Remember When Hollywood Celebrated Free Speech?

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Aaron Sorkin is one of Hollywood’s most gifted scribes.

The mind behind The West WingA Few Good Men and, more recently, Being the Ricardos writes smart, snappy banter that makes even mediocre moments pop.

And he’s got an Oscar and four Emmys to show for it.

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He’s also one of the industry’s most partisan figures, penning liberal op-eds and screenplays brimming with progressive points of view.

It’s instructive to look back at one of his ’90s-era scripts to see just how far Hollywood has fallen when it comes to free speech.

Sorkin teamed with director Rob Reiner, another stalwart Leftist, on 1995’s The American President. Michael Douglas stars as a single Commander in Chief falling in love with a lobbyist (Annette Bening).

It’s a traditional rom-com set inside the Beltway. The American President lets Reiner and Sorkin celebrate progressive points of view and classic movie tropes. Rotten Tomatoes gives the film a 91 percent “fresh” score from critics.

The film’s third act features a memorable speech by President Shepherd (Douglas), one meant to capture the Democratic zeitgeist while wrapping up key plot points. The president stands up for his new flame, savages his political opponent and pushes a bill meant to address global warming.

NOTE: It’s what environmental activists once called Climate Change.

The speech is pure Sorkin, full of soaring rhetoric and passion. Except it plays differently when heard today.

Yes, Democrats still stand by the environment, witness their fitful embrace of the Green New Deal. What’s different? Consider this passage and it should be obvious.

America isn’t easy. America is advanced citizenship. You’ve gotta want it bad, ’cause it’s gonna put up a fight. It’s gonna say, “You want free speech? Let’s see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil, who’s standing center stage and advocating at the top of his lungs that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours.” You want to claim this land as the land of the free? Then the symbol of your country cannot just be a flag. The symbol also has to be one of its citizens exercising his right to burn that flag in protest. Now show me that, defend that, celebrate that in your classrooms. Then you can stand up and sing about the land of the free.

Free speech is now problematic for much of the Left. Today’s progressives cheer on GOP officials getting chased off social media. They punish conservatives for sharing their points of view on political campuses.

The ACLU, name checked in President Shepherd’s speech, no longer fights for free speech as it once did.

And, worst of all from Hollywood’s perspective, liberal stars rarely speak up for free expression – their stock in trade. Some suggest only certain actors can play certain parts. Others are willing to dismiss fellow stars if they hold the “wrong” political views.

Oh, there are exceptions.

  • Dave Chappelle
  • Ricky Gervais
  • Adam Carolla
  • Nick Searcy

The vast majority of Hollywood players stay mum on the subject. Some actively cheer on woke speech restrictions, like comedians Dan Aykroyd, Marc Maron and Stephen Colbert. The biggest names – think Meryl Streep, George Clooney, Will Smith, Tom Hanks and more – can’t be bothered to defend creative expression.

Would Sorkin write that same speech today? Would Reiner feel comfortable directing it?

Would film critics cheer that free speech defense? They overwhelmingly approved of “The American President” in general during the 1990s. Modern film critics are openly liberal. Many bash projects that celebrate free expression.

They savaged No Safe Spaces, for example. And most critics now steer clear of projects which don’t align with their world view, fearing they’ll grant them undue publicity. Think the reaction to What Is a Woman? a Daily Wire documentary that critics actively avoided.

Sorkin’s American President speech has aged beautifully. The film’s creative duo, as well as today’s Hollywood stars, may disagree.

[Cross-posted from Hollywood in Toto.]

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