Hollywood, and our nation, will meet this test

Everyone in this country is in mourning. And rightly so. We have been brutally violated by a foul intrusion which never before have we ever witnessed or imagined. In a fraction of an hour, “the ceremony of innocence” was drowned in this free and loving land. But this country didn’t survive over two hundred years of cruel disjointing in order to lose our purpose and our confidence right now.

We in the movie industry have an obligation to which we must attend. W have to screw our courage to the sticking place, we have to get on with lives and do our job, to tell visual stories which offers our fellow citizens an interlude so sorely needed at this time. What terrorists do is to terrorize, to try to make us afraid, to bring the nation to its collective knees, to coerce us into a bunker mentality. If we cower, if we hesitate, the terrorist thugs win.

What can we do? Don’t give in. Don’t give up. Be alert but do your job. Here in Hollywood we must continue making our movies and our TV programs. For a time, during this mourning period, we need to be sensitive to how we tell a story. But in time — and that time will surely come, just as mourning periods end even as we weep when we think about someone close to us who died — life will go on, must go on. We in Hollywood have to get on with doing our creative work.

I don’t know if further assaults are ahead of us. But I truly believe that our law enforcement officers, our defense and intelligence communities and our leaders will rise to the challenge of making us secure, that is, if the American people don’t hunker down, too frightened to fly or travel or work or be about their daily lives. That means we have surrendered. And then we will sit upon the ground and tell sad stories of the death of courage in this land. If that happens, the noise we will hear will be triumphant whoops of joy from savages who find it wholesome to deliberately murder innocent men, women and children. We cannot allow that. We cannot cave into fear.

For a time, though no one can say for how long, we will have to put up with discomfort, frustration, waiting to get into a studio to go to work, standing in line at an airport for longer than we have before and so on. Those vexations we can handle. We’ve had it mighty easy over the past decade. Now, we’re going to be tested — as Abe Lincoln at Gettysburg told an earlier generation of Americans that the nation was being tested. We met that test, though it was hard. But we met it.

But this awful, unimaginable destruction is revealing something noble and worthy in this land, that too many critics claimed was in exile. The vast majority of Americans, of every religion and ancestry, every color, creed and culture, but Americans all, unfrightened and loyal, sure of our strength, proud of our goodness, are coming together stirred by a shared love of country. We don’t find it embarrassing to get misty eyed when someone sings “God Bless America” or the National Anthem. We find it reassuring to speak to our friends, our fellow workers, even strangers, to embrace them and hold them close. When we watch TV show pictures of firemen and cops, those brave men and women who plunged into crumbling towers to save people they didn’t know because it was their duty to do so, and gave up their own lives in the doing, we cry real tears without shame. We feel a sense of something valuable that rises from the depths of our soul that we really didn’t know was there. Innocence may have drowned, but the counterpoint is that cynicism is dying. Out of a landscape grown too materialistic, whose naked ambition flexes in an attitude of “I’ve got mine and to hell with you,” has come the simple enticement of comradeship and gratitude for all those among us who forgot personal gain and personal peril to help folks desperate for help. How proud I am of the avalanche of generosity of Hollywood stars, executives, agents, producers, artists, craftsmen, who have freely given their money, their talent, their time, their commitment and their prayers to try to help soften the grief and the pain.

So, let’s be thankful for this outpouring of patriotic fervor and personal commitment. When your young children ask you in bewilderment what’s going on, tell them about all those ordinary Americans who performed extraordinary feats of heroism, let them hear the story of mind-bending courage of passengers on a hijacked plane who chose to die fighting terrorists so that the plane could not be used as a flying missile thereby saving thousands of lives; tell them of the overwhelming response of volunteers who interrupted their lives to rush to rescue, tell them that there is goodness in this land, tell them that we care about each other, and we will never be taken down by a vile, uncomprehending lunacy.

That is why we in Hollywood will feel a special pride in rising above our mottled apprehensions. We must keep doing what we do best to the highest level of excellence we can achieve. The country needs what we create. Murderers recoil and retreat, they are done for, when the great majority of Americans refuses to be cabined and confined in a prison of fear, but instead says to terrorists: “Up yours, you bastards.”

(Jack Valenti is president and CEO of the Motion Picture Assn. of America.)

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