By the end of the new film “Trumbo,” there is the feeling that restitution has been made to the blacklisted writer whose career was relegated to writing scripts signed by noms de plume, or more appropriately, noms de guerre. Trumbo’s name appears triumphantly as the screenwriter of “Spartacus” and “Exodus” and Hollywood and the world know that it is his craftsmanship that won the two previous Oscars for “Roman Holiday” and “The Brave Bull.” Though we see the toll that the blacklist has taken on the lives of many people in the industry, we also see that the “evil forces” of HUAC and the anti-communist witch-hunters of the private sector have been defeated and freedom of speech and the sanctity of individual rights have triumphed.
This movie was released during the same week as the protests at the University of Missouri resulted in the resignation of the president, the chancellor and the football coach. Their crimes were far less egregious than govt subpoenas to self-incriminate and name other names. At Missouri and other colleges across the country, we are now dealing with issues of micro-aggression, insensitivity, hurt feelings and the black student demand for higher black faculty quotas. One student complained about the discrimination she felt when her roommate asked questions regarding her hairstyle and what products she used. The issue of Halloween costurmes such as Mexican sombreros and ponchos received the attention of Yale administrators who cautioned students to be mindful of ethnic sensibilities. A professor’s article calling for more levity and free expression for this holiday was met with calls for her dismissal. These newly heightened sensibilities have been responsible for craven administrative cancellations of speakers on campus or total disruption of the event if an undesirable speaker shows up.
In the entertainment industry, we’ve seen the blacklisting of performers who have made anti-gay statements - ask yourself the last time you have seen Michael Richards (aka Kramer on Seinfeld) in a new part on t.v. We have seen the public rush to judgment on Bill Cosby, a man who has not been tried or convicted of any crime but who has been blackballed from tv, personal appearances and Temple University, his alma mater to which he gave multiple millions of dollars. All the re-runs of his award winning, top comedy series, the first to show black parents as upper middle-class professionals raising a family, have been expunged from view on television. When Donald Trump announced what he would do with illegal immigrants and characterized Mexicans as criminals and rapists, he was immediately bounced from his own tv shows and boycotted by Macy’s. Though we understand that speech has consequences, we seem to have skipped the step of countering it with more speech and moved to stifling it before it airs or punishing it by economic boycott.
During the time of the Hollywood Ten, there were many non-governmental agencies and particularly powerful people in the entertainment industry who affected the lives of communist party members or sympathizers: The American Legion, American Business Consultants, General Motors, The Screen Writers Guild, Walt Disney, Hedda Hopper, John Wayne and Walter Winchell - to name a handful. Today, the subjects have changed but if you cross the line of political correctness and dis a protected member in the Hall of Sacred Victims, you may not spend time in jail as Trumbo did, but you will be excommunicated and censored by large corporations, media, the entertainment industry and most perversely and unforgivably, by academia. Without discussing the irony of a communist party member insisting on the freedoms that have always been sacrificed in communist countries, Trumbo outlived the blacklist, but the witch-hunters have survived and morphed into enforcers of irrational political correctness, a choke-hold on sanity and individual rights.
The greatest irony is that if Dalton Trumbo were alive today, he’d be persona non grata on American campuses - either prevented from speaking or pilloried and heckled by Students for Justice in Palestine for having written the screenplay for ”Exodus.” So much for the triumph of free speech in the 21rst century.
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