Magazine article Variety

Will Creatives Face Limits to Expression?

Magazine article Variety

Will Creatives Face Limits to Expression?

Article excerpt

When it comes to freedom of creative expession, the stakes for Hollywood have never been higher.

As studios push for greater entree into worldwide markets, movies that seem benign in most countries can trigger an international incident in others. With word spreading evermore-quickly over projects in the pipeline, decision-making across the entertainment industry is impacted, with increased scrutiny of politically sensitive content.

Moreover, as technology enables daring material to get wider attention, opposing voices have gotten louder and, in some cases, more insidious and threatening.

"We live in an age when new ways of experiencing entertainment can literally be turned into weapons to try to restrain an artist's right to create freely," says producer David Linde of Lava Bear Films.

The brutal attacks on satirical French weekly Charlie Hebdo in Paris have raised fears that Hollywood will face greater risk when releasing controversial movies and TV shows into more markets - enough to make studios and networks question whether provocative material is worth the potential fallout.

As much as the show of support from stars at the Golden Globes, following the massive march on the streets of Paris that day, indicates a united front on freedom of speech, the worry is that the threats won't just stifle expression, but also lead to a kind of self-censorship.

TV veteran Norman Lear, whose battles with CBS over "All in the Family" and other shows of the 1970s often pushed the envelope in primetime, reminds that the push-pull between art and commerce is nothing new. "One hand is saying, 'Be as daring as possible,' and the other hand is saying, 'Hold it, hold it,"' he explains. The difference is in levels of threatened violence and actual violence that exist in today's world.

"We are saying 'hold it,' because your life may be at stake," Lear says. "We all want a writer to have the right to express himself and herself freely... but will the people who pay for everything be more skittish? The past indicates they will."

Religion often has been the flash point for projects that were too hot to handle, with networks responding to pressure, and refusing to air a controversial sitcom episode - or an advertiser pulling its name from a polarizing TV drama.

For instance, in 2006, a handful of stations in conservative states refused to show episodes of "The Book of Daniel," an NBC drama about an Episcopal priest with a troubled family life. In 2010, Comedy Central altered an episode of "South Park" after an earlier one that satirized the prophet Mohammed drew a warning from the group Revolution Muslim, which threatened the show's creators, Trey Parker and Matt Stone. …

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