Lights, Camera, Reaction
Thor Halvorssen's campaign to make Hollywood safe for non-leftists.
Aug 13, 2007, Vol. 12, No. 45 • By SONNY BUNCH
During the fourth season of HBO's hit comedy series Curb Your Enthusiasm, one of the subplots centered on the bumbling attempts of the show's star, Larry David, to take advantage of a rather unusual anniversary gift given to him by his wife: He can have an affair with any woman he wants, as long as he does it by the day of their anniversary (which also happens to coincide with the opening of Larry's Broadway debut in The Producers). Needless to say, this leads to a number of awkward encounters until finally, as time is about to run out--on the night of the show itself, in fact--the very attractive female lead in the musical invites Larry into her dressing room for a quick fling. The liberal New Yorker is game, making out with the starlet until he notices something not quite right: a picture of George W. Bush beside her vanity mirror. Disgusted, he turns away, deciding he'd rather let his gift expire than have sex with a Republican.
To many conservatives, this vignette neatly sums up Hollywood's ideological monomania: Left-wing politics trumps even a good old fashioned roll in the hay. For every Ronald Reagan extolling the greatness that is America, supporting individual rights at home and abroad, and arguing for freedom, the entertainment industry spawns twenty Alec Baldwins fulminating against American foreign policy, decrying big business's abuse of the environment, and threatening to move to Canada if Bush wins reelection. The truth is more complex, but evidence in support of the stereotype is not hard to find. When it comes time to donate money to political candidates, Democrats routinely squeeze their celebrity friends in Los Angeles for cash; in March, for example, Steven Spielberg hosted a fundraiser for Hillary Clinton that netted more than $1 million for her presidential campaign. Republicans can't count on that kind of juice.
It's not all bad news. A small segment of Hollywood was pushed rightward by 9/11, at least on national security issues; two years ago, the New York Times identified "former liberals and centrists like the actors David Zucker, Dennis Miller, James Woods and Ron Silver" as 9/12 Republicans. In the wake of Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ, a box office bonanza raking in $370 million, the town has seen an influx of Christian filmmakers (and Christian money: billionaire evangelical Philip Anschutz's Walden Media bankrolled The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, C.S. Lewis's Christian allegory, to the tune of $150 million). And since the early '90s, David Horowitz has hosted the Wednesday Morning Club, a group of conservatives who meet roughly once a month to hear a prominent conservative speak on the issues of the day.
But these efforts have done little to change the climate of political conformity, not to say paranoia, in Hollywood. In a recent trip to Los Angeles, I met with members of every industry sector, from actors to writers to agents to executives, all of whom described themselves as either conservative or libertarian or simply not left-liberal. All of them swore up and down that there is no such thing as a conservative blacklist, but few of them were willing to go on the record during our discussions. As one person put it over lunch, he had nothing to gain by outing himself as a libertarian. "It's a complication I don't need. . . . Why make my life more difficult?"
Enter Thor Halvorssen, founder of the Moving Picture Institute (MPI), which is one part film production company, one part salon. Halvorssen has spent the last several years shuttling back and forth between New York and Los Angeles, building a community in Hollywood that does more than sit around and listen to conservative luminaries pontificate. He is procuring funding for films--mostly documentaries--with an optimistic and freedom-loving outlook, while simultaneously creating a community of artists that will make more such pictures in the years to come. He's also hoping to introduce a little political diversity into a monocultural industry, so that those who toil in the lower echelons of Hollywood aren't afraid to show their true political stripes, be they liberal or libertarian, conservative or Communist.
If the name sounds familiar to WEEKLY STANDARD readers, it may be because the 31-year-old Halvorssen wears more than one hat. Through his Human Rights Foundation (HRF), he has been a prominent spokesman for the liberal opposition to Hugo Ch vez in Venezuela, where he was born (see his "Hurricane Hugo" in our August 8, 2005, issue). In an interview at the Moving Picture Institute's West Hollywood headquarters (located in an apartment once owned by Sheryl Crow, in a building once used by the Kennedy brothers to host their West Coast trysts), he talked about the circuitous path that has taken him from Venezuela to the film industry.