There was something unusual about the awards ceremony held Sunday at the Beverly Hills Hotel: One of the honorees was Virginia Rep. Eric Cantor, the House minority whip and a rising star of the Republican party.
Despite its lopsided majority of Democrats and left-leaning activists, the industry isn’t inherently hostile territory for the GOP, but rarely is there much mutual adulation. Cantor was honored with the Caucus for Producers, Writers & Directors American Spirit Award, along with Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and actress Connie Stevens.
“I am not standing before you under any disillusion; I know that there are partisan currents in this room,” Cantor said in his slight Southern accent, reflecting his Virginian roots, to the eclectic group ranging from industry vets to boldfaced names like Jane Seymour, SAG president Alan Rosenberg and Wink Martindale.
“It has been many years since a Republican could find himself in a comfortable majority in Hollywood.” Then, he couldn’t resist this quip: “Of course, that depends on what you think about Arnold’s politics.”
Writer-producer Lionel Chetwynd and producer Craig Haffner, prominent industry conservatives, have known Cantor for some time and reached out to him as the group strives to have a bipartisan bent in pressing creative issues in D.C.
Markey, introduced by producer Gil Cates, has long ties to the entertainment business that go beyond issues of media consolidation and telecommunications. More recently, along with Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), he introduced draft legislation to fight global warming — and he noted that the industry has been at the forefront of outlining its perils with pics like “Wall-E” and “An Inconvenient Truth.”
“You in this room are the creative geniuses of our planet, and we will need your help in communicating this vision for a clean energy future to the rest of the country,” Markey said.
But in his speech, Cantor went to great lengths to identify with the group, telling those gathered, “In a curious way, we are the opposite sides of the same coin, and if my seat in Congress brings with it a sacred duty, it is surely no less than the burden that you carry. Your work truly inspires the world.”
Then the group gave him loud applause when he pledged to fight runaway production. “I have a profound belief in free trade, and so I have always considered quotas and subsidies undermining so many of the truly important things on which we measure freedom,” he said. “But if these practices are to be the habit of other countries, then so be it. We owe it to you to match them subsidy for subsidy, support for support.”
As recently as February, some Senate Republicans forced a tax-break for the entertainment industry out of the stimulus bill after characterizing it as an unnecessary giveaway amid healthy box office receipts.
Cantor, however, indicated that he would have backed such a provision on its own. “Set aside the larger issues of the stimulus bill and absolutely I am very supportive of anything we can do to help the American film industry and the production industry,” he told Variety. "Whatever the entertainment industry does for America has been a good thing. So we want it to continue.
“Look, there is no question there is a favorite pastime in Washington to kick the entertainment industry for whatever reason of the week. But at the end of the day, the entertainment business is made up of large businesses and small businesses, and small businesspeople. And we have got to be focused on helping them grow, just like any other sector of the economy.”
Photo, top row: Gil Cates, Vin di Bona, Lionel Chetwynd; bottom row: Ed Markey, Connie Stevens, Eric Cantor.