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Movie at 10: Communists Invade Hollywood!
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Enimem: Genius or Satan? / The debate goes onů

Imagine this: a world without Leonardo DiCaprio's dreamy smile in "Titanic"; a world where "ET", and "Pokemon: The Movie" had never been made. Think it's impossible? Think again. From 1947 till the end of the 50s, moviemakers in Hollywood were not able to make the movies they wanted. The reason was the Red Scare. Everyone feared Communism was taking over the U.S. Communism, like Democracy, is a way of running a nation. In Communism the government owns everything and shares everything with the people. During this time, the Soviet Union was Communist and it was the U.S.'s enemy. People were afraid that Americans who talked about how good Communism was, or Americans who were curious about how Communism worked, were just Soviet spies.

 Much of the American public supported the Hollywood witchhunt. This mural is in Van Nuys, CA.
When I was growing up, I was taught all about the evils of Communism. My mom had escaped Communist China. I was told that Communist countries allowed no freedom of speech. My teachers told me that America was different, that Communist countries let millions of people die if they disagreed with the government. "In Communist countries", my teachers had said, "The government will arrest people who talk about changing the government."

Map
So imagine my shock when I learned that the US government had done the very same thing here. They destroyed the careers of many filmmakers, actors and screenwriters. The FBI and the government claimed that many of these artists were Communists. Even though many of us young people haven't heard about the "Hollywood Blacklist", its victims still remember it.

In 1946, 90 million movie tickets were sold every week. Moviemakers could make films about anything they wanted and millions of people would see their films. Politicians didn't want the moviemakers to make films that might change people's fear about Communism. So, the government created the "Hollywood Blacklist."

In 1999, the University of Southern California unveiled this monument in tribute to the Hollywood Blacklist. The raised seats represent the Hollywood 10.
In 1999, the University of Southern California unveiled this monument in tribute to the Hollywood Blacklist. The raised seats represent the Hollywood 10.
During the Great Depression some people starved while others had a lot of money. Many of the new moviemakers lived through this time. Many also had parents who were from Communist countries. Quite a few had Russian Jewish ancestry.

The "Blacklist" had all the names of moviemakers and actors that were suspected of being Communists. This list was given to the head of the movie companies. The movie companies were then forced to not hire any of the people on the list. To be taken off the list, you had to tell the government the names of others that you knew were Communists.

Some actors, like Cary Grant and Ronald Reagan, testified before Congress that they were not Communists. But to a group of screenwriters and directors, what Congress was doing was wrong. Ten of Hollywood's writers and directors refused to answer the question, "Are you a member of the Communist Party?" on the grounds of the First Amendment and the Fifth Amendment. They were all imprisoned for contempt of Congress.

A student in a USC screenwriting class 13 years ago was so moved by learning about the Hollywood 10 that he got the idea to build this monument as a tribute to the people who stood up for the First Amendment.
A student in a USC screenwriting class 13 years ago was so moved by learning about the Hollywood 10 that he got the idea to build this monument as a tribute to the people who stood up for the First Amendment.
Was there any evidence of Communism in the movies? Blacklisted screenwriter Norma Barzman said that there wasn't. "They have always tried to show that we poisoned American filmmaking, that we tried to get Communist propaganda into films, when what we tried to do was support the democratic tradition."

But it wasn't just the Hollywood workers who lost out because of the government. We, the American people, lost out too, because who knows what awesome movies would have been made if the best and the brightest people in Hollywood had not been silenced? Some of my friends joke that we're the last group to be born before Star Wars came out. We cannot imagine our childhood without Luke, Han Solo, Boba Fett, Yoda and Darth Vader. I mourn for all the lost treasures we never knew and the movies that could have changed and enriched lives in much the same way that the Star Wars movies did mine.

Irene

Please email me at: irene@ustrek.org

 

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