Screenwriter Clashes with Scary Hollywood Executive, Part I
The studio executive hated me.
Or at least, she hated a critical exchange in my script, A Stranger Among Us.
The scene is between Leah (Mia Sara), the seventeen-year-old daughter of a Chassidic rebbe, and Emily Eden (Melanie Griffith), a hardened New York City detective who sees herself as a happy, liberated woman.
Here’s the dialogue as it appears in the script:
Emily: And what do you want to be when you grow up, little Leah?
Leah: A wife, a mother.
Emily looks at Leah in shock.
Emily: That’s it?
Leah: But Emily, what could be more important?
Of course, the point of the scene is to make Emily Eden, a super-feminist who claims to be “independent and spectacularly happy,” start to question the values underlying her life. The scene—and the entire narrative—suggest that Leah, a frum Jewish woman, is the one who is living a genuinely happy and fulfilled life.
At its core, A Stranger Among Us sets forth the idea that postmodern feminism is a false religion, another in the long line of social and psychological cults that have afflicted the Jewish people since ancient times.
To my studio executive, the exchange between Emily and Leah was downright heretical.
By this time, my script had a green light. Fully financed by the powerhouse Walt Disney Studios, it had already attracted the legendary Sidney Lumet, one of Hollywood’s most important directors. Melanie Griffith, a huge star at the time, had been signed to play Emily Eden, the hard-as-nails but emotionally vulnerable detective who goes undercover in the Chassidic community.
The Scary Studio Executive said: “Look, I know we’re set to go into production in three weeks and the script is locked. But I wonder, is this really the message we want to send to our audience?”
I could have told her that the script had been approved by our director and by her bosses, the powerful moguls Jeffrey Katzenberg and Michael Eisner. I could have said that if she was trying to get me to rewrite my script, she might want to ask those formidable guys first.
That response would have put an end to the issue immediately. But it also would have made her my mortal enemy, and it’s better not to make enemies of powerful Hollywood executives. And this woman—smart, witty and singularly well-connected—was on a fast trajectory to the top of the Hollywood elite.
“What exactly are you worried about?” I asked.
“Look, Robert, I like your script. But this scene undermines women and our fight for equal rights. With all due respect, I am Jewish and I happen to know that Orthodox men say a prayer every morning in which they thank God for not having made them women. Your whole scene endorses the patriarchal family structure that is totally regressive—with all due respect.”
(Note: In Hollywood, when someone says “with all due respect,” what they really mean is “with utter contempt.” Also, when someone uses words such as “patriarchal” and “regressive” in the same sentence, it’s a dead giveaway that he or she took courses in feminist theory and gender studies in college and has been—with all due respect—completely brainwashed.)
This Ivy League-educated young woman—whose father was one of the most powerful producers in Hollywood, who spent summers on her father’s yacht in the south of France, who flashed a solid gold Rolex on her wrist, who elegantly dressed in Armani blouses and skirts, who strutted about in nose-bleed Louboutin heels, who zoomed around Tinseltown in a Porsche that cost more than the average home in America and who was, natch, Jewish—was playing (goodness gracious!) the victim card.
Surprise! Hollywood Has Colonized Your Mind
“The sanctity of the institution of marriage and the home shall be upheld.”
— The Motion Picture Production Code, 1934
In its early years, Hollywood told great stories and entertained millions of people, but it also influenced culture in an unprecedented manner.
In just a few short years, Hollywood—which had been founded by impoverished immigrant Jews—had become the most powerful instrument of propaganda on the world stage. It was well aware of its power. Louis B. Mayer, head of MGM, the most powerful and profitable Hollywood studio, was committed to producing uplifting films that advocated for American greatness and traditional family values.
During the silent era, Hollywood produced hundreds of movies that explored the everyday drama of family life. Many of them were about the experiences of Eastern European Jews who had immigrated to America and the profound effects of assimilation.
In movie after movie, Hollywood made the case for the nuclear family as the bedrock of civilization. Yes, there were gangsters, and yes, sometimes the American dream went terribly awry. But the Hollywood narratives always resolved the tortuous plot twists in a conclusion where marriage, home and family were the goals. Ultimately, it was the family that restored order and purpose to an often cruel and chaotic universe.
Screenwriter Clashes With Scary Hollywood Executive, Part II
To the Scary Studio Executive, I said: “Listen, I understand why you’re uncomfortable with the dialogue, with the message of the scene. It’s a world far from your consciousness. But imagine if this dialogue were set in an Amish community. Would you have the same objection? I think you’d be, y’know, culturally sensitive.”
“Robert, are you saying that I’m exercising a double standard because I’m Jewish?”
She said nothing for a long moment. Then: “I hear you’re, like, seriously Orthodox.”
“So this story, these people, represent your world view.”
“True. But Emily Eden also represents my world view. I identify with her just as much as I identify with the Jewish characters. Look, this film has a very simple spine. It says that Emily Eden becomes a better woman because of her contact with the Chassidim. And the Chassidim become better Jews because of the time they spent with Emily.”
The scene was shot just as I wrote it.
John Wayne Is Dead; Long Live Tony Soprano
It was the sixties; Vietnam and the rise of the so-called Youth Culture had turned Hollywood from a vocal and influential advocate for Americanism and the traditional family into a cynical detractor of family values. In Easy Rider (1969), a hate song to the American heartland, the only family ever seen is a bunch of grimy hippies who live on a commune, take vast amounts of drugs and engage in promiscuous activities.
In Coming Home (1978), starring Jane Fonda and Jon Voight, an honorable Vietnam War veteran is demonized and his marriage viewed as politically illegitimate. Such attitudes increasingly became the norm in the new Hollywood, where classical liberalism gave way to poisonous leftism.
Postmodern Hollywood is a landscape of shifting morality where the traditional family is seen as a hateful, antiquated institution comparable to Jim Crow.
In the 1970s, the center of gravity and cultural influence shifted from film to television. TV still produced entertaining, traditional family shows such as Happy Days, The Partridge Family, Family Ties, Growing Pains and Little House on the Prairie. But with cable’s growing influence, the moral inversions that the liberal elite and the news media were promoting on American campuses roared to life on the TV screen. Hour-long dramas such as The Sopranos, Mad Men and Breaking Bad portray the family as a unit held together by a Gordian knot of crime, drugs, violence and infidelity. The protagonists of such grim dramas are known as anti-heroes. But the cult audience that is devoted to these shows does not see them as anti-heroes. They see them as surrogates for their darkest desires.
John Wayne is dead. Long live Tony Soprano. The single luminous exception to this revisionist morality was the NBC series Friday Night Lights. Exquisitely written, produced and cast, Friday Night Lights is ostensibly the story of the football-mad town of Dillon, Texas. But the true subject of this superb and riveting series is the marriage of Eric Taylor (Kyle Chandler), the coach of the high-school football team, and his wife, Tami (Connie Britton).
There has never been a more honest and loving portrayal of marriage and family life in the history of film and television. On top of the family’s constant money woes, Eric, a man of few words, must deal with the insane parents and town boosters who constantly pressure him to win at any cost. He and Tami, who is more social and outgoing, have a daughter in the throes of teenage rebellion and an infant who always needs a diaper change. Their house is too small, their mortgage too large. But they are in this marriage together and, like true Texans, they will endure whatever life throws at them.
Friday Night Lights—now canceled—is about how marriage works and doesn’t work. It’s about love and loyalty, how a decent family endures the endless challenges that are the stuff of life. Perhaps what sets the Taylors’ marriage apart from all the nihilism that passes for entertainment is their faith. Eric and Tami are churchgoing Christians who take their religion seriously. An awareness of God’s presence, says this series, makes a difference in how we live our lives.
Sadly, most series on the air and in development are unsubtle messages formulated by postmodern Holly wood writers, producers and executives. This is no longer mere propaganda, but a clarion call for a new national morality. It is a world where women do not need husbands to raise children, as in Playing House, where the most anticipated marriage on TV is between two men, as in Modern Family and where the ties that hold a family together are murder, rape and plunder, as in Vikings. The protagonists of The Americans, a Cold War drama, are a ruthless but attractive Soviet couple working as spies against America. In the hit Netflix series House of Cards, a Washington D.C. power couple, played to silkily sinister perfection by Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright, lie, cheat and murder their way into the White House. Blessedly, these repugnant American Borgias have chosen not to have children. But the show’s writers would have us believe that theirs is a glorious union.
In the new Hollywood lexicon, the family is a unit held together not by traditional family values, but by gangster ethics.
And of course, the rise of so-called reality television (spoiler alert: the shows are plotted and scripted) has given us The Real Housewives, a franchise that celebrates dysfunctional families and revels in stupidity, ignorance and vulgarity. The children of these narcissistic harridans and their emasculated husbands seem doomed.
It is a relief to note that one family on reality TV functions within a traditional framework. This is the Robertson family in Duck Dynasty, whose members are, not surprisingly, devoted and charitable Christians. Naturally, the far left has demonized Phil Robertson, the family patriarch, as a homophobe because he supports traditional marriage. But Duck Dynasty has such high ratings that A&E has resisted enormous pressure from homosexual radicals to cancel it.
Sadly, what we find too often in postmodern Hollywood is a tangle of social, religious and sexual pathologies being passed off as sophisticated entertainment.
There are several shows in development about married lesbians and married gays, plus a sitcom about an adorable soldier who just happens to be transgendered. Each of these shows is designed to condition a young generation of viewers, Skinner-box style, to a new version of family, redefining deviance as something to be celebrated.
Identity politics are what drive this trend away from the traditional family. In the new, progressive Hollywood, Judeo-Christian morals are empty vessels and marriage is redefined according to the whims of the loudest grievance group. Today it is militant homosexuals who drive the agenda. Tomorrow it will be sharia-yearning Islamists demanding sitcoms about happy-go-lucky polygamists, with child brides thrown into the wacky but lovable mix.
Postmodern Hollywood is a landscape of shifting morality where the traditional family is seen as a hateful, antiquated institution comparable to Jim Crow. Gender is fluid. Numbers are arbitrary. In this new moral calculus of Hollywood’s overeducated, overbred elites, family is whatever any number of consenting adults says it is.
The problem is obvious: if everything is family, nothing is family.
And Finally: Screenwriter Clashes With Scary Hollywood Executive, Part III
A few years later, I ran into the Scary Executive at a studio screening. She was married, and heavily pregnant.
Much to my surprise, she was delighted to see me.
She said, “I don’t know if you heard, but I married a man who converted to Judaism for me.”
“That’s great,” I said.
“The thing is, he’s getting serious. Really Jewy. Much more than me. In fact, he’s putting on those little boxy thingies every morning.”
“Whatever. The thing is, he’s also saying . . . it.”
“You know—that prayer thanking God for not making him a woman.”
I laughed. So did she, a scary studio executive no longer.
“Can you believe it? My husband is, like, totally regressive and patriarchal.”
I said, “Welcome to Hollywood.”
FADE TO BLACK
Listen to Robert Avrech discuss Hollywood’s portrayal of the family at www.ou.org/life/arts-media/savitsky-avrech.
Robert J. Avrech’s numerous credits include A Stranger Among Us, directed by Sidney Lumet, and The Devil’s Arithmetic, starring Kirsten Dunst and Brittany Murphy, for which he won the Emmy Award for best script. Avrech is the author of How I Married Karen, an e-book memoir that received a rave review from Kirkus, the bible of the publishing industry. He writes at his award-winning blog, Seraphic Secret.