The entertainment industry isn’t in great shape these days; movie theater chains are declaring bankruptcy, streaming services are starting to consolidate as revenues are expected to decline, and more people seem to be amused and distracted by platforms like TikTok than the latest Hollywood blockbuster. One heavy hitter in the entertainment industry, however, believes that the time is ripe for more heavy-handed lectures from celebrities and programming designed to push an anti-gun agenda on viewers, whether they like it or not.
Stacy Smith, founder of the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative (AII) at the University of Southern California, said Wednesday that election-cycle issues like reproductive rights, gun violence and gerrymandering are “not part of typical storytelling” in movies in TV – “because women and people of color aren’t behind the camera.”
Smith was speaking with TheWrap Editor-in-Chief and founder Sharon Waxman at the WrapPRO’s Grill event series about the role of Hollywood in the upcoming election year 2024. Waxman kicked off the conversation with a reminder that midterms are three weeks away, giving Smith a segue into how her research demonstrates the influence Hollywood can have.
AII analyzes stories and their inclusion or exclusion of topics and themes like reproductive rights, marriage equality, interracial relationships, voting behavior, gun violence and more.
… Gun violence is also a priority in AII’s research. Waxman questioned the need for storytelling – explicitly when the argument can be made that public opinion calls for some form of abortion rights and gun control laws.
“It’s imperative, and the reason why is what group doesn’t go to the polls? Young people,” Smith said. “College students aren’t [voting] in the numbers that they need to right because they have completely different views on all of these topics than other generations. They’re far more progressive. Inclusion is just a way of life. … And one of the best ways to get them motivated and going is through storytelling. Data doesn’t do it by itself, but tell a compelling story about why they need to show up.”
Entertainment as means to an end, in other words. Way back in the 1930’s the writer Max Eastman wrote about the “artists in uniform” who were expected to advance the cause of Marxism through their proletariat works in art and literature, and while Smith’s pushing more cultural touchpoints than economic progressivism, it’s still clear that what she’s calling for is for the industry to become artists in uniform engaged in propaganda instead of, you know, entertaining us.
The Annenberg Inclusion Initiative is actually giving some film school students $100,000 scholarships to help them “tell stories about reproductive justice,” though it’s unclear if the AII will offer similar handouts to young directors willing or eager to tell tales about the need and utility of gun bans, red flag laws, and other restrictions on the right to keep and bear arms. It’s worth noting, though, that the last time Hollywood decided to go all-in on a movie centered around gun control it was a massive flop.
You might remember hearing about the 2016 flick Miss Sloane, starring Jessica Chastain as a tough-as-nails Capitol Hill lobbyist working to get a background check bill signed into law, but odds are you never actually watched it. The movie was a box office bomb, earning about $9-million on a budget of $13-million. As it turns out, Americans aren’t clamoring to be hit over the head with an anti-gun agenda when they plunk down $40 or more at their local theater, but if Stacy Smith has her way we’re going to get a lot more gun control morality plays (and movies, and who knows, maybe even a musical) in the future.
Personally, I think Smith has it backwards. Gun control isn’t inclusive; quite the opposite, in fact. In strict gun control regimes only a chosen few are lucky enough to earn the approval of the state and are permitted to own or perhaps even carry a firearm for self-defense, which is the very definition of an exclusionary policy. If the goal of the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative is to promote inclusivity, they should be handing out scholarships for creative endeavors that promote the right of the people to keep and bear arms; maybe a biography of Fannie Lou Hamer or the other civil rights activists who, while using non-violence as a political tactic, weren’t about to give up their right to self-defense.
I won’t hold my breath waiting for that script to be greenlit, but I also won’t be giving my money to projects that promote restricting our civil rights with the false promise of increased safety. There are plenty of ways to amuse myself without supporting anti-gun indoctrination, and frankly less money spent on movies and streaming services just means more money for ammo and more time at the range.