This recent attempt at a SAG Awards’ boycott of eight actors by some Hollywood members of the Screen Actors Guild got me thinking about an Oscar night from almost ten years ago when the Academy was honoring Elia Kazan with a lifetime achievement award.
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I remember being on sets or in casting-session waiting rooms and getting into heated “discussions” with actors about The Red Scare Blacklist, and how we should “never forgive anyone who named names to save their own skin.”
But Kazan only ever admitted to doing what he thought was right. But my actor friends, most of whom were born long after the period in question, and whose knowledge of The House Unamerican Activities Committee was usually limited to lectures from their favorite college professor, wouldn’t buy it. “Phooey,” they said. There was only one explanation: anyone who cooperated with HUAC was a coward motivated by ruthless career ambition. Anyone who refused to testify, however, did so only out of a high minded commitment to principles.
When, in the course of discussion, I would posit that perhaps Kazan, who had been a member of the Communist Party early in his career, honestly saw it as an evil that was a danger to his country and acted in good conscience, I was met with laughter. “You’re not serious, are you?” they would say.
Why are the motives of some rejected out of hand, while those of others are beyond questioning?
Which is why the current suggestion of a proposed actor boycott reminded me of Kazan. Here’s an excerpt form the current “anonymous” email that was “anonymously” forwarded by actress Frances Fisher. Referring to a group of actors who have come out against the SAG strike authorization, it says:
“If I were a regular, ordinary, not-rich-and-famous actor, and if I wanted my union to be strong so it could fight for me … would I want to give any of these rich-and-famous UNION-UNDERMINERS my vote? Would I want my union to give them such an honor — MY UNION’s ultimate stamp-of-approval? I would remember those names when I began to mark my ballot.”
Why can’t Ms. Fisher and these other union members understand that we just don’t agree with them. Why is it that those who do not want to strike are being divisive, but those who do are “fighting for me?” How is it that I am doing the undermining? Why is it not she who is undermining MY UNION?
Look at the video of Kazan’s poignant acceptance speech, with most in attendance giving the old master the respect he deserves. A few petulant holdouts sit with arms folded. It doesn’t seem to bother him. After thanking them, he says finally, “I think I can just slip away…”