Great! Another movie with a Stalinist hero

When, other than under the Third Reich itself, did any major film producer ever release a movie in which the hero is a devoted Nazi? The answer, of course, is never. If any such picture ever hit the theaters, it would be universally denounced as an endorsement of totalitarianism.

Bryan Cranston as Dalton Trumbo

But for some reason the same doesn’t apply to Communists. For decades, Hollywood has made one picture after another in which out-and-out Stalinists were treated sympathetically and their poisonous nature of their political beliefs was totally whitewashed. Oliver Stone’s Nixon (1995) depicted the atom spies Julius and Ethel Rosenberg not as villains but as victims. Martin Ritt’s The Front (1976) portrayed the Hollywood Ten, all of them card-carrying members of the American Communist Party who were taking orders from Stalin, as First Amendment heroes. Four years ago, Jay Roach’s Trumbo essentially turned Cold War screenwriter Dalton Trumbo – who in real life was a hard-core Stalinist ideologue, an unquestioning supporter of Uncle Joe’s Gulag, show trials, and summary executions – into something resembling a classical liberal.

The real-life Melita Stedman Norwood

The latest contribution this reprehensible genre is Red Joan, based on the life of Melita Stedman Norwood, a London woman whose secretarial job at the British Non-Ferrous Metals Research Association provided her with access to her country’s atomic secrets and who spent decades of her life working for the Soviet Union, first as an NKVD spy and later as a KGB agent. The material she passed to the Russians enabled them to produce a copy of the UK’s atom bomb. Incredibly, not until 1999 – years after the fall of the USSR – were her espionage activities publicly revealed. Also incredibly, she was never prosecuted for her crimes.

Trevor Nunn

Directed by 79-year-old Trevor Nunn (who is best known for directing plays on Broadway and in the West End), written by Lindsay Shapero, and starring Sophie Cookson (as the young spy) and Dame Judi Dench (as her older self), the movie has been shown at film festivals and will be released in the US and UK on April 19. The key point is that Nunn treats this traitor – who in the film is given the name Joan Stanley – as a hero. And reviewers have bought into it. The Hollywood Reporter called Red Joan a “good old-fashioned British spy thriller …with a bewitching female heroine.” It’s “a story of ideals and self-sacrifice that seem impossibly distant in the current day and age.” While stealing state secrets, Joan “demonstrates nothing but courage, intelligence and furious conviction.” She is “every inch a heroine.” Variety, while finding the film “flat,”also had no problem describing Joan as a heroine.

Judi Dench as “Red Joan”

In real life, Norwood was the daughter of Commies – a red-diaper baby – so loyalty to the Kremlin came naturally; the only motive she ever gave for having betrayed her country was that she was, indeed, a convinced Communist, full stop. Apparently in order to give Joan Stanley a more appealing motive for treason, Shapero’s script depicts her as being influenced, in her callow youth, by a couple of appealing friends who are German Jews and devout Communists – and whose Communism, as is so often the case in these movies, is equated with opposition to Hitler. At the same time, Shapero plays down her protagonist’s Communism, investing Joan with the belief (never held by the real Norwood) that giving atom secrets to Moscow would deprive the West of a monopoly on nukes and thus make the world safer.

After perusing the idiotic reviews in the Hollywood Reporter, Variety, and elsewhere, we were pleased to encounter at least one critic who had his head screwed on right. Calling the film “Operation Whitewash,” the Daily Mail‘s Guy Walters described it as “preposterously sympathetic to a woman who betrayed Britain’s most precious state secrets to Joseph Stalin, one of the most evil and murderous men who has ever lived.” Bingo. Why is this so hard for some people to see?

Three rich boys turned Hollywood Stalinists

Ring Lardner, Jr.

Some of the Hollywood Ten were from humble backgrounds. Not Ring Lardner Jr. (1915–2000), who, himself the son of a famous writer, went to Andover and Princeton. He was also an earlier convert to socialism than several of his fellow traitors. At Princeton he was active in both the Socialist Club and the Anglo-American Institute of the University of Moscow, a Kremlin propaganda organization based both in the U.S. and the U.K. By 1937, he had become a writer in Hollywood and a member of Communist Party. Soon he was also active in various Soviet front groups, among them the Hollywood Anti-Nazi League and the Hollywood Writers Mobilization Against the War. In 1943 he won an Oscar for co-writing the Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn hit Woman of the Year. Four years later, 20th Century Fox made him one of Hollywood’s best-paid writers – and HUAC called him to testify. A prison term ensued. His long post-Blacklist rehabilitation climaxed with a 1970 Oscar for writing the film M*A*S*H.

John Howard Lawson

John Howard Lawson (1894–1977), too, came from New York money. After Williams College, he drove an ambulance in Italy during World War I. Later he simultaneous wrote agitprop Broadway plays and Hollywood scripts. Although not as important a screenwriter as some of the other Hollywood Ten members (his major efforts included the Charles Boyer vehicle Algiers, a Bogart drama called Sahara, and a Susan Hayward weepie, Smash-Up: The Story of a Woman), he was the central figure in the group, co-founding the Screen Writers Guild, serving as its first president, and acting, according to one source, as “the Communist Party’s de facto cultural commissar in Hollywood, particularly as it affected writers.” Among his duties was the enforcement of Party ideology and discipline among his sometimes recalcitrant fellow scribes. After his appearance before HUAC, he decamped to Mexico, wrote scripts under pseudonyms, and ended up as a university lecturer.  

Samuel Ornitz

Samuel Ornitz (1890–1957) was also the scion of a wealthy New York family. He was an active socialist by age 12, giving speeches on street corners. Working briefly as a social worker, he soon became a successful Manhattan playwright and novelist. He went to Hollywood in 1928, where he spent the next two decades writing mediocre pictures for RKO and Republic (perhaps the most prominent item on his CV is a shared four-way writing credit on a John Wayne flick, Three Faces West) and telling everyone who would listen just how wonderful Stalin was. The Hollywood Reporter claims that he was “one of the most outspoken political figures in Hollywood”; another source says that his “doctrinaire, party-line communism alienated many of his liberal colleagues and friends, such as his dogged insistence that there was no anti-Semitism in Joseph Stalin’s Soviet Union.” After his encounter with the House Un-American Activities Committee, he quit scriptwriting and resumed writing novels, including a now-forgotten 1951 bestseller, Bride of the Sabbath. 

So there we have it: three men, born with silver spoons in their mouths, who enjoyed their richesse even as they embraced an ideology dedicated to the coldblooded murder of people with bank accounts just like theirs. 

We’ll finish up with this crew tomorrow.

Alvin Bessie, Stalinist soldier

Dalton Trumbo and wife

We’re talking this week about the Hollywood Ten – a group of Hollywood scriptwriters who enjoyed ample rewards for their talents in capitalist America even as they espoused a political system under which the very jobs they thrived at didn’t exist and in which their own stubborn contrarianism would likely have landed them in front of a firing squad. We’ve already devoted a good deal of attention to the most famous of the Ten – Dalton Trumbo, the colorful hero of a 2015 movie starring Bryan Cranston. But the other members of the group, all of whom refused either to answer questions about their political history or, in the phrase of the day, to “name names,” are no less interesting in their own right.

Alvah Bessie

Take Alvah Bessie (1904-85). The son of a successful New York businessman, he attended Columbia University, spent four years as a member of Eugene O’Neill’s acting troupe, the Provincetown Players, then, in 1928, went to Paris to become an expatriate writer like F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway. Returning to the U.S. the next year, he contributed stories and essays to most of the best American magazines of the day.

He did something else, too. He began moving in Communist circles, and in 1936 joined the Party. Two years later, like many other American Communists, he went off to Spain to fight against Franco and for the Republic. At the time, much of the left-wing media in the U.S. and elsewhere presented the struggle as a straightforward clash between fascism and freedom, but as George Orwell famously recorded in his classic Homage to Catalonia, the Republican side was strongly under Kremlin influence and was subjected to a great deal of pressure to toe the Stalinist line and to crush any hint of non-Communist dissent. In Orwell’s view, indeed, the Soviets in Spain oversaw a “reign of terror.”

George Orwell

Like Orwell, Bessie wrote his own account of the Spanish Civil War. His book, entitled Men in Battle, was published in 1939. In it, as the title suggests, he recounts everyday life at the front, in the heat of warfare. Unlike Orwell, however, he doesn’t complain about the Soviets. He was, as they say, a “good soldier.” He belonged to the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, which was one of the International Brigades that, as Allan H. Ryskind records in his 2015 history Hollywood Traitors, were “a Stalinist creation.” Just to make sure there’s no doubt about the matter, Ryskind spells it out: Bessie “was fighting for the Stalinist wing in the civil war.”

It was during World War II – specifically, in 1943 – that Bessie began writing movies for Warner Brothers, notably Objective, Burma! , for which he received an Oscar nomination. As a big Hollywood name he had access to people at the top of the American Communist Party, including its president, Earl Browder. Ryskind reports a conversation that suggests that Bessie was even a more hard-line Communist than the head of the Party himself. Browder’s – and the Party’s – official position was that the U.S. should undergo a peaceful transition from capitalism to Communism. Bessie rejected this notion: he believed in nothing less than a violent overthrow of the U.S. system.

Albert Maltz

If Bessie was more of a Communist than Browder, he was also more of a Communist than at least one of his fellow Hollywood Ten members, Albert Maltz (1908-85). In 1946, Maltz, a veteran of  the New York theater, a Communist since 1935, and an Oscar nominee for Pride of the Marines (1945), published an article in the Party’s weekly New Masses complaining that the Party was too strict in policing writers, expecting them to cleave strictly to the party line and produce crude propaganda. Among those who savaged Maltz for his dissent was Bessie, who at a Party meeting, according to one witness, “denounced” his fellow screenwriter “with bitter vituperation and venom.” After HUAC and prison, Maltz moved to Mexico, where he resumed writing films, including the Cinemascope spectacle The Robe (1953).

As for Bessie, he didn’t last long at Warners. Two years after going to work for the studio, he was fired. The anodyne account of his career in the Hollywood Reporter says that he was dismissed for supporting striking studio workers – which, of course, makes Bessie sound virtuous and the studio bosses pretty rotten. In fact, there was a struggle underway at the time between two unions, one Kremlin-controlled and one anti-Communist, that sought to represent Hollywood workers, and Bessie was squarely on the side of the Stalinists. Called before HUAC in 1950 and subsequently imprisoned and blacklisted, he quit the Party in the 1950s and wrote about his Blacklist experience in a 1957 novel, The Un-Americans, and a 1965 memoir, Inquisition in Eden.

Tinseltown’s traitors

Dalton Trumbo

We’ve devoted a good deal of attention on this website to Dalton Trumbo (1905-76), the blacklisted Communist screenwriter who was celebrated in a 2015 movie, Trumbo, in which he was played by Bryan Cranston. But it occurs to us that some of the other leading figures on the Blacklist – the members of the Hollywood Ten, as they were known – deserve equal time. Or at least a mention.

Let’s begin with the cardinal issue: they were all Communists. They were all unswerving admirers of Josef Stalin – and this at a time when his record as a bloodthirsty dictator and mass murderer of his own people had already been well established. And yet in later years – from the 1970s onward – they were hailed as heroes of free speech and the individual conscience (two things that Stalin himself was determined to crush). And, as illustrated by Trumbo, the idealization of these champions of totalitarianism continues into our own time. Witness a November 2015 article in the Hollywood Reporter entitled “The Hollywood Ten: The Men Who Refused to Name Names.”

Josef Stalin

Written by David L. Dunbar, the article bore the subhead: “When the House Un-American Activities Committee subpoenaed filmmakers to testify about communism in the industry, a few held their ground – and for a time, lost their livelihood.” Of course, if they’d been stubborn supporters of democratic capitalism living in Stalin’s Russia, they’d have lost not only their livelihoods but their lives – but that’s a detail that the fans of the Hollywood Ten prefer not to think about.

As Dunbar observed, the committee, known as HUAC, subpoenaed 41 screenwriters, directors, and producers to testify at a 1947 hearing to probe “subversive activities in the entertainment industry.” Most of those summoned proved to be “friendly” witnesses – meaning that they agreed to say whether or not they were or ever had been members of the Communist Party. Those who answered yes were invited to name fellow Communists – and, if they did, were sent back to work with their reputations intact.

Nine of the Hollywood Ten

But then there were the Ten. They refused to answer the committee’s questions. In return, the committee held them in contempt, fined them $1000 apiece, and ordered them sent to prison for up to a year. Back in Hollywood, their studios fired them.

The logic behind HUAC’s decisions, of course, was that these were unrepentant servants of a foreign power that, while having been a wartime ally, was quickly metamorphosing into an enemy. Under the Constitution, to be sure, they had a right to their opinions, a right to express them, and a right to gather freely and discuss them. Then again, they didn’t have the right to be traitors. Whether they crossed the line into treason is a question that has been discussed ever since.

As for their being fired – well, that’s another issue. The studios were private employers. They had a right to hire or fire whomever they wished. No one has a right to a lucrative job writing movies. Whether it was morally defensible to fire them for their Communist sympathies, is again, a matter for discussion and debate.

One point, however, is crystal clear: these men who publicly took the moral high ground, condemning a system in which they were punished for their political views, themselves were ardent believers in a system that routinely executed dissident artists such as themselves.

Who were these men? We’ll start in on them tomorrow.

Bernstein’s Maoists

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Fashion + Fidel = Fun!

Last year, we wrote here about a garden party held by fashion designer Stella McCartney (Paul McCartney’s daughter) at her Manhattan home. The theme was “Cuba Libre.” High-profile guests, such as Maggie Gyllenhaal, Alicia Keys, and Liv Tyler, enjoyed Cuban treats and snapped selfies with two actors who’d been hired for the occasion to dress up as Fidel Castro and Che Guevara.

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Anna Quintana

The Hollywood Reporter, Women’s Wear Daily, Vogue, and other major media found the whole thing just adorable; so did one after another of the leading fashion websites. One discordant note was sounded by Anna Quintana, a young Cuban-American style writer, who lodged this complaint: “I find it hard to process how a designer I have long admired…could feature a garden party with walking caricatures of Castro and Che Guevara, two figures that many, if not all, in the Cuban-American community would consider to be the epitome of cruelty.”

Why, indeed, would Stella McCarthy, who has spent her entire life enjoying all the privileges afforded to the daughter of the world’s richest musician, celebrate monsters like Fidel and Che, who, if her father had been Cuban, would likely have thrown him in prison or put him in front of a firing squad?

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Tom Wolfe

In his classic 1970 article “Radical Chic,” which we began looking at yesterday, Tom Wolfe identified the attraction of the cultural elite of forty-five years ago to totalitarian thugs like the Black Panthers – who sought to overthrow the U.S. government and replace it with a system just as brutal as Castro’s – as an example of nostalgie de la boue. Meaning what? Literally: “nostalgia for the mud.” The term refers to the attraction of many foolish people at the top of the ladder to those at the bottom of the ladder – and not just any of those at the bottom (certainly not the hard-working, law-abiding drudges), but those whom the people at the top view as the most exotic, colorful, violent, primitive, dangerous.

On May 2, 1967, Black Panthers amassed at the Capitol in Sacramento brandishing guns to protest a bill before an Assembly committee restricting the carrying of arms in public. Self-defense was a key part of the Panthers' agenda. This was an early action, a year after their founding.
The Black Panthers held their own soiree on May 2, 1967, at the State Capitol in Sacramento

At this site, we’ve touched before on the Black Panthers – and on the perverse eagerness of many decent, civilized people to makes heroes out of them. 

Last December, discussing a documentary about the Panthers by Stanley Nelson, we noted that the movie was nothing less than a group hagiography, presenting the Panthers as (in our words) “an endearing crew of human-rights activists who were devoted to charity work and whose repeated clashes with police reflected not any predilection to violence on their own part but the cops’ ferocity and racism.” The film’s cockeyed portrayal of the Panthers won cheers from film-festival audiences and from reviewers for places like the Hollywood Reporter.

Black-Panther-Party-armed-guards-in-street-shotgunsIt was Michael Moynihan of The Daily Beast who provided a reality check, pointing out that the Black Panthers, guided by “the revolutionary works of Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin, Chairman Mao, Comrades Kim Il Sung, Ho Chi Minh, Che, Malcolm X, and other great leaders of the worldwide people’s struggle for liberation,” were responsible for innumerable “revenge killings, punishment beatings, purges, [and] ‘disappearances.’” In their official newspaper, they ranted about “racist imperialist faggot honkey[s],” ran paeans to Stalin, Mao, Kim Il-Sung, and Albanian dictator Enver Hoxha.

And yet the crème de la crème of New York’s beau monde invited these people into their houses and dug into their pockets to contribute to their “cause.” How to make sense of it? Tune in tomorrow.

Dreaming of freedom, sneering at freedom

Our topic this week has been Ilinca Calugareanu’s extraordinary documentary Chuck Norris vs. Communism. The film takes us back to Communist Romania in the 1980s, when ordinary people gathered secretly to watch Hollywood movies – and thus got their first precious glimpses of life under freedom.

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Producer Mara Adina, Irina Nistor, Ilinca Calugareanu

In an interview with PBS, Calugareanu, who herself attended these group screenings as a kid, described her film as telling a story “that the world needed to hear, a story filled with joy and magic from a part of the world that most film audiences don’t know much about.” She’s right. In another interview, at a Toronto film festival, she recalls that when she was a child and walked into a group screening and saw the TV set and VCR, the thrill was palpable – you felt as if “you could almost touch freedom and the West.” People who have lived their entire lives in freedom need to be reminded how precious that gift is. To viewers who do appreciate their freedom, this documentary will be a deeply moving experience.

PARK CITY, UT - JANUARY 27: Director/writer Ilinca Calugareanu, translator/film critic Irina Margareta, and producer Mara Adina attend The Variety Studio At Sundance Presented By Dockers Day 4 on January 27, 2015 in Park City, Utah. (Photo by Joe Scarnici/Getty Images for Variety)
Calugareanu, Nistor, and Adina being interviewed at Sundance

Unfortunately, many Western film critics don’t belong to that category of viewers. It doesn’t help that they are so contemptuous of the action vehicles starring actors like Sly Stallone and Chuck Norris that they can’t bring themselves to even try to appreciate what such fare meant to people living under totalitarianism. One such critic is Scott Foundas, who, reviewing the documentary last year in Variety, actually described it as a “breezily entertaining bonbon” – which is just this side of calling Schindler’s List a “fun romp” or Shoah a “great date film.” To be sure, Foundas was on-point when he compared Zamfir to a Graham Greene character and when he praised Calugareanu for giving her picture “the flair of a good espionage yarn.” And at least he treated the documentary and its mission with a degree of respect, acknowledging the importance of the fact that “the glimpses of the West and Western democracy afforded by American films…did much to counteract the influence of Ceausescu’s powerful propaganda machine.”

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John DeFore

But then there’s John DeFore, who, writing in the Hollywood Reporter, sneered condescendingly about the “jingoistic action films and romantic fantasies” that worked magic on Romanian audiences. DeFore even managed to work into his review the term “cultural imperialism” – giving one the distinct impression that for him, what’s disturbing about Calugarean’s story is not the idea of people living under a real-life dictatorship that sought to brainwash and terrorize them 24/7 but the idea of them being ideologically influenced by such dreaded capitalism-promoting products as Top Gun and Pretty Woman.

Meanwhile, in the Guardian, Jordan Hoffman unhesitatingly panned Calugareanu’s documentary, complaining that it “says everything it needs to say in its first 15 minutes, and then just keeps rewinding the tape….While I’m sure the dissemination of black market tapes truly did have huge social repercussions, there’s a surprising ‘so what?’ effect after the 15th recollection of what it was like to watch Rambo.”

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Jordan Hoffman

That Hoffman should respond so dismissively, so unfeelingly, to such an extraordinarily stirring chapter of modern history tells us a great deal about him. And it’s not pretty. All he succeeds in doing, in his small-minded piece, is to remind us that while there are men and women of remarkable courage in totalitarian countries who yearn for freedom and who strive to do their part to bring down tyranny, there are also pathetic characters in free countries who not only take their freedom for granted but who think it’s cool and chic to mock the very idea of yearning for freedom. 

But what else can one expect from the Guardian?

Hollywood follows Hemingway to Havana

Yesterday we talked about the newest Fast and Furious movie, which according to a January article in the Hollywood Reporter is “the first Hollywood studio film to shoot on the island since the embargo was set in the 1960s.”

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Adrian Sparks and Joely Richardson as the Hemingways

But hey, then there’s the just-released Papa Hemingway in Cuba, which the same publication described in 2014 (when it was being filmed) as “the first full-length feature with a Hollywood director and actors to be shot in the country since the 1959 revolution.” Apparently the key word is “studio”; while the car-chase franchise is owned by Universal Studios, the Hemingway picture was an independent Canadian-American production.

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Bob Yari

The film is directed by Bob Yari, a real-estate mogul turned big-time Hollywood money guy, who has bought himself producer credits on a number of major Hollywood releases (such as Prime, starring Meryl Streep, and The Painted Veil, starring Edward Norton). During his fifteen or so years in the business, he’s landed in more than his share of legal messes; according to the Boston Globe, he’s “perhaps best known for unsuccessfully suing the Academy over not getting producer credit on the 2005 best picture Oscar-winning Crash.” Papa, his only directorial credit other than 1989’s Mind Games, is based on an autobiographical script by Denne Bart Petitclerc, who died ten years ago and who, when he was a young newspaperman, was taken up by Hemingway, then living in Cuba, as a sort of sidekick and protégé. Adrian Sparks is Hemingway, Joely Richardson is his fourth wife, Mary, Giovanni Ribisi is the admiring cub reporter, and Minka Kelly is Ribisi’s love interest; Hemingway’s granddaughter Mariel, who, a half a lifetime ago, played Woody Allen’s love interest in Manhattan, has a cameo. 

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Giovanni Ribisi and Minka Kelly

The reviews, to put it mildly, haven’t been stellar. Variety called the movie “formulaic” and “plodding”; the writer for RogerEbert.com complained that “the storytelling continuously keeps us at arm’s length, never allowing us to fully understand the bond that developed between these men….Here’s a film about one of the greatest writers in history that reduces the iconic man’s mind to the canned insights of a fortune cookie.” Calling the picture “a missed opportunity,” Stephanie Merry lamented in the Washington Post that it “doesn’t leave much of an impression.” Several critics have complained that Sparks utterly lacks Papa’s charisma, and that Ribisi, whose character is supposed to be a starry-eyed twenty-something, is, in real life, 41 years old, with thinning hair.

But almost all of the reviewers have exulted in Yari’s supposed coup – getting the Castro regime to let him film at Hemingway’s Cuban home, La Finca Vigía. Indeed, there’s been plenty of predictably stoogerific commentary about this supposed “milestone.” We’ll look at some of it tomorrow. 

Diesel-powered stoogery

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Vin Diesel giving a fist-bump to a Havana crowd

Back in January, The Hollywood Reporter informed the world that at least a few scenes of the eighth installment of the mega-successful Fast and Furious movie franchise would be filmed in Cuba in the spring — provided, that is, that Universal Pictures secured the requisite approval from the U.S. and Cuban governments.

Well, the permission came through. Thanks to the partial opening-up of Castro’s island prison in the wake of the Washington-Havana hemi-demi-semi-thaw, Fast and Furious 8,  directed by F. Gary Gray, will reportedly be the biggest motion-picture project ever to be filmed in that country, either in whole or in part, and, depending on how you define these things, perhaps the first American motion picture ever to be shot there. This, note well, despite numerous “infrastructure issues, like spotty internet,” of the kind that most Hollywood types would not ordinarily tolerate for long. 

diesel4Gray & co., then, are making history. Not that this is an absolute first. In March of last year, Conan O’Brien taped episodes of his late-night TBS talk show in Havana; recently Showtime announced that an episode of its series House of Lies will also be shot there. Then there’s the feature film Papa Hemingway in Cuba, which beat Fast and Furious to Castro-land, but which is technically a Canadian-American production, and you can make of that what you will; in any event, we’ll talk about that project tomorrow. 

diesel5Anyway, it’s happened. The Fast and Furious gang – Vin Diesel, Michelle Rodriguez, Tyrese Gibson, Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, and Jason Statham – traveled down to Havana in late April. In what was apparently set up as a big PR moment, Diesel steered a vintage convertible coupe down a crowded street, his manner that of a returning hero or conquering king. “This is paradise!” he exulted, according to the Daily Mail.

One of the arguments for filming U.S. movies and TV shows in Cuba is that it’ll somehow help open the country up, boost its broken-down economy, perhaps even (in some way) liberate its people. But what has been the real result of this development? A Cuban-American news site, Capitol Hill Cubans, reports that in order to clear the streets for the Fast and Furious film crew, Cuban security agents were “violently removing ‘undesirables’ — e.g. homeless — from tourism zones in Old and Central Havana….These agents, wearing plain-clothes and rubber gloves, have been scouring the area for ‘undesirables’ and forcefully taking them away. Various incidents of great violence have been reported.” All, apparently, in order to keep the gringo movie makers from recording on celluloid any sign of, um, poverty or desperation in this exceedingly poor and desperate country. 

castro3Another source, the Miami-based newspaper El nuevo herald, notes that tourists witnessed some of this chilling savagery and reacted, needless to say, with alarm. Some of them expressed the desire to call the police – only to be informed that the thugs who were beating, brutalizing, and rounding up people up were the police.

As the Capitol Hill Cubans website asked:

Is this how President Obama thinks American culture will positively impact Cuba?

No wonder Hollywood VIPs and artistic delegations come back “marveled” by Cuba and whitewashing their experiences.

They have no clue what takes place behind-the-scenes.

CNN founder Ted Turner: master of hypocrisy

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Ted Turner

Recently we spent a couple of days scratching our heads over Jane Fonda‘s lifelong career as a fleabrained enthusiast for totalitarianism. Now it’s time to train the camera on this aging fluffhead’s third husband, Ted Turner, the billionaire founder of CNN, godfather (in the eyes of some observers) of cable TV itself, and currently the second largest landowner in the U.S., with more acreage, all told, than the states of Delaware and Rhode Island put together. (Until recently he was #1, but another media tycoon, John Malone, edged ahead of him.)

You’d think, given his remarkable financial success (he’s now worth over $2 billion), that, unlike his ditzy ex-wife (they divorced in 2001), Turner must be quite the sharp cookie. Indeed he has to be some kind of a business genius – many of those who’ve worked with him over the years have said so, and his own accomplishments can hardly be explained otherwise. But to peruse the record of his public statements on various issues is to be gobsmacked by what seems nothing less than a stunning combination of foolishness, nuttiness, ignorance, and immaturity. (And we’re talking about a man who’s now 72 years old.)

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With Jane Fonda at the 1992 Emmys

Like Fonda, Turner is on the extreme political left, loath to criticize the likes of Fidel Castro, Saddam Hussein, or North Korea’s Kims but quick to compare Fox News or people like George W. Bush to Hitler. Like Fonda, too, he’s a world-class hypocrite. As of 2012, when he was profiled by Stephen Galloway in the Hollywood Reporter, Turner was spending his time jetting privately from one of his 28 (yes, 28) homes to another – and was, at the same time (no joke) identifying himself as a passionate environmentalist who found it “heartbreaking” that “the Tea Party…say that global warming is a hoax.” In a list he’s drawn up of “11 Voluntary Initiatives,” Turner vows “to care for Planet Earth and all living things thereon, especially my fellow beings.” Back in 2001, Ken Auletta reported on Turner’s climate hysteria: “In a hundred years, he believes, New York will be under water and it will be ‘so hot the trees are going to die.’” As of July 2015, when Turner was interviewed by CNN’s Cristiane Amanpour, “protect[ing] the environment” remained his “current aim,” as demonstrated by the fact that his car was “adorned with two bumper stickers, proclaiming: ‘Save the Planet’ and ‘Save Everything.’” In short: do as I say, not as I do. 

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One of Ted Turner’s 28 residences

Another cute little hypocrisy: Turner has had five kids, but in 2010 he called for an international directive that would penalize couples for having more than one child. (He’s openly praised the Communist Chinese government for its one-child policy, which has resulted in the widespread murder of baby girls by their parents.)

But Turner’s biggest hypocrisy is the fact that he’s a billionaire with a soft spot – and a blind spot – when it comes to Communism. We’ll get into the details – of which there are many – next time.

Stella McCartney: partying with “Fidel” and “Che”

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The first pages of Vogue‘s notorious March 2011 profile of Asma al-Assad

It was back in March 2011 that Anna Wintour, editor-in-chief of Vogue, ran a long, gushing profile of Asma al-Assad, the First Lady of Syria. In addition to painting her as a glamorous, sophisticated “Rose in the Desert” – the title of the piece – author Joan Juliet Buck served up a flattering picture of her subject’s hubby, dictator Bashar al-Assad, who came off as a charming and down-to-earth family man. Wintour was manifestly shocked when this piece of inane propaganda sparked worldwide outrage; within days the piece had disappeared from the magazine’s website.

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Stella McCartney

No, you can’t expect people in the fashion business to be world-class models of social awareness. On the other hand, you might at least think they’d have learned a lesson from that episode. Nope. In early June, fashion designer Stella McCartney – Paul’s daughter – held her annual garden party in New York. The theme: “Cuba Libre.” There were “chocolate cuban cigars, Coco Rico, Cerveza Hatuey, special rum cocktails, and various hors d’oeuvres, like vegetarian Cuban sandwiches.” And one more thing: while models showed off McCartney’s new collection, the guests mingled with actors dressed up as Fidel Castro and Che Guevara.

Adorable.

We’ve scoured the Internet for any indication that any of McCartney’s high-profile guests – among them Alicia Keys and Maggie Gyllenhaal – found Stella’s party theme distasteful. Nothing. The media, for the most part, also responded with a hearty thumbs-up. Note this passage from the Hollywood Reporter‘s account of the event:

From the stilt-walkers in colorful costumes to the multicolored ribbons streaming from the trees, attendees agreed that the party indeed matched McCartney’s exuberant ideas. “When you walk around Havana, it really is like this, music and life in the streets,” said Alan Cumming….he was happy to get into the spirit of the event: “I was just in a Fidel and Che sandwich,” he joked of posing with the actors impersonating Castro and Guevara.

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This and the following pictures were all taken at Stella McCartney’s party

Explaining the party’s theme, McCartney gushed: “I simply wanted to have a fun party, and I think Cubans know how to do that.” She recalled that she’d “visited Cuba over 20 years ago, when Cuba was really Cuba” (a statement she didn’t explain) and called her collection “a celebration of spring: new life, color, hope, energy and fun….Cuba is just to have some fun. Fun on top of fun!” Commented Fashion Week Daily: “McCartney is fun on top of fun; we have to thank her for reminding everyone that fashion is as well.”

stella8We’ve looked at a couple of dozen fashion websites that reported on McCartney’s party; with a single exception – which we’ll get to in a moment – none of them so much as hinted that its theme was in poor taste. Style magazine titled its cheery article Cuba Libre! Liv Tyler, Amber Valletta, and More Turn Out for Stella McCartney’s Colorful Garden Party.” Calling the bash “a colorful nod to Cuba,” Style quoted attendee Liv Tyler‘s words of praise for Stella: “I always learn something new from her.” The Fashionista website was also ebullient, congratulating McCartney for “manag[ing] to bring the feel and flavor of Cuba to Nolita” by transforming “a garden on Elizabeth Street…into a lively, Cuban-themed fiesta, complete with street performers on stilts, rum cocktails and cigars passed on trays, Che Guevara lookalikes playing dominos as models looked on, and a live band with salsa dancers on hand to set the groove.”

stella4Nor was there a trace of criticism in Women’s Wear Daily, which described the fête matter-of-factly as “a nod to Cuba, complete with costumed characters on stilts, a live salsa band and dancers, and two men who looked remarkably like Che Guevara and Fidel Castro enjoying a beer and chocolate cigars at a picnic table with some models.” In sum: “a cheeky, festive and timely photo-op.” Even Vogue seemed not to have learned from its own Syrian misadventure: “Stella’s world,” concluded its account, “is always sweet.” Elle UK enthused, too: “Stella McCartney knows how to throw a good party….don’t you wish you were there?”  Not even The New York Observer saw anything unsettling about the theme of the fiesta, which it dubbed “the garden party of the century.”

stella9At least the feminist website Jezebel got it. Reproducing several tweets that included photos taken at the party, Jezebel commented:

Guests included big names like Cara Delevingne, Miranda Kerr, Liv Tyler, and—most noteworthy of all—two men posing as Fidel Castro and Che Guevara. Not present: anyone who’s suffered through Castro’s half-a-century-long dictatorship. How fun!

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New York Magazine‘s Instagram post, later removed

Jezebel suggested themes for future McCartney parties: “Sensual Stalin! Kim Jong’s Krazy Korea!” The Yahoo news site, to its credit, also recoiled, noting that “McCartney famously heralds cruelty-free clothing, while Guevara and Castro aren’t exactly, uh, pacifists—the former leading execution sweeps and training Congo rebels; the latter denying many of his citizens basic civil liberties.” Yahoo noted that New York Magazine had posted a picture from McCartney’s shindig on its Instagram account, only to remove it later after commenters expressed disgust at the apparent homage to a half-century of tyranny.

We mentioned earlier that we found exactly one (1) fashion writer who was actually appalled by the theme of McCartney’s soirée. The writer in question: Anna Quintana, who, quoting a bubbleheaded, self-flattering statement made by McCartney at the event – “I’m just too global for my own good” – suggested that “McCartney was not ‘global’ enough to understand the complex and sensitive nature of the Cuban story, especially given that she had men dressed up as Che Guevara and Fidel Castro mingling and playing dominoes with the guests and models.” Quintana added:

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Anna Quintana

As a Cuban-American, I find it hard to process how a designer I have long admired, and one who prides herself on being ethical when it comes to her cruelty-free designs, could feature a garden party with walking caricatures of Castro and Che Guevara, two figures that many, if not all, in the Cuban-American community would consider to be the epitome of cruelty.

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Humberto Fontova

Bingo. Another Cuban-American writer, Humberto Fontova, also castigated McCartney – and, in addition, made this highly salient observation:

Fidel Castro and Che Guevara…made it a criminal offense for their Cuban subjects to listen to Stella’s Dad’s music. During the mid ’60’s Castro and Che’s ever-vigilant STASI-trained secret police was very scrupulous in ferreting out the counter-revolutionary crime of listening to the Beatles. The hapless Cuban youths detected in this crime were herded into forced labor camps at Soviet bayonet point.

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Collier Meyerson

Finally, there’s MSNBC journalist Collier Meyerson. She was offended by the party’s theme, too – but for another reason: in her view, McCartney’s capitalistic “commodif[ication]” of “the iconic faces” of the Cuban people’s “struggle” – she was referring, of course, to Castro and Che – showed “disrespect” for those two great socialist revolutionaries.

And having quoted that, what more can we say?