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In the land of diverse opinion ... Hollywood?

Despite outspoken celebrities, insiders say views of the war aren't nearly as unified as outsiders think.

March 22, 2003|Rachel Abramowitz | Times Staff Writer

Although the latest fashion accessory might be a dove-shaped peace pin or a swath of duct tape pinned to a spaghetti strap, it's by no means a foregone conclusion that all of Hollywood has rallied against the U.S. attack on Iraq.

Producers, directors, writers and executives report heated disputes on sets, a sudden uptick in the use of the term "blacklist," an industrywide sense of confusion and a huge number of people changing their minds daily.

"There's a difference between Sept. 11 and this. Sept. 11 happened on U.S. soil and it unified everyone. It's not the same here," says DreamWorks head of marketing Terry Press. "I don't think that within Hollywood there's a unification about it."

As with many things in Hollywood, perspectives can shift according to one's place in the pecking order. "There are not many conservative voices in Hollywood, certainly among the stars," says conservative writer-actor Ben Stein, "but if you're backstage, you hear a lot of sound people, makeup people and grips who are mostly supportive of President Bush. Even if they're making $100,000 a week, actors like to think of themselves as rebels."

Although some actors and musicians, notably Sean Penn, Martin Sheen and Natalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks, have garnered attention -- and some talk radio ridicule -- for voicing their antiwar views, many others in town are busy maintaining low profiles.

One antiwar manager says she tried to hold a meeting at her home for agents and managers to discuss how to help their clients enunciate their views, but had to cancel when almost everyone invited declined to come. "My analysis is that people are busy and into the day-to-day of their own lives," the manager says. "The artist community is more active than the business community. I think they have more time in their days."

The Academy Awards were still scheduled, as of press time, to take place Sunday, minus the red-carpet celebrity interviews that might have provided a political platform of sorts. Any sentiments about the war will have to come from the stage.

"I'm very curious to hear what the reaction will be in the audience when the first presenter or winner makes a war comment. I have no idea if an antiwar statement will be cheered or booed," says director Jon Turteltaub.

"In my experience, people have been talking about it for weeks, both pro and con and moving back and forth."

One former Oscar winner, a '60s activist who declined to be named, muses about the options before suggesting what appears to be a popular stance: "I don't feel I have enough knowledge to even enunciate an opinion. People I know who are radical say this is the right war waged by the wrong people."

Producer Zvi Howard Rosenman, who actively supports the war, says, "There are a lot of people that I call 'the confused': many, many people who were on the left in Vietnam, who are Jewish and smart and see the efficacy of all this.

"The people who are serene are the people like me or those on the very left," he says. "The people in the middle are confused."

A large number of the industry's executives and talent are Jewish, and how they feel about Israel might affect how they feel about the war, although few will address the topic publicly.

"There are a lot of Jews in this town, and they're very conflicted," says one former studio chief who spoke on condition on anonymity. "Jews are a natural left-wing constituency that's antiwar, but they're very muted at his point, with almost a resigned feeling."

Others suggest there is some sense of embarrassment about being pro-war in a very liberal town. "I don't know a lot of conservatives, but there are a lot of people who are very supportive of what we're doing, people who normally wouldn't be, but they're not very public about that opinion," says producer Mark Johnson.

The emotionally loaded term "blacklist" has been bandied about in the last few weeks. A recent Screen Actors Guild statement preemptively decried the practice, and Penn claimed that producer Steve Bing dropped him from a film because of his antiwar views. Perhaps fueling the concerns, some talk radio hosts and conservative Web sites have lashed out at Sheen, an antiwar activist. And after Dixie Chicks lead singer Maines told a London concert audience that she was "ashamed the president of the United States is from Texas," one of the nation's largest radio chains, Cumulus Media Inc., dropped the group from its country outlets, even though Maines had apologized.

Still, inside the tight-knit Hollywood community, it's hard to find many who believe that antiwar actors are going to be penalized by the industry for their views. If there's one issue that people in Hollywood tend to agree upon, it's free speech. Many regard the furor as simply being generated by conservative forces outside Hollywood or by self-important actors.

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