Richard Dreyfus has been red-pilled and is speaking out anywhere people will have him. That makes him, to my mind, a hero. He will be vilified, of course, written off by the social justice police as an “angry white man” because, of course, he will be.
But we don’t live in a time of heroes. We live in a time of cowards. It’s understandable. No one wants to lose their job or their status or their friends or their platforms. So they go along to get along.
The problem for the Academy is that these standards are being put in place at a time when the entire industry, soup to nuts, has utterly and completely transformed itself by way of “woke” mandates. But not altogether. Where they still could use these standards is not with writing or casting but within the tech categories. This is still where women falter. It is just that no one sees it, so no one talks about it.
You can find the report Marshall Flores and I do every year at Women’s Media Center here if you’d like to see the stats. They’re grim for the non-acting categories. There is no reason not to have inclusion riders, or inclusivity mandates below the line.
The problem, of course, is that equity cheats merit. Thelma Schoonmaker or Dede Allen never needed any mandate to prove they were two of the best editors who ever lived. If your goal is to make great art or even great entertainment, you have to respect merit. Alas, this goal no longer exists in Hollywood because — and it’s a hard reality to say out loud — the status in the “Royal Court” (i.e., progrerssive circles) matters more than what the rabble outside the castle walls wants or needs.
It’s a distressing state of affairs to see all of this vanish in a few short years, but here we are. I have to conclude having lived through it and now seeing the results of the last 20 years, that when Hollywood fused with politics during the Obama era that meant it had to mirror the directive of the politicians on the Left, which means they have to do their due dilligence to push their platforms and ideologies.
This is similar to Hollywood in the 1950s when it fused with the Eisenhower administration –because of the fear of McCarthyism and the post-war utopian America, togehter they imposed an ideology in a similar fashion. The counter-culture, then, broke free from it. What we don’t see is much critical examination of our lives right now that is, in any way, honest. Because it can’t be. It would have to speak truth to power but right now, Hollywood IS the power. So they’re left with the endless tinkering with their utopian ideal.
Most people “out there” will tell you that Hollywood movies have become unwatchable. I support the WGA strike but I also wonder why there isn’t more soul-searching about the job of writers. If they really are going to be micro-managed and policed, stripped of any kind of potential controversy, and becoming more dogmatic by the day – why wouldn’t they be replaced by AI, which can do a much more efficient job of providing that?
Nothing can replace the human mind as long as it’s free. If it’s put in a cage and defined only by gender or skin color and forced into a dogmatic crouch, well then, what use is it?
The Academy is in a no-win situation. When they put the inclusivity mandate in place it was in 2020, during the “Great George Floyd Awakening,” which was a revolutionary force driven by the college kids who came of age amid Critical Race and Gender Theory, and Tumblr that wanted a more equitable country. “Make everything fair” was all they wanted to see, especially for the non–white, non-cis-gendered-hetero-normative majority.
Poor BAFTA turned themselves inside out to meet the moment, firing the voting privileges of their members and bringing in a committee of right-thinking activists to do the nominating for them. The message was: you can’t possibly know your own minds because your white bias is in the way.
Although, by now, we’ve also added in all manner of the LGBTQIA+ because what in the world are we going to do with an industry and a country full of white people? The non-binary label allows them to be part of the mandate as well, to be considered marginalized, and thus prioritized and protected.
This past year, the BAFTA voters revolted and simply picked the actors and the movie they liked the best. That led to all white winners and rising hysteria on Twitter in reaction to it. Those who cover film in this country right now do not understand the concept of seeing film and performances outside the strident rules of social justice.
“Good” to them has been redefined as being worthy of an award. That has made the awards useful in pushing the activist cause. It feels good to be virtuous, to feel as though your vote “matters.” You aren’t a useless aristocrat – you are, instead, a good citizen doing your part to make the world a better place.
Trust me, I’ve been there. I know that feeling well. I did it for years as a way to justify what amounts to something trivial and frivolous. Make it mean something, is what I believed. And while I do think it was necessary to shake the tree — Hollywood was too white and too male for too long — by now, it has gone too far in the other direction. Hollywood has a problem with audiences. They’ve lost their trust.
I’ll give you two examples of movies I watched recently that would never be made today in the same way.
Damage – in this film, directed by Louis Malle, less is more. Malle and screenwriter David Hare succinctly tell a story about messed up characters, trimming nearly all of the fat that would “explain” why they do what they do. They give us, the audience, information about these characters and it’s then our job to take them home with us and ruminate on it. As a young woman watching this movie in the 90s I was perplexed by it. Why would a powerful politician throw it all away for one woman? What was it about her? Or him? But every thread takes us back to the title of the movie, Damage. And the quote in the film that references it, “Damaged people are dangerous. They know they can survive.”
What did that mean, I wondered? The more I thought about that line, the title, and the choices the characters make, the deeper it took me into the story. It easily could have been told in any country with any kind of people in the world because the story itself is universal. Remaking it into the mini-series called Obsession destroyed everything good about the original. They filled in all the grey areas, did the thinking for us, and rendered it mildly entertaining but ultimately not something that can deepen your understanding of the human experience.
When I watch Damage now I think of all of the ways Hollywood and activists would tamper with it to perfect it for the judgmental Greek chorus of Twitter. Cast is too white, guy is too misogynistic, sex is too exploitative, the male case is too pronounced. You can’t possibly be inclusive of everyone in every film. What you owe your audience is authentic storytelling that’s true to the writers, the directors and the characters.
About Schmidt – I wasn’t much of a fan when this movie came out but I’ve come to appreciate filmmaker Alexander Payne now more than I did then because of his inclination toward complex, extremely flawed characters and there is no one more flawed than Warren Schmidt. Again, like Damage, we are given a set of characters whose actions take them to an end-point. Here, Schmidt is pouring out his heart to a young African boy he’s “adopted” in embarrassing and increasingly hilarious ways. By the end, he finally gets a letter back, and it includes a drawing by the young boy, which devastates Schmidt and us, the audience. We’ve gone through this messy story with this nobody in American life and come out the other end with catharsis.
I have never enjoyed About Schmidt more than I did recently and was reminded of the power of storytelling if artists are allowed to tell the truth about the characters and about their world. About Schmidt, like every movie made in the pre-“woke” era, is riddled with thought crimes. Kathy Bates is hilarious as the older woman who can’t stop talking about her hysterectomy, which she throws into casual conversation, “when I had my hysterectomy…”
Schmidt hits on a married woman, which would be seen as assault now and thus, render his character unsympathetic. There would be lots of stuff relating to the subject matter and its lack of diversity, even though this is Omaha, Nebraska we’re talking about. But there is a scene in this movie where Kathy Bates is screaming at her ex-husband during a dinner scene and in the middle of it, the camera cuts to her son who is completely ignoring the fight and just tucking into his meal. It is such a funny moment I am still laughing about it days later.
So that’s what we’re missing now in our ongoing efforts to make everything air and equitable. We’re missing this. Good storytelling takes us, the viewer, into the lives of people who behave as people do behave, and that takes us deeper into the experience of what it means to be a human being.
So many writers now, across all industries from film to television to comedy, have become cut off from the lives of ordinary Americans. They just don’t know them anymore because our society is so polarized. What they do know is what everyone inside of our bubble knows: the hierarchy of identity politics. And that seems to drive everything “inside” but doesn’t really move the needle much “outside.”
I think Richard Dreyfuss speaking out, as he is doing now, is good for the film industry. I know he will be ignored at best and demonized at worst but so what. His words will echo through time and stand out as a rare bit of courage in a climate of fear.