×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Hollywood Becomes Increasingly Vocal in the Fight Against Gun Violence

In the latest season of “House of Cards,” first lady Claire Underwood champions new gun laws with the help of a group called Families for Gun Reform.

The group is fictitious — as is Underwood’s political brinkmanship to outwit the NRA. But go to families forgunreform.com, and you’ll be redirected to the site of the very real organization Everytown for Gun Safety, launched by former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Everytown didn’t just buy up the Families for Gun Reform URL, the group collaborated with “House of Cards” writers “to make sure they got it right,” according to the organization’s president, John Feinblatt. In fact, Feinblatt consulted on the script regarding issues of gun legislation and violence.

Everytown, as well as the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence and other groups, are increasingly working with entertainment figures to keep their legislative goals in the public eye.

And where past efforts to enlist entertainers or the creators of shows were met with some reticence — given the polarizing nature of the issue and the almost certain pushback from gun rights advocates — now there is a greater willingness to back gun-reform issues, like the need for universal background checks for gun buyers.

The Good Wife” featured an episode addressing the liability of a gun-store owner after a girl’s death. The Brady Campaign consulted on the episode, and has been working to get more stories that address gun violence integrated into scripts, says president Dan Gross.

“The gun lobby and its lapdogs in Congress and the state legislatures want you to believe that you are risking your career by coming out in support of what the overwhelming majority of Americans want,” Gross says.

Despite proposed legislation mandating universal background checks having stalled in Congress, a growing number of high-profile figures is opting to speak out; for example, a series of PSAs, paid for by Everytown and directed by Spike Lee, featured National Basketball Assn. stars calling for an end to gun violence.

Gross gave a TED Talk in February, in which he told the audience he would start “where most conversations in our country seem to start, with Kim Kardashian.” The line got a big laugh, but there was a topical payoff: He pointed to Kardashian’s appeal to her 35 million Twitter followers for more sensible gun laws. (Her tweet came with no solicitation from the Brady Campaign, he says.)

“I think the culture is changing. People are thinking, ‘It is time to step up.’”
Julianne Moore

“One year ago, it would have been different,” Gross notes, and credits new media with changing the equation. “When you have three or four big networks controlling so many eyeballs, there is this inclination toward thinking conservatively in terms of being out front on issues,” he says. “The internet has democratized information, and social media has democratized activism.”

Actress Julianne Moore had often retweeted calls for improved gun measures, but last year, frustrated that after “every major tragedy, I kept thinking there would be change, and there wasn’t,” she approached Everytown about taking an active role. The result was the formation of the Creative Council, which now numbers more than 100 entertainment figures committed to the struggle to end gun violence. “I think the culture is changing,” Moore says. “People are thinking, ‘It is time to step up.’ ”

As Moore drew on her friends and contacts to join the council, she says, “occasionally there was some trepidation” about getting involved, but “generally they got over it very quickly.”

The response to their efforts to galvanize Americans on the cause of gun-violence prevention is not always friendly. “It has been such a hot-button issue that when people in the entertainment community speak out, there is sometimes huge blowback,” Moore says. “It is scary.” For example, when she tweeted support of a series of anti-gun-violence measures announced in January by President Obama, she received some irate — and vulgar — responses.

Feinblatt traces showbiz’s increased involvement to the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., in which a gunman killed 26 people, including 20 children. Subsequently, 60 celebrities appeared in a PSA with a simple word: “Enough.” The movement, he says, has strength because “people aren’t standing alone. They are standing as a group.”

Gun-rights advocates are countering the message.

After Newtown, NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre gave a press conference in which he cited violence in the media, including video games and Hollywood movies, as contributors to a violent society. “And they all have the nerve to call it entertainment,” he said. Amy Hunter, media liaison for the NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action, echoes the charge: “It is always one side of the issue that gets pushed,” she says. “It is sort of what we expect coming out of Hollywood.”

Some of the most outspoken gun-control advocates in Hollywood acknowledge that the industry needs to put its own house in order. When Harvey Weinstein appeared on Piers Morgan’s CNN show in 2014, he said: “You have to look in the mirror, too. I have to choose films that aren’t violent or aren’t as violent as they used to be.”

A focus on media violence in the wake of Newtown led to Vice President Joseph Biden meeting with representatives from the entertainment and video-game industries. But a 2011 Supreme Court decision that struck down a California law to limit the sale of video games puts in doubt the ability of any future legislation to survive a constitutional challenge.

Even attempts to try to find a definitive answer as to whether there is a link between media violence and actual
violence, such as proposed legislation
to spend $10 million on a National Academy of Sciences study, have stalled. Over the decades, there has been a minefield of research with conflicting conclusions.

Feinblatt calls the media argument advanced by the NRA and other gun rights groups a red herring.

“The whole world watches our movies. They watch our television shows. They play video games,” he says. “Yet the U.S. suffers gun violence that is 20 times the rate of other developed countries. [Hollywood] is not the problem.”

Everytown and the Brady Campaign are trying to keep the focus on background checks for all gun purchases, a concept backed by 90% or more of Americans, according to recent polling.

While Congress hasn’t moved on the issue of mandating universal background checks, groups opposing gun violence see greater possibilities for success at the state level: In November, background-check initiatives are on the ballots in Maine and Nevada.

Moore compares the strategy to the fight for marriage equality, where state-by-state battles led to the landmark Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide.

“Nothing happens federally until things happen in the states,” she points out.

Still, Moore believes Americans should be united in the push for universal background checks and other safety measures. “This is not an issue we are divisive about,” she says. “This is about safety. This is not a Second Amendment issue.”

She compares the situation to the drive to improve automobile safety in the 1970s, which succeeded thanks to a mix of public awareness and legislation. “What happens is things reach a tipping point. It is a public safety issue now, so it is time to do something about it.”

For more for from Variety’s Politics and Hollywood issue, click here.

More Biz

  • iHeartMedia Promotes Angel Aristone to Executive

    iHeartMedia Promotes Angel Aristone to Executive VP of Communications

    Angel Aristone has been promoted to executive vice president of communications for iHeartMedia, the company announced today. According to the announcement, Aristone will continue to position iHeart as a media and entertainment leader through proactive strategic communication efforts on both a local and national level. She will also continue to oversee media relations and external [...]

  • Kevin Tsujihara

    Kevin Tsujihara Out as Warner Bros. Chief Amid Sexual Impropriety Scandal

    Kevin Tsujihara has resigned his post as chairman-CEO of Warner Bros. following an investigation into his relationship with actress Charlotte Kirk and allegations he used his clout to help her find work at the studio. In a statement, Tsujihara said he realized “my continued leadership could be a distraction and an obstacle to the company’s [...]

  • TV Ad Sales Upfronts

    NBCUniversal, Sky Make Joint Ad Offering as TV Upfront Looms

    NBCUniversal and Sky PLC will offer joint packages of advertising services, a new effort to monetize the European satellite broadcaster, which was purchased by parent Comcast Corp. for $39 billion last year. Advertisers will be able to reach customers in sundry international markets as well as the United States, using inventory across NBCU and Sky [...]

  • Robert Iger and Rupert Murdochcredit: Disney

    Wall Street Applauds as Disney Nears Finish Line on Fox Acquisition

    Wall Street is rooting for Disney as the media giant reaches the finish line this week in its 15-month quest to acquire most of Rupert Murdoch’s film and TV empire. Fox shareholders, on the other hand, are being a little more cautious. Disney is poised to close the $71.3 billion deal that took many twists [...]

  • Sony Music Names Amanda Collins Head

    Sony Music Names Amanda Collins Global Head of Corporate Communications

    Amanda Collins has been named executive vice president and global head of corporate communications for Sony Music Entertainment, effective immediately, it was announced today by CEO Rob Stringer. According to the announcement, in this role she will be responsible for the company’s global internal and external communications strategy and its implementation around the world, working [...]

  • Trocadero

    Philadelphia’s Iconic Trocadero Theatre to Close, Owner Confirms (EXCLUSIVE)

    After several days of rumors and a last-minute attempt by local promoters to save it, Philadelphia’s Trocadero Theatre — part of the city’s entertainment skyline since 1870 — is closing at the end of May, owner Joanna Pang confirms to Variety. The last of the city’s mid-sized independent live venues, the 1,200-capacity Chinatown performance palace [...]

  • FilMart: China's Times Vision Steps Into

    FilMart: Arthouse Distributor Times Vision Steps Into Sales (EXCLUSIVE)

    This year’s FilMart marks the international sales debut of Beijing-based distributor Times Vision, which brings to Hong Kong a slate led by crime thriller “Savage” and animated feature “Nezha.” The company will be presenting nine live action films, including one documentary, and seven animated titles. Times Vision is led by CEO Nathan Hao, who co-founded [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content