If you’re one of the few conservatives in Hollywood, you might be used to keeping your head down — and your politics to yourself — and hoping for the best.
There are some signs that things are looking up for Hollywood conservatives, however. Revered playwright and screenwriter David Mamet recently published a sprawling essay in the Village Voice explaining, “Why I Am No Longer a ‘Brain-Dead Liberal.’” And Robert Downey Jr., the formerly troubled actor turned smash success with the summer blockbuster Iron Man, recently outed himself as, well, something other than a liberal.
“I have a really interesting political point of view, and it’s not always something I say too loud at dinner tables here,” Downey says. “But you can’t go from a $2,000-a-night suite at La Mirage to a penitentiary and really understand it and come out a liberal. You can’t. I wouldn’t wish that experience on anyone else, but it was very, very, very educational for me and has informed my proclivities and politics ever since.”
The Washington Times also recently highlighted a loose-knit group of conservatives and centrists that has quietly been gathering in private homes and restaurants, organized by Forrest Gump actor Gary Sinise.
Of course, one or two positive moves in the direction of ideological diversity isn’t about to make a dent in Tinseltown’s near-uniform politics. Just ask Edgar Award-winning crime novelist and screenwriter Andrew Klavan, who’s had books and screenplays made into movies by Clint Eastwood and Michael Douglas, among others. He’s one of the few people in Hollywood who’s managed to succeed while openly espousing his conservative politics.
“I’m a real loud-mouth. Especially after they started making films against the war effort,” Klavan told National Review Online. “I thought it was the wrong thing to do while our guys were in danger, for sure. But I thought it was intolerable that they would make 14, 15 films like that and not one, not one speaking up for the other side. So I started to complain about that in the papers.”
This is no easy feat considering how vocal the liberalism is in Hollywood. “When you go into a room in Hollywood and go in to make a deal in Hollywood, they will openly in the meeting dis Bush, dis American foreign policy, dis conservatives in general,” Klavan says. “Conservatives are basically having secret meetings to express their opinions. I was never gonna go in for that. That’s never been my personality.”
Asked if there are lots of Hollywood conservatives that hide their politics, he eagerly confirms there are. “I know there are. It’s a liberal town, there are going to be more liberal people because liberalism is more of an emotion than a philosophy and artists tend to be emotional. That’s part of the deal,” Klavan says. “But there are plenty of conservatives and a lot of them know that it will cost them work.”
Of course, Klavan acknowledges that for Hollywood conservatives there’s more going on than simply the fear of being blacklisted. “The other reason they keep their heads down is much more disturbing than that because I really think that conservatives have bought into the idea that there is virtue in a dishonest culture.”
Consequently, they buy into Hollywood’s politically correct perception of itself as a guardian of culture, rather than do an honest and accurate portrayal of the culture as it is. “If you portray all women as being what feminists think women should be instead of what the women you meet on the street generally are like, then you’re a good person somehow,” Klavan says. “If you tell those lies, you’re a good person. And if you tell the truth — no, life looks more to me like this, then you’re a bad person. Even though conservatives reject that philosophically, I think they’ve bought into it a little bit psychologically.”
And the consequences for not falling in line scare a lot of people in Hollywood who ought to know better, Klavan observes. “They’re afraid of being called offensive, they’re afraid of being called racist and sexist. I mean, we’ve been bullied, we’ve been emotionally bullied. Some of us have taken that on board,” he says. “There’s a little bit of buying into the kind of background assumptions that the Left plants in all artistic works. That military might is somehow evil, that soldiers are all crazy, that housewives are desperate, corporations are evil, and on and on.”
But even with conservative voices often a cowed minority in Hollywood, that still shouldn’t explain how few conservative themes are taken up in popular entertainment. Surely there’s a bigger demand?
“One of the things I always hear, and whenever I talk about this somebody says this, they say, ‘Hollywood is all about money. They make whatever makes money.’ And it just isn’t true,” Klavan says. “It’s one of those things that sounds kind of cynical and worldly wise but it’s not so because Hollywood is ultimately powered by ideas and the idea people are writers and artists and artists work for love.”
What motivates artists isn’t necessarily money, Klavan argues. “They work for praise, awards, esteem, and scholarly articles about their work. All those things are meat and drink to artists and you’re not going to get any of those things if you are a conservative,” he says. “I tell you, I wrote my new book, The Empire of Lies, and I knew the minute I finished it, I thought, I’ll never win a writing award ever again.”
Ironically, Hollywood is something of a victim of its own success. Klavan notes there’s so much money going around, they don’t need to give an audience demanding entertainment with conservative themes what they want. “You make a movie like In the Valley of Elah, you don’t make any money. Nobody goes to see it. But you get praised and you get the awards and the market forces have been nullified by all these different methods of distribution. You don’t really get punished for your bad acts,” he says. “Even when a movie loses money at the American box office, DVDs and foreign markets will probably make up the costs. You’re not really being punished and you’re getting these things that people really want. Even the executives want these things — the prestige and the awards and so forth.”
The few films with conservative themes — even the successful ones — get slammed critically or are regarded as aberrations. “It really bothers me, for instance, that Mel Gibson made The Passion of the Christ, made a gazillion dollars. Suddenly you’re seeing all these magazines saying, ‘Oh, Hollywood has found religion.’ Any other film that made that kind of money off those kind of production costs, a sequel would be in the can. The Book of Acts would be in the can,” Klavan says. “The resistance is really, really strong. If you look at certain films over the years — and the films that always come to my mind are Not Without My Daughter, Tears of the Sun, The Passion of the Christ, 300 — they transgressed against the liberal orthodoxy and they were slammed by the critics — not just slammed but eviscerated and the artists were attacked.”
Klavan continues: “I don’t blame those people for keeping their heads down. Bruce Willis started to come out and make these speeches like, ‘Well, I’m sort of a Republican but not really a Republican.’ If you go back and read reviews of him in Tears of the Sun, you know exactly why he’s saying this.”
According to Klavan, the way to fix this imbalance is to do what conservatives have always done — invest in an infrastructure promoting their views from outside the mainstream. “[Conservatives] understand getting people in Congress and taking the White House and all this stuff. But if you lose the culture, you lose the world. We have lost the culture and, for 40 years, this one ideology has been pumping this poison into the American mind,” he says. “What we need is the same kind of think-tank structure that took back some of the nonfiction areas. We need the same kinds of things in the fiction areas, in the arts.”
Further, now is the time for conservatives to strike, Klavan says. Technology and the Internet have made breaking Hollywood’s grip on producing and distributing films a real possibility. “There is a revolution going on in Hollywood and it’s a revolution of the means of distribution. It is getting to a point where you can go to Radio Shack and buy a camera and shoot a film and put it online and have it downloaded onto a 70-inch TV, where conventional movie theaters are going to become less and less important. You’re going to be able to start to tell really good stories and make really good movies that don’t require the structure that’s in place right now.”
And when that happens, there will be a lot more conservatives in Hollywood as outspoken as Andrew Klavan.
– Mark Hemingway is an NRO staff reporter.