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Why 'Liberal Hollywood' Is a Myth

Hollywood has a reputation for being a bastion for liberalism in America. It hasn't totally earned it.

This week the film director Brett Ratner, known for his high-speed movies and extravagant lifestyle, angered people all over the country with his unflappable mouth. First: during a screening of his latest film, Tower Heist, Ratner responded to the question, “How do you rehearse your actors?” with the answer that “rehearsals are for fags.” His use of the pejorative term was the spark of a week-long outrage, which eventually led him to make a public apology and resign as producer of this year’s Oscars. (Eddie Murphy, the star of Tower Heist who agreed to host at Ratner’s prodding, also resigned.)

His exit from the awards show wasn’t solely about his gay slurs: this week, Ratner appeared on the Howard Stern show and spoke quite disgustingly about very specific parts of his sex life (and his sexual anatomy), making comments that “ appalled” the president of the Academy. And if that wasn’t enough, he smeared his ex-girlfriend, actress Olivia Munn, telling “Attack of the Show” that “I banged her a few times, but I forgot her.” So, homophobia, misogyny and displays of alpha masculinity that are both cavemanish and juvenile? Check, check and check. Our creep radar is going bananas.

As the conservative mainstream media frames it, Hollywood is a place festering with pinkos and radicals, or at least where the bulk of America’s artsy liberals go to live and work. This narrative has been so pervasive that even progressives think of Tinseltown as a place where our allies reside, and indeed many do: actors like Sean Penn, Angelina Jolie, Danny Glover, and Matt Damon all participate in hands-on activism and deliver speeches that inspire us to greatness.

But while Hollywood’s reputation for liberal politics continues, the concept that only progressives and the socially conscious populate it might as well have come direct from Industrial Light and Magic. Brett Ratner’s actions this week are a reminder that, though some of its marquee names are politically liberal, the movie industry is completely contrary to that: trade organizations gouge wages, studios have legacies of union busting, roles written for people of color are limited and stereotypical, and actors remain closeted because they’re afraid of losing straight roles. (“An out male star can never be a leading man,” wrote Emily Nussbaum, in a New York magazine profile of out gay actor Neil Patrick Harris. “Straight women won’t be able to fantasize about him; straight men won’t be able to relate.”)

It’s time to re-evaluate the long-held belief that Hollywood is a particularly progressive place—because as long as that’s the prevailing conventional wisdom, the slower it will be to change.

And yet, even as the week of Ratner has illuminated some of the myriad ways individuals in Hollywood can be less than progressive, conservatives have taken the opportunity to paint his removal from the Oscars as a hypocritical move from a left-wing epicenter. Andrew Breitbart’s Big Hollywood site accused the Academy of having a double standard when it comes to language, comparing Ratner’s f-word comment to Susan Sarandon calling the pope a Nazi and getting away with it (uh, even though, like, the pope WAS a Nazi—he joined Hitler Youth in 1941).

And in the New York Post, which seems on a single-minded mission to top itself in absurdly right-wing comments, the film critic Kyle Smith opined:

Hollywood continues to freely denounce as ''fascists" those who (for example) think government spending should return to approximately the level of three years ago. Example: Woody Allen has the Woody Allen character in "Midnight in Paris" castigate "Republican Tea Party crypto-fascist airhead zombies."... And [Alec] Baldwin called columnist Michelle Malkin "a world-class, crypto fascist hater" during a discussion of the execution of Troy Davis. Are all Americans who support the death penalty fascists?"