Historical Accident Argument

by John W. Cones

Recently an old argument relating to one aspect of the film industry reform movement has resurfaced. As the argument goes, the Hollywood apologist claims that the upper level management of the Hollywood studios is not diverse due to historical accident. In other words, the politically liberal, not very religious, Jewish males of European heritage who have dominated the top three major studio executive positions for nearly 100 years are there, not because of their discrimination against others, but because the original founders of Hollywood were discriminated against by white, male Christians on the East Coast and got into the film business because it was one of the few career choices available. There are several problems with this argument.

1. NOT REALLY AN ACCIDENT–Anyone familiar with the history of the U.S. film industry knows that it was originally created and controlled by the inventors of the camera and projector, a group of predominantly white, Christian males based on the East Coast. Many of the theater owners, on the other hand, were Jewish males of European heritage. They saw opportunities to make a great deal of money in the film business and wanted to expand into production and distribution. They obtained the cameras and projectors from the manufacturers of such equipment obligating themselves contractually to pay royalties for the use of the equipment. Many of these so-called independent producers decided not to pay the royalties (a clear violation of their written agreements). The manufacturers, banded together as the so-called Edison Trust in an effort to enforce the payment of the royalties. The independent producers, also sometimes called the "outlaw producers" fled the East Coast and went West, to a place near the U.S. border with Mexico, so that if they had to avoid the collection tactics of the Edison Trust they could easily do so. The Edison Trust, meanwhile, went too far in trying to enforce its contractual rights. It also engaged in illegal activities. One of the independent producers finally sued the Edison Trust, and the trust was found to be guilty of anti-competitive practices, not because banding together to enforce its contractual rights to the royalties that were not being paid was a problem at the time, but because its representatives engaged in illegal acts (i.e., threats, intimidation and actual violence). So the Edison Trust was shut down and the independent producers flourished in their new base of operations Hollywood, California. As those formerly independent producers began to consolidate their holdings (i.e., band together just as the Edison Trust before them), they, in turn, became the original Hollywood moguls (i.e., the founders of the major Hollywood studio/distributors). This all occurred back in the early 1900s, 80 years or so ago. Nothing in this history suggests "historical accident". The men who became the original Hollywood moguls were opportunists, who came from other fields, like the fur trade, clothing and vaudeville and aggressively sought their fortune in a new industry. They engaged in an industrial war with the founders of the film industry and prevailed partly because of tactical mistakes made by the Edison Trust. Where’s the accident in all of this? It seems that the so-called "historical accident" argument is quite naive and can only be convincing to people who do not know their film industry history. The control of the U.S. film industry gained by the original Hollywood moguls (i.e., politically liberal, for the most part, not very religious, Jewish males of European heritage, was not an accident at all, but a series of intentional choices and a classic industrial war.

NO LONGER USEFUL–Another problem with the "historical accident" argument is that its usefulness is limited to only a reasonable number of years. In other words, even if we assumed that control of the U.S. film industry came into the hands of a small group of politically liberal, not very religious Jewish males of European heritage by historical accident (and as we’ve seen above it did not), the only reason that control has continued now through three or four generations of politically liberal, not very religious Jewish males of European heritage, is consistent, ongoing and contemporary discrimination against all other groups seeking to gain power and influence in the U.S. film industry. FIRM is not trying to reform the history of the film industry, but to change what is happening today, continuing discrimination against African-Americans, Latinos, women, political conservatives, Christians, while males from the South, Italian-Americans, Irish-Americans, Asians and others by that small group of politically liberal, not very religious Jewish males of European heritage who still control Hollywood today, and whose control is and was illegitimate (i.e., it was gained and is maintained through the use of several hundred well-documented unfair, unethical, unconscionable, anti-competitive and predatory business practices including massive discrimination).

ADMISSION OF UNDERLYING FACT–Another interesting facet of the "historical accident" argument is by taking such a position, the proponents of such an argument are admitting the basic underlying fact that Hollywood is controlled by politically liberal, not very religious, Jewish males of European heritage. In other words, by making the "historical accident" argument, such persons are saying we know that Hollywood is controlled by who FIRM says it is controlled by, but the reason is justifiable (i.e., it was an historical accident–beyond our control). Well, thanks for confirming our original research on the point of who controls Hollywood.

HYPOCRITICAL AND SELF-SERVING ARGUMENT--Finally, one more problem with the "historical accident" argument is that if applied more broadly, the people who are making the argument could not support it in other fields. In other words, if we accept that the Hollywood control group gained its control by means of historical accident, then it is also fair to take the position that the dominance of white, Christian males in the U.S. government and in corporate America is also an historical accident, and thus all those minorities in this country arguing that they are being discriminated against in government and business would just be out of luck, just as all of the groups trying to get a fair shake in Hollywood have been for so many years. It would be better to face the fact that the so-called "historical accident"argument is not valid in either context.


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