Dem power broker's activism rooted in parents' plight
For some on the Left Coast side of the Washington-Hollywood axis, political support of candidates might be considered good citizenship and conscience after a nasty day at the office. But for Mike Medavoy, it’s somewhat different.
First, here’s a bit of context for Medavoy’s several decades of support of Democratic candidates: Medavoy became a U.S. citizen in 1963, having been raised in the Jewish enclave of Shanghai by parents who had fled the anti-Semitic wave in the Soviet Union and, then, as a teen in the 1950s in Chile. English is his second language.
“So, yeah, I take American citizenship fairly seriously,” he says, “which is something pretty common among people who’ve immigrated here.”
Second, because he experienced his share of want growing up, Medavoy also takes seriously the need for a country to look after its poor. “That’s why I’m a Democrat,” he says flatly, adding that this doesn’t mean “that I could never vote for a Republican under the right circumstances.”
And as a student of politics and history stemming from his undergrad days at UCLA in the 1960s, Medavoy is able to view the current Washington debate between the parties over just about everything as “part of our history, which goes all the way back to the debate between Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson over a strong federal government versus states’ rights. That philosophical debate hasn’t really changed, but the pressures are different now, and I’m worried about them.”
Just as he displayed a knack for spotting filmmaking talent early in their careers, such as Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, John Milius and Terrence Malick, Medavoy spotted hot Colorado Sen. Gary Hart early as a potential presidential candidate in 1983. “I never was in the role of giving large donations to a candidate — I didn’t have that kind of money. What I decided that I could do was serve as a matchmaker, and help bring others in touch with a candidate who I thought could help the country. Gary was the first.”
Hart’s brand of progressive politics, combining classic liberal policies with a view for innovations in energy, transportation, technology and education, perfectly suited Medavoy’s own world view: “A quote I heard somewhere pretty much sums it up for me, and to paraphrase, it’s that an enterprise today must have a technological component as well as a social component. It’s as important to understand this in politics as it is in the entertainment industry.
“I really believed in Hart, and think that his enormous talents have been unfairly ignored by both the Clinton and Obama administrations.”
The Hart campaign, Medavoy notes, was also his way of following in the footsteps of Arthur Krim, a legendary Democratic fundraiser and leader in the film industry, and with whom Medavoy worked at UA and Orion. “Arthur was hugely influential for me,” says Medavoy, “but his accomplishments as a humanitarian and as supporter of the Democrats far outweighs what I’ve accomplished.”
Nevertheless, Medavoy — ever the scout of talent — managed quite a feat when in 1991 he was the first important Hollywood supporter of then-obscure Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton. “I thought immediately that he was terrific politician who knew what he wanted to do, and had a forward-thinking view of the country”
Medavoy considers President Obama in much the same way as Clinton, but with a twist: “Obama is the first 21st Century president. I think the rest of the current batch of politicians is still in the 20th century. We need someone who’s facing the new century, and against all of these headwinds he’s experiencing, I think he’s managing to do it.”
Still, Medavoy bemoans the current state of things in his adopted country, from the lack of efforts to build the kind of infrastructure he’s recently witnessed in China (where’s he’s preparing a mini-series, “Shanghai,” set in the revolutionary period) to “this gigantic education gap we’re seeing between a small, well-educated elite and a mass group of kids who probably couldn’t spot Chile on a map.”
“When 20 million American children are living in motels and cars and can’t even get a decent breakfast or lunch, how can we accept this while the richest people won’t pay an additional 3% in taxes?”
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