics? Further, if one of our most significant media for the communication of ideas (the motion picture) is not fairly open to the expression of the important cultural ideas of all segments of our diverse population, how diluted is our country’s democracy?
Finally, when political correctness is used to deny the truth and few have the courage to confront this fraud, an entire nation is complicit in a conspiracy to mislead the world. Such dishonesty is wrong and the rampant reverse discrimination ongoing in Hollywood and the professional lives it destroys will never be corrected unless and until people confront their own dishonesty and openly strive for greater diversity at all levels in this important industry that produces and distributes one of our significant media for the communication of ideas.
1. Gabler, Neal, An Empire of Their Own--How the Jews Invented Hollywood, Anchor Books, 1988.
2. Medved, Michael, Hollywood vs. America--Popular Culture and the War on Traditional Values, Harper Collins, 1992.
3. O'Donnell, Pierce and McDougal, Dennis, Fatal Subtraction--How Hollywood Really Does Business, Doubleday, 1992.
4. Buchwald v. Paramount Pictures, Corp., 17 Media L. Rep. (BNA), 1257 (Cal. Ct. App. 1990).
5. Cones, John W., Film Finance and Distribution--A Dictionary of Terms, Silman-James Press, 1992; this book was revised and republished in 2007 by Marquette Books under the title: Dictionary of Film Finance and Distribution – A Guide for Independent Filmmakers).
6. Rosenfield, Paul, The Club Rules--Power, Money, Sex, and Fear--How It Works in Hollywood, Warner Books, 1992.
7. Pristin, Terry, "Hollywood's Family Ways", Los Angeles Times Calendar Section, January 31, 1993.
8. Prindle, David F., Risky Business--The Political Economy of Hollywood, Westview Press, 1993.
9. “The Big Hollywood Lie: Denying that Jews Control the Film Business” article edited by Victor Marchetti, appearing in April 1, 1994 New American View newsletter; online at http://www.ihr.org/jhr/v17/v17n5p14_Marchetti.html
10. “Celluloid Ceiling 2006 Report – Behind-the-Scenes Employment of Women in the Top 250 Films of 2005", Martha M. Lauzen, Ph.D., School of Communication, San Diego State University.
11. “Film Fatales – Shocking Statistics About Women in the Film Industry, Jane Louise Boursaw, MovieMaker Magazine, Winter 2006.
12. Cones, John W., Hollywood Wars – How Insiders Gained and Maintain Illegitimate Control Over the Film Industry, Marquette Books, 2007.
13. Patterns of Bias in Motion Picture Content, Motion Picture Biographies – The Hollywood Spin on Historical Figures and A Study in Motion Picture Propaganda – Hollywood’s Preferred Movie Messages.
14. Burstyn v. Wilson, 343 U.S. 495, 1952.
15. A restatement of concepts explored by Hortense Powdermaker’s Hollywood: the Dream Factory; an Anthropologist Looks at the Movie-Makers, Reprint of 1950 ed. New York: Ayer, 1979.
16. For a complete transcript of the e-mails exchanged between the author and Peter Lang Publishing regarding this transaction see at http://www.homevideo.net/FIRM/rotten1.htm.
17. Quoting directly from an e-mail received from Dr. Carney on May 20, 2008; also see page 101 of his mailbag at http://people.bu.edu/rcarney/aboutrc/letters101.shtml.
18. Koppes, Clayton R. and Black, Gregory D., Hollywood Goes to War--How Politics, Profits and Propaganda Shaped World War II Movies, University of California Press, 1987.
19. Erens, Patricia, The Jew in American Cinema, Indiana University Press, 1984.
20. Again, quoting directly from an e-mail received from Dr. Carney on May 20, 2008.
21. Phillips, Julia, You'll Never Eat Lunch in this Town Again, Penguin Books, 1991.
22. Brownstein, Ronald, The Power and the Glitter--The Hollywood-Washington Connection, Vintage Books, 1992.
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