Even in an electoral off year, Hollywood has a way of entering the political conversation. This is even more true in 2013, as an intense presidential election is replaced by issue-based activism and provocative content. With contenders like “Zero Dark Thirty” and “Lincoln,” this year’s Oscar race promises to touch on debate of the means-to-the-end pragmatism of government, while the Sundance Film Festival features projects that consider controversial George W. Bush administration VP Dick Cheney and the Anita Hill-Clarence Thomas hearings of W.’s father, George Herbert Walker Bush.
Here are the key political stories in which bizzers will be players in the coming year, mindful that after a 2012 marked by Clint Eastwood’s unconventional conversation with an empty chair, Vice President Biden’s praise of “Will & Grace” as a reason for acceptance of same-sex relationships, and Lena Dunham’s suggestive voting habits, the best stories are often those that defy prognostication.
Los Angeles mayor’s race
The presidential campaign soaked up the lion’s share of attention, but many among Hollywood’s donor class have been choosing sides in what is shaping up to be an unpredictable local election, with the primary set for March 5.
The two leading contenders, at least in recent polling and raising money, are Los Angeles city councilman Eric Garcetti (who’s had make-believe on-the-job training, cameo-ing on TNT’s “The Closer” as the mayor of Los Angeles) and city controller Wendy Greuel, a former executive at DreamWorks. Jake Gyllenhaal and Jimmy Kimmel are among those who have helped host Garcetti events, while Greuel has garnered the support of Steven Spielberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg and David Geffen.
Another contender, councilwoman Jan Perry, has drawn the backing of Dick Van Dyke, while dark horse Kevin James, a Republican in the nonpartisan race, is a well-known talkradio host.
The starry interest in civic politics could help drive new action on issues like runaway production, inasmuch as the city chooses to sit out or to play the tax incentive game favored by other locations across the U.S. and around the world.
Year of the gun
President Obama’s task force on gun violence, a response to the tragic school shootings in Connecticut, promises to look at the national culture, undoubtedly including the entertainment industry’s obsession with all things firearms.
While there is little Congress can do to legislate violent content, the man leading the task force, vice president Biden, has the power of the presidential bully pulpit, something that has in the past compelled the industry to impose voluntary measures such as the MPAA rating system, or to simply tone things down.
But there also could be some pressure from within, as a number of industry figures join in Brady Campaign PSAs and spots for the Michael Bloomberg-backed org Mayors Against Illegal Guns. The bizzers may not agree one iota with the NRA’s Wayne LaPierre, but it’s he who called them out on the contradiction of promoting greater controls on guns even as Hollywood profits from their proliferation onscreen.
Last year, HBO’s “Veep” earned a second term, and the syndicated “The First Family” demonstrated solid niche support, showing that there’s still satire to be mined in the upper echelons of government.
NBC’s comedy about a dysfunctional first family, “1600 Penn,” with former Obama administration speechwriter Jon Lovett as co-creator, will aim for madcap laffs that hope to avoid the farcical cliff-dive taken 14 years ago by UPN’s “The Secret Diary of Desmond Pfeiffer,” a mix of supposed yuks from President Lincoln’s personal valet that included slavery jokes.
The high court’s upcoming consideration of the Defense of Marriage Act and California’s Proposition 8 will be a defining civil rights showdown that determines the path forward for the same-sex marriage movement.
The Prop 8 case, backed by a group of Hollywood activists upset at seeing equal rights hinge on voters, gambles that a conservative-leaning court will see a state ban on same-sex marriage as violating equal protection and due process.
Win or lose, however, a standard has been set in the way high-profile industry figures can create change.
The upcoming Sundance Film Festival features Freida Lee Mock’s Hill documentary “Anita,” and R.J. Cutler’s project, “The World According to Dick Cheney,” revisiting polarizing figures from two previous presidential administrations. What remains to be seen is whether the projects, in which Hill and Cheney cooperated, will offer the kind of candid moments that elevated such biographical projects as “The Fog of War.”
A number of filmmakers are planning to focus on another controversial individual, Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, who will be the subject of Sundance docu “We Steal Secrets,” from Alex Gibney, about the furor that erupted over Assange’s release of a trove of secret U.S. government documents. Hardly classified: Bill Condon is embarking on an Assange feature. A number of other projects on the Wikileaker are in various stages of development.
In short, the Champagne bottle may be empty, but the political year, at least in Hollywood, is bound to be bubbly.