TOM LEONARD: Hollywoke! How tyranny of political correctness sweeping Tinseltown is crushing creativity, stifling talent – and driving audiences away
What do spoof western Blazing Saddles, cross-dressing comedy Tootsie, boxing drama Rocky and The Wizard of Oz have in common?
Apart from being hugely successful, much-loved films, no connection may spring to mind. But according to a new expose of the chilling effect that ‘wokeness’ has had on Hollywood, all are now ‘verboten’ in industry circles.
Blazing Saddles (co-written by black comedian Richard Pryor) sends up racism with its black sheriff protagonist; Tootsie’s Dustin Hoffman pretends to be a woman to get acting work; Rocky’s bad guy is black; and The Wizard of Oz hired people with dwarfism to play its Munchkins.
Which means none of these classic movies would stand any chance of getting commissioned today, according to prominent directors and writers.
Prominent directors and writers say movies including Rocky, whose bad guy is black, would not stand any chance of getting commissioned today
Hollywood, an industry that once prided itself on pushing boundaries, is now in thrall to a stultifying politically correct orthodoxy that is destroying creativity, driving off talent and creating films and TV shows so detached from reality that some insiders fear it may push audiences away for good.
In a revealing and, for film and TV lovers, depressing article on the website Substack, two seasoned Hollywood journalists — Peter Kiefer and Peter Savodnik — portray an industry cowed by a new McCarthyism.
‘We spoke to more than 25 writers, directors and producers, all of whom identify as liberal, and all of whom described a pervasive fear of running foul of the new dogma,’ they write.
Most spoke anonymously, terrified of destroying their careers or incurring the displeasure of powerful producers intent on rooting out reactionaries in the same way that Senator Joe McCarthy hunted down Hollywood communists 70 years ago.
The Tinseltown Thought Police are determined to reshape an industry that has always been ideologically Left-wing into one that perfectly embodies what one longtime producer described as an ‘explosion of woke’.
Not only are certain types — namely white men — finding it increasingly hard to get work, but anything remotely provocative (unless, of course, it’s right-on) is unlikely to ever get on screen.
The great fear, according to one prominent director, is that ‘the audience stops trusting us. They begin to see us as a community twisting ourselves into a pretzel to make every movie as woke as possible, every relationship mixed racially, every character sexually fluid, and they decide that we are telling stories set in a fantasyland instead of a world they know.’
The director added: ‘If that happens and they decide to throw themselves instead into video games 24/7, we will lose them.’
Tootsie’s Dustin Hoffman pretending to be a woman to get acting work would also not get commissioned today, according to prominent directors and writers in Hollywood
Meanwhile, a writer and producer told the report’s authors that this new dogma was motivated almost entirely by fear of being attacked on social media or in the Left-wing media.
‘You’ve got be insane not to have at the forefront of your mind all of these racial and gender and trans issues when you’re writing something,’ said the insider.
‘You have to worry about the impact that everything you do will have on your career. And that has an obvious chilling effect on creativity.’
It’s not the first time industry figures have expressed such misgivings.
The BBC, for example, faces endless accusations from insiders of being overly woke, even as its executives parrot the standard line that it has a ‘duty’ to represent a ‘contemporary’ audience.
Ash Atalla, producer of the UK comedies The Office and The IT Crowd, told last year’s Edinburgh TV Festival: ‘I’m in a lot of meetings now, where people tell me: “This will never get on because it’s not woke enough”.’
Blazing Saddles (co-written by black comedian Richard Pryor) sends up racism with its black sheriff protagonist
As for the audiences, a survey commissioned for the festival revealed that 62 per cent of viewers believe political correctness has gone too far, compared with only 19 per cent of figures working within the TV industry.
Atalla argued that even if TV folk were worried their output was too woke, they were scared to speak out for fear of being castigated or ‘cancelled’.
In Hollywood, according to the new report, the rot set in right at the top.
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, distributors of the Oscars and the industry’s ‘central nervous system’, had been trying for years to become more diverse but that process went into overdrive after the police killing of African-American George Floyd in 2020 fired up the Black Lives Matter movement.
A few months later, the Academy launched its ‘Representation And Inclusion Standards Entry’ policy (RAISE) which insisted that for a film to qualify for Best Picture, the most coveted Oscar, producers not only had to register details about everyone involved in making it, but the movie had to meet two of its four diversity standards.
These are designed to ensure ethnic minorities, women and the disabled are included in the film-making process among everyone from on-screen performers to its behind-camera creators.
The film world has until the 2024 Oscars to comply with these strict new rules but producers are already falling into line. U.S. broadcaster CBS now insists that the writing teams for its shows are ‘at least’ 40 per cent black, indigenous and people of colour (BIPOC).
A longtime Hollywood producer claimed every studio had a similar rule, even if it doesn’t publicise it.
Many in Hollywood believe The Wizard of Oz would not be commissioned if it was written today as it hired people with dwarfism to play its Munchkins
Prominent black filmmaker Ava DuVernay last year created ARRAY Crew, a database of black people, women and others from under-represented groups to work on productions. More than 900 projects, including Kate Winslet’s award-winning drama series Mare Of Easttown, have used ARRAY.
Meanwhile, DuVernay — an outspoken supporter of BLM who has attacked Hollywood as racist — has become ever more powerful, recently being made a governor of the Academy.
As some see ARRAY Crew ironically becoming just as divisively exclusive a Hollywood club as the white men it seeks to displace, directors and writers ‘voiced irritation’ with DuVernay and said she had ‘exploited the “post-George Floyd moment”.’
But no one dared criticise her publicly, said Kiefer and Savodnik.
‘I’m not crazy,’ a screenwriter explained.
If you can’t beat them, join them. The only solution is to ‘out-woke’ everyone else, said a writer who revealed that conversations with an agent or producers now start with their virtuously asking: ‘Is anyone BIPOC attached to this?’
Zack Stentz, a screenwriter on the Thor and X-Men superhero films, said Hollywood agents routinely now tell their white clients they didn’t get a job because they ‘had to hire a minority writer’, adding: ‘Even if it’s true, it’s not a helpful thing to say.’
Mike White, writer and director of HBO’s comedy-drama The White Lotus, said: ‘If you voice things in a certain way it can have negative repercussions for you, and people can presume that you could be racist, or you could be seen as misogynist.’
And Howard Koch, former Academy president and producer of many films including Chinatown and Marathon Man, said improving opportunities for minorities had ‘gone too far’.
Prominent black filmmaker Ava DuVernay (pictured) last year created ARRAY Crew, a database of black people, women and others from under-represented groups to work on productions
He said: ‘I know a lot of very talented people that can’t get work because they’re not black, Native American, female or LGBTQ.’
One unnamed Hollywood ‘showrunner’, the title given to someone with overall creative control over a TV series, supplied a list of emails in which he was told that studios were determined to hire a woman or BIPOC candidate for a particular job.
One reads: ‘How tied to hiring him are you? There are some internally that don’t like the idea of hiring a white guy. I wish I had a better way to frame it. Hate this ****.’
In the U.S., federal laws prohibit discrimination based on race — even if the race is white. The showrunner predicted: ‘This is all going to end in a giant class-action lawsuit.’
But will the dispossessed white males who have dominated Hollywood really have the courage to cry racism in court? It hardly seems likely in this current climate.
A more relevant question may be whether the discrimination is damaging the product. The answer to this, say insiders, is most definitely yes.
The showrunner said that the personnel departments at the film and TV studios, and streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon, are ‘awash’ with complaints about white male colleagues ‘just for doing their job’.
It had reached the point, he said, where he had stopped giving ‘notes’, or critical observations on a performance, to female or black actors for fear of their complaining.
The film world has until the 2024 Oscars to comply with strict new rules which ensure ethnic minorities, women and the disabled are included in the film-making process among everyone from on-screen performers to its behind-camera creators
The ‘writers’ room’, where writers on a TV show gather and throw ideas around in an often knockabout atmosphere, is one of Hollywood’s most cherished institutions and credited with producing some of its best-loved comedies and dramas.
However, insiders say they’ve turned into potential death-traps for the politically incorrect where loose talk can cost careers.
Another showrunner — white, male and in his mid-50s — complained: ‘You’re not allowed to pick your staff anymore and studios won’t let you interview anybody who isn’t a person of colour.’
He said a culture of documenting even the ‘slightest of slights’ made him anxious.
‘I’m sitting in a room trying to run a show with a collection of people I don’t totally trust,’ he said.
This politicisation of ‘content production’ will be the death of Hollywood, some believe.
Legendary film director Quentin Tarantino hinted as much last June when he told a chat show host: ‘Especially this past year, ideology has become more important than art. Ideology trumps individual effort. Ideology trumps good.’
Who hasn’t looked down the endless list of films certified ‘rotten’ on the film review-aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes and despaired of finding much worth watching nowadays.
Even in Left-wing Tinseltown, it’s clear many feel the same way.