How to Strike Effective Blow At Hollywood Anti-Labor Films
Daily Worker, July 15, 1935
The struggle against those Hollywood films which are directed against the interests of the American working-class has been the central task of the revolutionary film movement from its very inception. This struggle gains in intensity and significance today when the bourgeois film of war and anti-labor propaganda, finds its expression in series of films appearing with accelerated frequency on American screens. (“Black Fury,” “Devil dogs of the Air,” “Oil for the Lamps of China,” “Stranded” and “Flirtation Walk,” etc.)
More and more the labor movement and its mass organizations are recognizing the seriousness of this menace, the conscious utilization by the ruling class of the screen as capitalist propaganda (seventy-five million attend movie showings every week in the United States!) This recognition is most encouraging. It indicates that the struggle against Hollywood is becoming the concern of the organized sections of the working-class as a whole rather than being confined to the Film and Photo League alone, although the latter organization has been carrying the brunt of this struggle single-handed for many years.
The splendid report in the Daily Worker of the fight carried on by the Vanguard Community Center in a Bronx neighborhood theater against “Black Fury” is but one example pointing to the fact that our mass organizations are awaking to the struggle. That this report appeared in our Party life column conducted by the Central Organization Department is indeed significant and will further encourage workers to continue this struggle which must be linked up with the every-day actions of mass organizations against the threat of war (witness the fight of the American League Against War and Facism against “No Greater Glory” recently), against Hearst (responsible for most Warner Bros. film propaganda)and even around immediate issues like the recent meat strike (the newsreels were fully used to defend the meat packers against the consumers).
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Some confusion still exists, however, as to how specifically this struggle is to be conducted. I want to quote, for instance, a few lines from a letter which appeared recently in the Readers’ Letters section of the Daily Worker:
“Movie exhibitors are bound by what is called block-booking contracts, to take whatever is ladled out to them by the film trust. While picketing the local theaters that show films unfair to labor might in time come to the notice of the producers, the process is a slow one and to my notion not the most effective. (My emphasis S. B.) I would recommend that mass organizations write the producers of these films, in the name of their organizations, stating their intentions to boycott such films and the exact reasons for doing so. ...Warned beforehand that such productions as “Black Fury” and “Stranded” will be a great not a total loss, would put the quietus on such productions. The churches have made the movie producers eat out of their hands by forcing them to show clergymen and clerical matters in the most respectful manner only.”
To place the emphasis on sending letters to producers is to dilute the fight against Hollywood into an ineffectual affair. What is the main object of our campaign against any particular reactionary film? To mobilize the masses in the neighborhood against it. To expose the contents of the film in the clearest and most thorough fashion so that even those workers who do go to see it will look upon it in a critical light and understand our position. To build and recruit members into the particular organization carrying on the struggle whether it be the Film and Photo League, the American League Against War and Fascism. or, as was the case around “Black Fury” at the Allerton Theatre and the Vanguard Community Center.
We must explain to the workers in the particular neighborhood that these films are aimed at their interests. Workers have the right to demand that their neighborhood movie, the main cultural dish of the American masses, shall be wiped clean of capitalist war and other propaganda. This struggle in the neighborhoods, moreover, must not be confined to a mere appeal for a boycott but must resolve itself in a variety of actions of which picketing, leaflets and open-air meetings are the most important.
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We are fully aware of the block-booking contracts which “bind the exhibitor.” However, the neighborhood exhibitor who exists by virtue of the fact that thousands of workers consent to hand over their hard-earned pennies to his box-office for two hours of relaxation must himself be forced into a struggle against the producers, the great film trusts. In many instances, exhibitors have sided with patrons against the distributors and in one case a Soviet film was substituted for a reactionary Hollywood movie!
Does all this mean that one should not send letters, or petitions to producers? Not at all. But that is not the main nerve of the struggle. The main task is to carry on the fight through and with the masses rather than over their heads. In cases of films yet unreleased like the late unlamented “Call To Arms” the methods to be pursued differ, of course, but even in those cases the campaign cannot be confined to letters to producers.
The picketing of production lots and offices is by no means excluded. “Call to Arms,” however remains a lonely exemption among the hundreds of Hollywood films of an anti-labor character that have slipped and will continue to slip onto American screens unheralded.