by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
This fall, top-tier talent starred in three major prestige projects—Bridge of Spies, Truth, and Trumbo—that present themselves as needful, even urgent, lessons. Each is built on misleading implications, half-truths, and plain old lies. The purpose is in large part to advance a leftist narrative likely to please the nearly unanimously hard-left blocs of voters who bestow the various critical and trade-group awards. And, in part, to make the filmmakers feel as though they are bravely speaking truth to the unenlightened masses, facts be damned. In this way they are analogues to their own subjects as they see them—courageous men and women who stick to their principles no matter how costly that might be and how ugly the forces arrayed against them are.
Why is this a problem worth highlighting?
Deceiving an audience and hoping it never does any homework is what filmmakers shooting for Oscar glory do all the time. Unfortunately for today’s directors, the historical importance they implicitly claim when campaigning for awards occasionally attracts scrutiny from outside the Hollywood bubble, people who live lives outside of the movies. Invariably this catches the dream merchants off-guard. You mean I’m not allowed to restructure reality to fit my message? Last year a former aide to Lyndon B. Johnson, Joseph Califano, single-handedly destroyed the Oscar chances of Selma when he pointed out, in a Washington Post op-ed, that President Johnson was an ally, not an outfoxed opponent, of Martin Luther King Jr. in the struggle for civil rights. The movie’s director, Ava DuVernay, responded that she didn’t want to muddle her story of black victimization and courage by showing white people in a good light (“I didn’t want to make another white-savior movie”).
Filmmakers turn to history and find it too complicated, or its morals too messy, or even its facts uncongenial, so they alter whatever they wish to alter and hope people don’t notice. This matters, for several reasons: Films have long lifespans, they often create permanent misapprehension in the minds of the young and lazy, and they are at the point of the spear that is the left’s effort to discredit the idea of truth itself, facts proving so vexingly inconvenient to so many of its narratives. Today on campus epithets like “mansplaining” or “whitesplaining” are becoming accepted as reasonable, indeed withering, responses to assertions of fact; it’s a sign that the left will decline to get involved in the niceties of truth and skip straight to ad hominem attacks, with sex and race used as disqualifiers. Already one sees these terms working their way into young-progressive opinion factories such as the New Republic and Think Progress, the recruiting grounds for mainstream media such as the New York Times. Every time we let a fresh instance of progressive Hollywood agitprop seep into the American consciousness unchallenged, we forgo an opportunity to remind the public how many times the left has chosen the wrong side and then lied about what the real issues were.