NEW YORK — A group of leading film makers have sent a letter to President Ronald Reagan urging him, as a former member of the film industry, to support a cultural boycott of South Africa that would include American-made movies.
The letter was signed by directors Woody Allen, Jonathan Demme, Spike Lee, Martin Scorsese and Susan Seidelman, on behalf of more than 100 members of the recently formed Filmmakers United Against Apartheid, according to a spokesman.
The film makers' group was formed last spring by Demme and Scorsese, both of whom were shooting films on location and were unavailable for comment Monday, with the aim of "encouraging all directors, producers and financiers to make motion pictures part of the congressionally recommended boycott of South Africa as long as the current policy of apartheid exists."
The directors plan to press the major film studios to allow them to include in their contracts a clause forbidding their films to be distributed in South Africa.
At the time of forming the film makers' anti-apartheid group last spring, Demme expressed the hope that through solidarity directors collectively might be able to maintain some control over the distribution of films in the racially torn region, as some, including Allen, have been able to do through individually negotiated contracts with the studios. Demme said then that future plans would include formally petitioning the major studios.
"It has become clear that boycott and divestment . . . are the last possible peaceful methods available to achieve the ultimate goal of social change in South Africa, short of the looming and inevitable violent civil war that presently threatens that country," Demme and Scorsese said Monday in a joint statement issued here with a copy of the Reagan letter.
In their statement, the directors said they are appealing to the President now because of a recently announced administration position that economic trade sanctions against South Africa have not been effective. The directors believe that a film boycott would strengthen the trade sanctions.
(Ironically, South African movie theaters have already contributed toward dismantling the country's racially segregated system. Earlier this year, South Africa's dominant film exhibition and distribution company, Ster-Kinekor, opened each of its 185 theaters to all races.)
The letter to the President reads in part: "As a former member of the motion picture industry, we appeal to you to seriously reconsider your existing lenient position regarding the (South African) regime. We urge you to stand behind our goal and pledge your support to the full spirit of (a) boycott."
Among the American directors whose names were attached to the Reagan letter are: Steven Spielberg, Sydney Pollack, Alan J. Pakula, Sidney Poitier, Arthur Penn, Herbert Ross, Warren Beatty, Francis Coppola, Robert Wise, Martin Ritt, John Frankenheimer, Taylor Hackford, Oliver Stone, Billy Wilder, Hal Ashby, Randa Haines and Elia Kazan.