Wednesday, November 24, 2004

The Culture: Look Who Isn't Talking

Journalist and screenwriter Bridget Johnson notes Hollywood's silence over the Van Gogh murder at the Wall Street Journal:

Since Nov. 2, I've had an icky feeling in the pit of my stomach. As an ardent Bush backer, my queasiness has nothing to do with the glorious election results, but is prompted by a murder that occurred the same day in Amsterdam.

Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh's short film "Submission," about the treatment of women in Islam, written by female Dutch parliamentarian and former Muslim Aayan Hirsi Ali, had aired in August on Dutch TV. Van Gogh was riding his bike near his home when a Muslim terrorist shot him, slashed his throat, and pinned to his body a note threatening Ms. Ali. This appears to be an organized effort, not the act of a lone nut; Dutch authorities are holding 13 suspects in the case.

After the slaying, I watched "Submission" (available online at and my mind is still boggled that 11 minutes decrying violence against women incites such violence. There've been many films over the years that have taken potshots at Catholics, but I don't remember any of us slaughtering filmmakers over the offense. You didn't see the National Rifle Association order a hit on Michael Moore over "Bowling for Columbine."

One would think that in the name of artistic freedom, the creative community would take a stand against filmmakers being sent into hiding à la Salman Rushdie, or left bleeding in the street. Yet we've heard nary a peep from Hollywood about the van Gogh slaying. Indeed Hollywood has long walked on eggshells regarding the topic of Islamic fundamentalism. The film version of Tom Clancy's "The Sum of All Fears" changed Palestinian terrorists to neo-Nazis out a desire to avoid offending Arabs or Muslims. The war on terror is a Tinsel Town taboo, even though a Hollywood Reporter poll showed that roughly two-thirds of filmgoers surveyed would pay to see a film on the topic.

In a recent conversation with a struggling liberal screenwriter, I brought up the Clancy film as an example of Hollywood shying away from what really affects filmgoers--namely, the al Qaeda threat vs. the neo-Nazi threat. He vehemently defended the script switch. "It's an easy target," he said of Arab terrorism, repeating this like a parrot, then adding, "It's a cheap shot." How many American moviegoers would think that scripting Arab terrorists as the enemy in a fiction film is a "cheap shot"? In fact, it's realism; it's what touches lives world-wide. It's this disconnect with filmgoers that has left the Hollywood box office bleeding by the side of the road. [WSJ]

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