I saw a movie a few years ago, in 1993 actually. It was a major studio release by Columbia, and featured one of my favorite actors, Robert Duvall. The movie was Geronimo--An American Legend. Maybe some of you saw the film.
Duvall played a Western character, and in a part of the movie not significantly related to the main theme, he had a run-in with a group of Texans. After the Texans rode off into the sunset, the Duvall character announced to his associates that "Texans are the lowest form of human life". Now, I ask you, was that funny or offensive?
What if in a different movie a character said "African-Americans are the lowest form of human life"? Would that be funny or offensive? What about another movie in which the character said "Latinos are the lowest form of human life"? Funny or offensive? And, what if the movie character said "Jews are the lowest form of human life"? Funny or offensive?
Would it be any more or less acceptable if the people being descri bed as the "lowest form of human life" were women? Christians? Arabs ? Italian-Americans? Asians? Gays? Lesbians? or Whites from the South ? Do your feelings differ depending on which group is being defamed? Should your feelings differ?
Would your feelings differ if you knew that White folks from Texas and the American South are among a half dozen or so distinct populations in our diverse society that have been consistently portrayed in Hollywood movies in a negative or stereotypical manner for the last several decades?
Would your feelings differ if you realized that contrary to what we're often led to believe by the Hollywood establishment, feature films are much more than mere entertainment. No less an authority than our own United States Supreme Court has actually declared that the motion picture is a significant medium for the communication of ideas, and on that basis has extended the broad protections of the constitutional right of free speech to feature films?
Would your feelings differ if you realized that throughout the history of human civiliz ation, ideas (no matter how comm unicat ed) have always and will always be impor tant factors in influe ncing human thinking and behav ior? And, would your feelings differ if you realized that millions of the people who are regula rly expos ed to the ideas comm unicat ed through film are young , not very sophis ticated, and in some cases, not well educa ted or even menta lly balan ced. After all, no one stands at the theatre door trying to deter mine who can effecti vely separate reality from fantasy in movies, do they?
If persons like any of those I've just described, repeatedly saw a particular group consistently portrayed in a negative or stereotypical manner in a significant number of Hollywood movies over the years (which is exactly what happens in real life), what are the chances that such portrayals would influence the attitudes and behavior of some of those moviegoers with respect to the people portrayed? Probably, pretty good, wouldn't you say?
The truth is that all movies communicate messages of one sort or another. One of our problems is that these messages have been consistently biased. Some filmmakers readily admit they sneak messages into their films. The Producer/Director of the Lethal Weapon series, Richard Donner, told Daily Variety just this past month that he tries to deliver a message in almost every picture, and that it's best if you sneak it in while getting a laugh. In his previous Lethal Weapon movie, the villain was a white racist from South Africa. That got a laugh, I'm sure. But his latest message in Lethal Weapon 4 is even more hilarious. It's a blatant attack on the National Rifle Association. Movies are much more than mere entertainment.
Would you feel any different about my original question if I told you that my ten year study of the U.S. film industry has confirmed that (among other things) for the last 30 to 40 years at least, Hollywood films have consistently portrayed Latinos, Christians, Italian-Americans, Asians, Arabs and Whites from the South (including those poor Texans) as the villains (or at least in a negative or stereotypical manner), while simultaneously promoting politically liberal points of view? Aside from the irony in that, some of you may rationalize that these movie patterns of bias are merely coincidental.
The consistency of the record, however, suggests otherwise. My study of thousands of movies and movie reviews indicates that Hollywood, throughout its nearly 90-year history, has specifically portrayed LATINOS in films as mean, macho, scraggly, violent, cynical, racist, tire slashers, drug traffickers, kidnappers, gang members, prison inmates or in despair. Despite a couple of recent exceptions to this general pattern, Hollywood films have traditionally contained very few positive portrayals of Latinos. If the objective is to hold back or create a disadvantage for Latinos in our society, I suppose there is no better way than the historically proven method of using powerful mass communications media to poison people's minds toward one or more designated populations. By the way, the words and phrases used to describe these biased movie portrayals, mostly come right out of the reviews relied on for this research.
My studies also show that ARABS have been portrayed in Hollywood films as evil, barbaric, oversexed, depraved, villainous, shifty, possessed, hostile, fanatical, criminal, mystical, wicked and crazed. Of course, that's not enough to satisfy Hollywood, so Arabs have also been portrayed as thieves, shady, kidnappers, enemies, mysterious, murderers, assassins, terrorists, blood-thirsty, saboteurs, extremists, cult-ridden, curse-stricken, oily, shifty-eyed, violent, and idiots. Seldom have Hollywood movies contained favorable portrayals of Arabs or Arab-Americans. Thus, millions of viewers of Hollywood movies worldwide are being burdened with Hollywood's perspective of what Arabs and Arab-Americans are like, which we all have to admit is prejudiced and extremely unbalanced. In all fairness, this record suggests that some Hollywood movies are being used as a form of private propaganda (paid for by the unsuspecting moviegoers themselves), and in this instance, the propaganda could have consequences for Mid-East and world peace.
My studies also reveal that Hollywood's portrayals of ASIANS AND ASIAN-AMERICANS consistently present them as enemies, cold, calculating, ruthless, aggressive, criminals, slave owners and conspiring businessmen (some of whom, of course, bought a couple of the major Hollywood studios a few years ago). Evenso, just as with Latinos and Arabs, it is also accurate to report that Hollywood has seldom portrayed Asians and Asian Americans in a positive light.
From a POLITICAL perspective, it's quite apparent that another of these consistent patterns of Hollywood movie bias comes in the form of negative portrayals of characters and positions representing conservative points of view, and positive presentations of characters and positions representing a liberal perspective. While Hollywood movie villains often hold political views of the extreme right, seldom does Hollywood portray its movie villains as political liberals.
Another blatant Hollywood movie bias occurs with respect to RELIGION. Most are just overlooked, but some, including Christianity are vigorously attacked in films. In recent decades, Hollywood has portrayed Christians as disturbed, phony, sexually rigid, devil worshipping cultists, manipulative, hypocritical, murder suspects, talking to God, neurotic, fanatical, slick hucksters, Bible quoting Nazis, outlaws, psychotic, fake spiritualists, Catholic schoolboys running amok, dishonest, Bible pushers, Adam & Eve as pawns in a game between God and Satan, unscrupulous, dumb, deranged preachers, an unbalanced nun accused of killing her newborn infant, obsessed, mentally unbalanced, destructive, foul mouthed, fraudulent and miracle fabricators. That pretty much describes your Christian neighbors, doesn't it? Of course, I'm not even a religious person, but regardless of how you feel about religion and Christianity in particular, the use of a powerful communications medium by anyone to consistently portray Christians or any other religious characters in this manner is a national disgrace.
Still another little recognized Hollywood movie bias regularly appears in the form of negative or stereotypical portrayals of WHITES FROM THE SOUTH. My studies reveal that during the 1970's, 80s and early '90s Hollywood continued a long-established and consistent pattern of negative or stereotypical portrayals of Southerners that began as early as the 1920s. White Southerners have been most often portrayed as hillbillies, eccentrics, murderers and other types of criminals, flawed lawmen, country music lovers, being from small towns, cagey Cajuns, oil field workers, rednecks, strippers and prostitutes, plantation owners, dumb, odd-ball characters, poor, gossips, "the lowest form of human life", aimless, lifelong losers, members of the Ku Klux Klan, racists or otherwise prejudiced individuals. Hollywood's record with respect to the South is nothing more than a combined form of regional and race-based defamation.
A total of 251 movies were included in that particular survey of films about the South. As it turns out, only 12% of them were directed by film directors from that region of the country, which helps explain why so many of them present negative and/or stereotypical portrayals of these subjects. It also highlights the heart of the problem for all of the groups mentioned. There are relatively few Latinos, Arabs, Arab- Americans, Asians, Asian-Americans, political conservatives, Christians or Whites from the South making the key decisions with regard to the production and distribution of Hollywood films. Under those circumstances, these observed patterns of bias may be considered inevitable. The makers of these films do not, as a general rule, know their subjects and are prejudiced themselves.
Now, without continuing the litany of the few other specific groups that Hollywood has consistently defamed (like Italian-Americans), or consistently defamed until just the last few years (like women, gays, lesbians and African-Americans--and even those groups are not where they ought to be in terms of balanced movie portrayals), I am confident in telling you that using a powerful communications medium to consistently portray people you don't like in a negative or stereotypical manner is wrong! So, let's look more closely at the question of, why is this happening? More specifically, why do movies portray these incredibly misleading stereotypes and such limited views of the world? Well, partly because, movies are different from most other products produced in this country. Movies, to a large extent, tend to mirror the values, interests, cultural perspectives and prejudices of their makers.
This means it is absolutely relevant and entirely appropriate for all of us concerned about the impact of movies on our society (and we all should be concerned) to know exactly who in Hollywood has the power to make the key decisions with respect to which movies are produced and released, to determine who gets to work in the top positions on those movies and to approve the screenplays that serve as the basis for such motion pictures. These are the people who create, encourage or tolerate the blatant patterns of bias just described, and we cannot fully understand the relationships between these decision- makers, their films and our society without knowing about their backgrounds.
This is particularly important with respect to the major studios and their releases because those are the films seen by about 92% of all theatrical moviegoers in the domestic marketplace, and these same movies represent a significant percentage of the films seen in most other countries.
In addition, as already noted, movie makers do not hesitate to use feature films to communicate to millions of people in our society, important messages about such sensitive topics as race, religion, ethnicity, culture, politics, violence, sexuality or regional and other perceived differences. Thus again, the study of any factors that may influence the decisions by movie makers about which messages are to be presented to our society through this powerful communications medium are clearly relevant and appropriate.
Is there anyone in this audience who would try to convince me that it is inappropriate to consider the backgrounds of studio executives who consistently release movies that defame Latinos, Italian- Americans, Arabs, Arab-Americans, Asians, Asian-Americans, Christians and Whites from the South; not to mention movies that teach our impressionable youngsters by powerful cinematic example that, among other things, it is acceptable to smoke, do drugs, lie in the middle of busy highways, or take a gun to school and fire away at teachers and classmates? Who are you kidding?
As opposed to many other Hollywood observers of the past who have merely expressed a rather crude and subjective opinion (or tap- danced around the truth) about this issue of who controls Hollywood, I've actually conducted and published a study, that can be replicated by anyone who chooses to do so, although so far as I know, no one else has had the courage to undertake such research. Evenso, I think it is time for us (as a nation) to get past our inability to discuss this issue both objectively and intelligently.
First, my studies demonstrate that the people who still determine which movies the vast majority of American audiences see on the screen (that is, the real Hollywood movie "makers") are the three top studio executives at the so-called major studio/distributors. Despite what we're often led to believe by the so-called Hollywood establishment about influence on a relatively small number of films from other sources (like certain powerful actors, agents and directors), these top studio executives are the people who directly control the important level of Hollywood decision-making I've described, and they have exercised that control for the nearly 90-year history of the Hollywood-based U.S. film industry.
My studies demonstrate further that the most honest, accurate and fair description of the relevant characteristics and backgrounds of the members of this Hollywood control group is that a clear majority (not all, but a clear majority) of it's members have been politically liberal, not very religious, Jewish males of European heritage. And, as with most institutions in our society, majority rules. On the other hand, "control" in this context does not mean absolute control, but the "exercise of dominant influence" over this particular industry. Now, apparently this is the part of my speech that makes some people uncomfortable, and that's not my intent, I'm just trying to get at the truth and be as precise as possible. So, if anyone disagrees with my facts, show me your studies. To help avoid any misunderstanding or misinterpretation of my work, however, I'll pause here for a moment to emphasize what I am clearly not saying.
I am not saying that the behavior of this narrowly-defined Hollywood control group (a majority of not more than twenty-five individuals at any given time) is in any way representative of the 5.5 million or more members of the much broader so-called Jewish community here in the U.S., so I'm clearly not talking about Jews generally. Second, I'm not suggesting that any of the members of the Hollywood control group behave the way they do because they are Jewish. I am only observing and merely criticizing the well-documented, business-related behavior of a small group of unrepresentative individuals, who in all likelihood and at certain levels, are behaving just like anyone else under the same or similar circumstances. After all, as human beings, we all tend to want to associate with people who are more like ourselves, and since movies tend to mirror the values, interests, cultural perspectives and prejudices of their makers (no matter who they are), the motion pictures of any particular group will tend to reflect the interests of that group. In addition, since the motion picture is a significant medium for the communication of ideas, it is essential in a democracy (based on a marketplace of freely competing ideas) that we consumers of motion picture product and victims of its legacy know as much about the backgrounds of these individual mass-media communicators as possible.
I'm not even saying that these members of the Hollywood Saying control group think alike, merely that there is less diversity of thought in any narrowly-defined group than there would be in a more diverse group. Finally, I'm not alleging any sort of conspiracy. I'm only concerned about the improper business practices and the adverse results. On the other hand, as we will see, one of those business practices is discrimination, and in order to clarify who the modern-day victims of this discrimination are, we must identify as best we can the perpetrators of the discriminatory acts.
Now, to make matters much worse and even more intolerable with respect to Hollywood, my studies demonstrate that this small narrowly-defined Hollywood control group has actually gained and has maintained its dominance over the U.S. film industry through the consistent use of several hundred of these specifically identifiable unfair, unethical, unconscionable, anti-competitive, predatory and illegal business practices. I specifically identify, describe and discuss these business practices in varying degrees of detail in three of my published books.
So, in addition to all of the patterns of bias in Hollywood films noted earlier, this narrow control of Hollywood has also generally resulted in the systematic and arbitrary exclusion of those who may be considered "outsiders" from positions of control at the major studio/distributors and a significant number of associated entities, in and around the film industry. An insidious network of social and cultural relationships based on reciprocal preferences for Hollywood insiders, and those closely associated with them, has long enveloped this industry. In Hollywood, that is the most accurate interpretation of the deceptive rationalization commonly offered by the Hollywood insiders. They say: "It's a relationship business . . . " which is just another way of saying: "We're going to exclude you because you don't have a relationship with us, and, of course, you don't have a relationship with us because we don't consider you to be one of us."
Specifically, the executives of the Hollywood major studio/distributors have engaged in wholesale employment discrimination from corporate top to bottom for nearly 90 years. Not only has that discrimination destroyed thousands of the career opportunities, livelihoods and some lives of Blacks, Latinos, Italian- Americans, Native-Americans, Irish, women, Arab-Americans, Asian- Americans, Christians, Whites from the South, among others, but these Hollywood employers have also historically shown several distinct hiring preferences, including a strong preference for employing specific immigrants from just 4 or 5 European countries, as opposed to hiring equally talented persons already in the U.S. (or from other parts of the world), and even when no demonstrated need for the employment of immigrants was apparent.
If you steal a car in this country, you might very well go to prison. If, on the other hand, you arbitrarily destroy someone else's career by hiring your less-deserving cultural cousin for a high-paid Hollywood studio job, our government has generally looked the other way.
My studies further reveal that the Hollywood control group has also consistently violated U.S. antitrust laws and continues to do so today. Some of you may be shocked by these allegations, because you've been convinced that ours is a nation of laws. Unfortunately, the Federal Election Commission records show that the arbitrarily selected and excessively overpaid Hollywood studio executives, their spouses and multiple political action committees gave some $23.5 million dollars in so-called "political contributions" during a recent five year reporting period to candidates for the U.S. Presidency (from both major political parties) and in key Congressional races.
Consequently, it is absurd for us to expect, or even hope, that any U.S. President who accepts such "generosity" would turn ment around and direct the head of the Justice Department (or the FTC) to vigorously enforce existing federal antitrust laws in the film industry. Of course, a similar phenomenon occurs at the federal Equal Employment Opportunities Commission, in Congress and at the local level with District Attorneys. We have to face up to the fact that our system of justice is vulnerable to the indirect political bribe, particularly in this area of white-collar crime. And, that is one of the important reasons why the antitrust law violations in the film industry are occurring, and will continue to occur, until the U.S. public becomes sufficiently informed and outraged to force an end to the practices. And yes, in a broader context, this requires meaningful campaign finance reform.
Further, most if not all, of the major studio film distribution Contracts agreements are contracts of adhesion filled with multiple unconscionable provisions. They have been specifically drafted and refined over the years to give these vertically-integrated, distributor-dominated major studios whatever discretion is necessary to prevent revenue generated by the exploitation of any motion picture they distribute from flowing past the distributor to anyone else, including certain outside investors.
This illegal and manipulative control of the revenue streams Control generated by the exploitation of feature films in all markets and media, is routinely converted in turn, into creative control over future motion pictures. In Hollywood, he who has the gold, rules.
Thus, we come full circle back to the reasons why the previously cited blatant patterns of bias exist in Hollywood films. Illegal business practices have been used to gain and maintain control of the Hollywood-based U.S. film industry. That control has been used to hire generation after generation of individuals with similar backgrounds and interests for the key executive positions at the major studios. Additional unscrupulous business practices have been used to extract unconscionable profits from the studio movies and to retain most of those profits within the Hollywood insider community.
Some of that money is used to keep the government at bay. Other illicit revenues are used to employ the services of some of the best hired guns for legal and legislative protection. Some is used to buy the loyalty and silence of high-profile members of the creative community. After all, you are not likely to complain about the actions of someone who is paying you anywhere from $1 million to $20 million dollars to appear in a movie are you? Other portions of these funds are used for outrageous producer deals on the studio lots for outgoing studio executives or "super golden parachutes" for retiring executives. Still other such monies are used for giving insider development deals to the girl friends, wives, other friends and family members of studio executives. Additional funds are used for philanthropic purposes to help gloss over what's really going on in Hollywood, and to soften potential sources of criticism (obviously, none of that money has been given to me). Still other profits are used to attract other people's money to cover the costs associated with the production and release of the movies the Hollywood insiders choose. Nobody else matters. Complaints over the years, and there have been many complaints from a variety of groups, have generally been met with a wall of arrogance or temporary and superficial adjustments that have little or no impact on the long-term distribution of power in Hollywood.
With all of the admiration one might muster for such a thing, some may reasonably choose to describe the Hollywood game as the "perfect crime". Its victims go far beyond the small production, distribution and exhibition companies in this country and around the world that are unfairly squeezed out of the marketplace each year by the predatory business practices of the majors, far beyond the many producers and screenwriters whose ideas and screenplays are stolen annually without sufficient remedy . . .
. . . far beyond the diverse community of "outsider" filmmakers, (including those among the 200 or more disfavored U.S. religious denominations), whose stories cannot be told through feature film because they've been arbitrarily shut out of Hollywood, far beyond the hundreds of thousands of struggling members of the creative community who don't even realize the playing field is titled in favor of the Hollywood insiders (or if they do, they're so afraid of being blacklisted they won't speak out), far beyond the hundreds of attractive young men and women who are lured to Hollywood every year by prospects of fame and fortune, only to end up having to sell their bodies to survive, or even worse, literally never being heard from again . . .
. . . far beyond all those persons who are cheated out of their fair share of the economic upside of their own films, far beyond the Victims millions of moviegoers who are regularly deceived by the high- powered, all-pervasive advertising, publicity and promotion, about the subject, suitability or quality of the films they pay money to see (which is why Jack Valenti's oft-repeated claim that "moviegoers vote with their pocketbooks" is fraudulent), far beyond the thousands of college level film students (possibly some of your sons or daughters) whose choice of studies and professional futures have been based on the misconception that there are reasonable opportunities waiting for them in the U.S. film industry, far beyond individuals within the U.S. academic community and government bureaucracies whose intellectual honesty and willingness to conduct critical research regarding this industry has been compromised by Hollywood intimidation -- to all citizens who have to cope with the powerful negative impact of irresponsible visual images and biased motion pictures on our children and all of the world's societies.
I've had people try to justify what's going on in Hollywood, by telling me that other industries in this country are just as corrupt. Of course, I haven't spent 11 years working in or studying the business practices of any other industry, so I can't compare. In addition, I've always been taught that just because someone else is doing something wrong, that's no excuse for doing the same. Further, I can tell you that if a significant number of our other industries are just as corrupt as the Hollywood-based U.S. film industry, this country is in deep trouble. And, if these people are arguing that it's ok for members of the Hollywood establishment to discriminate against outsiders, because some others outside of Hollywood also discriminate, then by virtue of that flawed logic, it must be ok for those others to discriminate. Employment discrimination has to be stopped across the board. What do you think our ongoing national debate about affirmative action is all about? If there was no employment discrimination, there would be no need for a remedy like affirmative action.
In any case, the behavior of this Hollywood control group has been so reprehensible that over a period of some 50 years, three different informed and sophisticated individuals who were specifically knowledgeable about the operation of the film industry (a U.S. Supreme Court Justice, the federal judge who supervised 30 years of film industry compliance [or non-compliance] with the Paramount Consent decrees and the Los Angeles-based litigating attorney who sued Paramount on behalf of Art Buchwald), all proclaimed in writing (independent of each other) that the Hollywood control group has a "proclivity for wrongful conduct".
In their own defense, the Hollywood insiders have historically used a series of myths, smokescreens and straw-man arguments disseminated through the world's most powerful and highly-paid PR machine (aided by a partisan trade press), to cloud public discussion and understanding of these important issues.
In the broadest sense, it's my view, that it is inappropriate in our multi-cultural society for any readily identifiable interest group (whether the group identity is based on ethnicity, culture, religion, race, class, region of origin, sex or sexual orientation, or otherwise) to be allowed to dominate or control any important communications medium, including film.
Now, you may be surprised to know that our federal government has a long and well-documented history of being highly involved in helping the Hollywood-based U.S. film industry achieve its dominance over both the domestic and international film markets. Although, from time to time, our government has ineptly and unsuccessfully attempted to limit Hollywood's excesses in this regard.
On the other hand, our federal government has a legitimate interest and role to play (indeed, a duty and obligation) to stop, or at least fully investigate and consider all appropriate remedies, for any of the employment discrimination and antitrust law violations, along with the hundreds of other questionable business practices routinely utilized by the Hollywood major studio/distributors.
In addition to any available private remedies that I might encourage, such as class action lawsuits based on antitrust and racketeering statutes, or more broad-based and long-term economic boycotts than ever before instigated, our federal government, through all legitimate means necessary, has the right and the obligation to protect the constitutionally ordained general welfare of all our citizens from what Professor George Gerbner calls the "pollution of our cultural environment". Furthermore, our government has the right and a duty to ensure that all U.S. citizens, regardless of background, have an equal and fair opportunity to participate at all levels of the U.S. film industry, with the appropriate long-term objectives of ensuring that our feature films more accurately reflect the diversity of our multi-cultural society, and communicate greater diversity in the marketplace of ideas. The search for truth deserves no less.
In other words, none of our cultural groups should be arbitrarily denied the opportunity to tell their important cultural stories (the way they want to tell them), through this significant medium for the communication of ideas. No one should be allowed to force members of other cultures to filter their important stories through the cultural sensibilities of a small, rather homogeneous group of film industry gate-keepers, which is exactly what is happening in Hollywood today, and that is exactly what has been occurring for the nearly 90-year history of the Hollywood-based U.S. film industry. After all, as noted earlier, movies are somewhat unique -- to a large extent, they tend to mirror the values, interests, cultural perspectives and prejudices of their makers. On the other hand, as we've seen, the Hollywood control group is much too narrow in scope, and its members are prejudiced indeed.
Ultimately, as already pointed out by the Supreme Court, the motion picture is a significant medium for the communication of ideas. And, in a democratic society, we cannot afford to stand by and allow any single narrowly-defined interest group to control or even dominate any of our important communications media, because that inaction will inevitably weaken, if not transform our cherished democracy into a fraudulent facsimile. In the absence of a free marketplace of ideas, our democracy is flawed. And, it is impossible to have a free marketplace of ideas, so long as any of our important communications media are controlled by one or even a few, narrowly-defined interest groups. If we want to preserve our democracy and make the world a better place, we need to start with what we communicate to each other, and who gets to communicate.