In the Wall Street Journal, Bridget Johnson has an essay titled “Red Dusk“, in which she writes that it’s time Hollywood gave up its love affair with communism:
What feature films have showed the true nature of communism? There was “The Killing Fields,” showing families torn apart, cities emptied, forced labor, bones littering the Cambodian landscape. Adding to the authenticity was its star, Oscar-winner and real-life survivor Haing S. Ngor, who would have been summarily executed had his intellectual background been discovered by the Khmer Rouge. As a cinematic achievement, it ranks as one of the best films of all time. As a historical testament, it shows that communism had nothing to do with betterment of the masses but stripped away everything that comprised the individual. Though this film should be required high-school viewing, not much else springs to mind that could counter the effects of pro-Marxist cinema.
I’ll bet the big studio execs have never thought–or cared–to do a big-screen adaptation of “The Black Book of Communism: Crimes, Terror, Repression,” by Stephane Courtois, et al. The book’s 1997 publishing in France touched off a firestorm of controversy–mostly from offended French commies–and it stands as an astonishing comprehensive account of what this political ideology has wreaked on mankind in less than a century. The film version of this 800-plus-page account would be excruciatingly long and painful–too long for a 32-ounce soda and too nauseating for popcorn. So since Hollywood is all about franchises now anyway, the book could be adapted into several movies, each covering a corner of the globe and that region’s own unique suffering under communism.
How about a film on the Soviet Union, beginning with Lenin and the 1917 revolution, droning on to Stalin’s purges with hundreds of thousands executed by firing squad, and millions forced from their homes or carted off to labor camps? We’d see Soviet bloc countries strangled under communist rule, Berlin divided with concrete and snipers, Nicolae Ceausescu destroying historic Bucharest. We’d see Soviet terror exported with the scorched-earth policy in Afghanistan.
Red China would make a stellar film that lacks a happy ending–for now. Viewers would see Mao Tse-tung turn the colorful Chinese culture into a gray, bleak “worker’s paradise” steeped in hunger and executions. We’d see the Great Leap Forward to devastating famine, murder and destruction in Tibet, women forced to abort their children, and the blood of student demonstrators spilled on Tiananmen Square. Complete the Asian film series with the “re-education” by terror in North Vietnam, the Maoist insurgency in Nepal that has killed thousands, and the hellish nightmare that is North Korea.
Some brilliant young director would have to tackle Africa’s woes under communism, such as the starvation in Ethiopia under Mengistu Haile Mariam. And we can’t forget the Latin American films, highlighting Peru’s Maoist Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path) terrorists. And, of course, add a stark motion picture on the fall of Cuba–to be directed by anyone but Oliver Stone–that, though bloody and tragic, can end on a slightly lighter note (and an ovation) with Fidel Castro’s fall down the stairs last October.
It’s worth noting that Kenneth Lloyd Billingsley wrote an article with an almost identical theme for Reason five years ago.
My take? It will never happen–at least not in my lifetime. TV’s gotten a little closer: HBO’s Stalin (starring a heavily made-up Robert Duvall in the title role) showed us the evils of the man, and their production of Robert Harris’s Fatherland was a thinly-disguised parable on the moral implications of our period of detente with the Soviet Union–even if its filmmakers didn’t know it. The British production of Harris’s Enigma tacetly highlighted the Katyn forest massacre (where the Soviets shot and buried over 4000 Polish service personnel at the start of World War II), but there’s just no way that Hollywood will ever do a big-budget theatrical film that focuses squarely on the evils of the Soviet Union.
One reason why, as Billingsley’s article details, is that Hollywood has its own alternate view of history to protect: that the 1950s blacklist of admitted communist screenwriters like Dalton Trumbo was the single greatest evil ever perpetrated by mankind. And their deep-seated view that former Warner contract player Ronald Reagan was, as Clark Clifford famously described him, “an amiable dunce”–even as he looked for ways to win the Cold War in the years before he became president.
For Hollywood to portray communism as evil would be to look deeply into its own soul–and question much of its last 60 years. As I said, it won’t happen.
Although I’d love to be proven wrong.
(Via Betsy Newmark.)
Update: Betsy was nice enough to link to my piece, along with an addendum in which she offers some ideas for Hollywood:
The more I think about it, the more it seems like Hollywood is missing out on some great possibilities. And they wouldn’t have to all be downer stories. What about a romance taking place against the backdrop of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the rest of the Iron Curtain? How about a movie about some of the brave Soviet writers who risked everything to publish their samizdat literature? Or life in Romania leading to the fall of Ceausescu? Some actress who wanted a great Oscar-wortby role should commission a movie based on the life of the great poet, Anna Akhmatova. What a great movie of courage and suffering her life would make.
Once Hollywood finishes cranking out a spate of films about our brave boys in Iraq that match all of their great World War II films, they’ll get right on those, I’m sure.