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Propaganda and Cinema: ‘The Most Powerful Weapon’

Propaganda and Cinema: ‘The Most Powerful Weapon’

Approximately two months ago, I wrote about a handful of celebrities, some of whom are Jewish, who have faced immense backlash and bullying over their public support of Israel in its ongoing war with Hamas. Now, it seems that supporters of the other side in this conflict are getting their own share of consequences, but theirs is coming not from keyboard warriors on the Internet but from their own industry.

Melissa Barrera, star of the reinvigorated Scream horror franchise, has been fired from the upcoming Scream VII, due to her numerous posts explicitly supporting the Palestinian side. Barrera referred to Israel’s actions in Gaza as “genocide” and “ethnic cleansing,” and she labeled the region “a concentration camp.” Commenting on her firing, a spokesperson for the Spyglass Media Group, the producer of Scream VII, said, “Spyglass’ stance is unequivocally clear: We have zero tolerance for antisemitism or the incitement of hate in any form, including false references to genocide, ethnic cleansing, Holocaust distortion or anything that flagrantly crosses the line into hate speech.” Barrera took to Instagram the day after her dismissal to continue her passionate defense of Palestine, declaring, “Silence is not an option for me.”

Barrera is not the only performer whose full-throated opposition to Israel’s actions has earned negative repercussions from within the film industry. Oscar-winning actress Susan Sarandon spoke at a pro-Palestine rally in New York City and said, “There are a lot of people afraid of being Jewish at this time, and are getting a taste of what it feels like to be a Muslim in this country, so often subjected to violence.” These remarks were deemed inflammatory and resulted in her being dropped by United Talent Agency (UTA), which has represented her for nearly a decade.

Once again, the enormous apparatus of one of the largest industries in the world is deliberately choosing who will and who will not be permitted to work within it on the basis of political views. In the vein of Disney’s politically motivated termination of Gina Carano’s contract following her own controversial Instagram posts, Spyglass, UTA, and other entertainment corporations are using their power to prune individuals from their ranks.

Movie studios and other companies taking sides in wartime is nothing new (although it is fairly irregular that they would do so in a conflict that their own country is not actively engaged in). Cinecittà Studios, the largest film studio in Europe, was founded in 1937 by the dictator Benito Mussolini under a slogan that translates to “Cinema is the most powerful weapon.” The studio’s purpose, apart from revitalizing Italy’s dying film industry, was to produce propaganda in support of Mussolini’s regime. One need look no further than one of Cinecittà’s inaugural productions, Scipio Africanus, the story of a Roman general’s crushing defeat of a foreign power, to see the deft use of narrative misdirection to elicit support of Mussolini’s pseudo-Roman despotic ideas.

Allied studios did much of the same during the Second World War, commissioning filmmakers such as Frank Capra to make motion pictures portraying Britain and the United States as heroic powers and demonizing Germany and Japan (which, admittedly, isn’t very difficult to do when it comes to World War II). This was often done with the direct involvement of the U.S. government. The Italian studio’s mantra was widely adopted, consciously or not, by every major power, all of whom effectively churned out a legion of narrative and documentary feature films to roil up support on the home front.

Hollywood returned to this modus operandi of political influence once more for the War on Terror. On Veterans’ Day, 2001, Bush administration advisor Karl Rove joined forces with the heads of the major studios at a press conference to unveil a bold strategy for contributing to the government’s new foreign policy. The initiative consisted of seven major points, which Rove and his studio chief allies exhorted the entertainment industry to immediately begin promoting in their products, namely:

  1. The US campaign in Afghanistan was a war against terrorism, not Islam.
  2. People can serve in the war effort and in their communities.
  3. US troops and their families need support.
  4. 9/11 requires a global response.
  5. This is a fight against evil.
  6. Children should be reassured that they will be safe.

And, of course, my personal favorite:

  1. None of these efforts amounted to propaganda.

Although the United States is technically not a participating nation in the Israel-Hamas War, it seems that Hollywood’s proclivity for wielding the “most powerful weapon” is once again being exposed. Whatever our opinions on the Israel-Hamas conflict, the War on Terror, or any number of other issues, we should be aware of the power that the entertainment industry wields and be alert that Hollywood isn’t afraid to use that power.

Image credit: Pexels

Ethan J. Connor
Ethan J. Connor

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