In the 1980s, during the height of the Cold War, there were a few patriotic creatives kicking around Hollywood, surprisingly enough. One of them was screenwriter and director John Milius. An outspoken conservative, man’s man, and writer’s writer, Milius was the genius behind Red Dawn — an NR favorite — and Conan the Barbarian.
Some other movies made during this time were overtly patriotic and anti-Communist, Rocky IV chief among them. The villain in this sequel, a genetically engineered Russian named Ivan Drago, kills legendary Apollo Creed in the first act. Rocky Balboa vows to avenge his friend’s death by taking the fight to the motherland and defeating Drago, a stand-in for the Soviet Union.
Sadly, today’s Hollywood is far from patriotic. Among other things, it lacks figures as stubbornly pro-American, or anti-Communist, as Milius. Today’s Hollywood is borderline anti-American, as major studios are content to be cowed into censorship by their business partners in Beijing and in the Chinese Communist Party.
On Wednesday, the left-of-center organization PEN America released a telling report on Hollywood’s relationship with the CCP, which is “creating a climate of self-censorship” in domestic studios.
“These concessions to the power of the Chinese market have happened mostly quietly, with little attention and, often, little debate. Steadily, a new set of mores has taken hold in Hollywood, one in which appeasing Chinese government investors and gatekeepers has simply become a way of doing business,” the report says.
It goes on, “We have developed this report on Beijing’s influence over Hollywood because we believe this influence cannot be ethically decoupled from the Chinese government’s practices of suppressing freedom of expression at home.”
Additionally, the report calls for more transparency in Hollywood’s dealing with government censors in China. The likelihood of this phenomenon increasing in the next few decades is high, if not guaranteed. Hollywood’s tentpole franchises sometimes make hundreds of millions more in the Chinese box office than domestically, and The Walt Disney Company has also opened a theme park in Shanghai.
As the Chinese box office continues to grow, and as the relationship between Hollywood and Beijing becomes even more lopsided, the pressures on Hollywood studios to accede to CCP censorship will only increase. Self-censorship will presumably only worsen. That is why we must have this conversation now, before acquiescence to Beijing’s censorship becomes even further normalized for Hollywood filmmakers.
It’s too bad John Milius has fizzled out at 76. Clint Eastwood is a longtime conservative who still makes excellent movies, even at 90. But when he goes, an era will go down with him, too. Gone is the decade when at least some — as opposed to barely any — filmmakers and producers had a bit of chutzpah, telling stories, however hokey or tacky, that took the high road against soul-crushing, Communist regimes. Hollywood will always need a Milius — or an Eastwood, for that matter. Anyone who’ll stand up for what’s right. Anyone who won’t sacrifice principles for paychecks and theme parks.