News Release

Hollywood Spins the ’60s


Clennon is an actor and activist who recently wrote three pieces about how Hollywood spins the 60s. The first is “Hollywood’s New Blackface,” which states: “I don’t believe Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. or Fred Hampton would have been satisfied with the presence of more Black faces on our movie screens. The display of diversity has very little to do with a radical transformation of a political economy that screws so many to reward so few. …

In “How Hollywood Neuters the 60s: Sorkin’s ‘Trial of the Chicago 7’ Sentences American Radicalism to Oblivion,” Clennon writes: “If you need a dramatic hook, exaggerate the minor tactical differences of opinion among the good guys. And put your money on a far-out casting choice: Sacha Baron Cohen as ‘Abbie.’

“Instead of telling the story of eight political activists vs a corrupt, unjust legal system serving the Empire, the ‘Trial’ filmmakers exaggerate and fabricate tactical disagreements among the defendants themselves. As the two principal antagonists, they select the sober grassroots activist, Tom Hayden, and the madcap agitator, Abbie Hoffman, for conflict and contrast.”

And in “A Radical’s Complaint and Fan’s Appreciation of an Exceptional Actor,” Clennon writes: “It seems 2020 was the year for Hollywood to trivialize and marginalize the 1960s. To American citizens who participated in those struggles, ‘The Trial of the Chicago 7’ and ‘One Night in Miami…’ and ‘Judas and the Black Messiah’ are an insult and an injury. … And, as one who lived through the period, my greatest grievance over ‘Chicago 7’ is this: The shabby writing, and the miscasting of Dave Dellinger marginalizes and diminishes one of the most admirable political organizers and moral leaders of the anti-war struggle. …

“Each of the four men [Ali, Jim Brown, Sam Cooke and Malcolm X] gets an epilogue, after the ‘One Night in Miami’ is over. In his epilogue, we see Ali receiving his new, Muslim name from the leader of the Nation of Islam.

“Why did the filmmakers choose that event to put their period on the story of Muhammad Ali? Would it have been too controversial for movie-goers to see, instead, a far more courageous act in Ali’s life? Would it have been too dangerous to show Ali publicly refusing to be conscripted into the U.S. military machine, when hundreds of thousands of American troops were slaughtering three million human beings in Vietnam? The young boxing champ we see in ‘Miami’ in 1964 made a heroic moral stand in 1967, and was banned from boxing for three of the most important years of a boxer’s career. (He also had a five-year prison term hanging over him, until the Supreme Court reversed his conviction in 1971.) If the filmmakers were serious about capturing something special in those four men, why did they omit the single most significant decision of Ali’s life? …

“I believe that ‘Judas and the Black Messiah’ is inauthentic history. It features a false rendering of the real, historical, Fred Hampton. It makes me wonder, ‘What would Boots Riley have done with this tale?’

“Outsourcing. Off-shoring. Importing worker talent.

“In the last six years, Hollywood has put four historical African-American figures on screen:

Martin Luther King in ‘Selma’ (2015)
Harriet Tubman in ‘Harriet’ (2017)
Malcolm X in 2020’s ‘One Night in Miami…’
Fred Hampton in ‘Judas and the Black Messiah.’

“Every single one of these African-American characters has been portrayed by an Afro-British actor.

“Now, just as African-American characters — fictional and historical — are beginning to appear in movie and TV scripts, African-Americans have to compete with imported talent from the UK and other parts of the British Commonwealth to play those parts.

“Blackface on Black faces.

“It’s not just a trade imbalance, it’s a glaring moral deficit.”

Clennon asks, “What is Hollywood’s message to African-American actors? Black Livelihoods Don’t Matter?”