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FLASHBACK: ‘Obama’ Crew Feared Liberal Backlash

Some Hollywood talent, eager to make ends meet, worked under pseudonyms during the infamous Blacklist era.

Americans who shared an unpopular political philosophy were hounded, questioned and even jailed for their beliefs. Modern Hollywood routinely recalls the period’s assault on free speech. The 2007 documentary “Trumbo” detailed that chapter in Hollywood history.

More recently, Bryan Cranston snared a Best Actor nomination for playing the infamous screenwriter in 2016’s “Trumbo” biopic.

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Such industry intolerance couldn’t rise up again. Could it?

John Sullivan, the co-director of “2016: Obama’s America” and the follow-up hit “America,” says some members of his film crews requested to work under pseudonyms fearing what might happen if they were associated with conservative films.

“They’re were like, ‘hey, I really want to do this project. I want to work with you, but I’m concerned with working in the future,” Sullivan recalls.

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Listen to “HiT Episode 85 John Sullivan (‘Gosnell’)” on Spreaker.

The people in question don’t see their names plastered on movie posters. They represent the behind-the-scenes talent essential to the creative process.

“I’m not one to complain about it on a personal level. I want to work with good people, qualified people. That’s one concession I’ll make,” he says. “It frustrates me that they have to do this.”

Sullivan says these aren’t the only cases where flashing conservative connections mattered on a set.

“I’ve had actors and actresses tell me stuff … they had to be quiet on set with certain producers,” for fear of retribution, he says. Sullivan adds that a grip once told him how people on one film set a few years ago were bashing President George W. Bush “constantly.”

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Sullivan says it’s not fair to directly tie these scenarios with the blacklist of yore. He’s not aware of any lists, unofficial or otherwise, being circulated within the industry. No one fears jail time.

It still runs counter to an industry which touts the need for diversity and openness.

What complicates matters, Sullivan adds, is how easily a producer or studio can access a potential crew member’s resume. All it takes is a visit to and suddenly every project in his or her past is there for all to see – and judge.

FAST FACT: Sullivan’s “2016: Obama’s America” is the fifth highest grossing documentary of all time.

The industry isn’t monolithic in its resistance toward right-of-center thinking. Sullivan says conservative actor Ben Stein told him how Norman Lear once hired him during the 1980s to make sure the producer’s shows didn’t caricature conservatives.

The director also points to how Sean Penn, Tim Robbins and Clint Eastwood collaborated on the 2003 Oscar-winning film “Mystic River” an example of putting ideology aside for art’s sake.

Photo credit: shinya via / CC BY-ND

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