We may think that today our biggest threat is from terrorism yet the film, Trumbo reminds us of a time in U.S. history when our fears were focused on Communism. The Trumbo movie stars Bryan Cranston as the famed writer who landed on the Hollywood blacklist for his political views.
Helen Mirren co-stars as gossip columnist Hedda Hopper who helped fuel the “Red Scare” that took over the nation during the 1950s. If you’re interested in the subject of censorship in America and the dangers of political oppression, consider investigating Trumbo and the Hollywood blacklist for your next research paper.
TheFreeDictionary.com describes “Communism” as, “A system of social organization in which goods are held in common.” Many feared that this meant an overthrow of the U.S. government.
In 1947 the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) began a probe into Communist influence in Hollywood. HUAC summoned Hollywood screenwriter Dalton Trumbo and asked if he was or had ever been a member of the Communist party.
For refusing to answer, Trumbo and nine other members of the Hollywood film industry (the Hollywood Ten) were sentenced to fines and one year in the federal penitentiary on charges of contempt of Congress.
After leaving jail, the Hollywood Ten found that they had been blacklisted by the American film industry and they could no longer be hired.
Trumbo’s story is played out in the film starring Bryan Cranston in the title role. The supporting cast includes Helen Mirren and John Goodman. Peter Debruge provided background on the events depicted in Trumbo in his September 13, 2015, article for Variety.com, “Toronto Film Review: ‘Trumbo.’”
“And yet, variations on the same thing could plausibly happen tomorrow — and still do, in other forms, as gays are exposed and driven out of teaching posts. ‘Trumbo’ may be clumsy and overly simplistic at times, but it’s still an important reminder of how democracy can fail […],” Debruge concluded.
The Hollywood blacklist
Blacklisting is the practice of creating a list of persons or organizations that have fallen under suspicion and are to be boycotted or otherwise penalized.
According to the article, “Blacklisted,” at Biography.com, “In the 1940s and 1950s, the United States was in the grips of a ‘red scare.’ Many prominent individuals suspected of sympathizing with liberal or humanitarian causes were branded a communist threat, and even accused of espionage.”
After the conviction of the Hollywood Ten, a blacklist was created that eventually included more than 200 entertainment professionals. In the article, you can learn the stories of a few who were swept up in the fear of Communist influence in Hollywood.
The blacklist included:
- Charlie Chaplin
- Harry Belafonte
- Orson Welles
- Lillian Hellman
Censorship in America
Can boycotting a group of people from work or other public services ever be justified? John Cogley reported on a study into the subject in his book, Report on Blacklisting, available at Questia.com.
Carried out in 1954, the study came at a time when blacklisting was a subject of vigorous public controversy, involving civil liberties issues. It raised questions of freedom of thought and speech, of due process, of the protection of the individual against group pressures and of the community against the disloyalty of the individual.
The book pointed out that during World War II when the Soviet Union was an ally many in Hollywood were drawn to the Communist party in their zeal to fight fascism.
“Consequently, hundreds in Hollywood who would have been horrified at the thought of overthrowing the government by force or destroying the economic system which provided them with swimming pools and four-car garages, played along with the Communists,” Cogley explained.
When the war ended, fears began to grow that Communists wanted to overthrow the U.S. government. Members of the film industry who had championed Communism as a solution to fascism fell under suspicion as traitors.
You can learn much more about hundreds of topics about 20th and 21st century U.S. history at Questia.
Is this the first time you’ve seen any information about the Hollywood blacklist? What do you think about it? Tell us in the comments.