Let’s tread very lightly here. In a nutshell: Over the past several days, a group calling itself Guardians of Peace has released scores of files and documents attained via a massive hack of Sony Pictures, reportedly executed in protest of the company’s upcoming release of The Interview, a goofy comedy wherein Seth Rogen and James Franco are sent to assassinate Kim Jong-un. The initial leaks were harmless enough — high-quality downloads of Sony movies — but they quickly escalated to include salary spreadsheets, film budgets, unreleased scripts, medical records, passwords, contact information, and, most damningly, private email correspondences between Sony higher-ups. The whole thing is pretty awful.
And the coverage of it has been, for the most part, pretty awful too. As gossip blogs have combed through the leaks and gleefully written up point-and-laugh posts like “The Saddest Email: Paul Reiser Wants More Mad About You on DVD” and “Studio Exec Calls Kevin Hart a Greedy ‘Whore’,” there is an argument to be made, and a valid one, that such sifting, aggregating, and reporting is a gross (and criminal) violation of privacy. Yet at the same time, it must be said that these emails offer an informative peek at how the Hollywood sausage is made—especially when it comes to something as telling as the Sony head Amy Pascal and super-producer Scott Rudin’s ugly emails about President Obama.
The exchange last November was prompted by Pascal’s attendance at a breakfast with the President, hosted by Dreamworks Animation’s Jeffrey Katzenberg. “What should I ask the president at this stupid Jeffrey breakfast?” she asked Rudin (producer of No Country for Old Men, Moonrise Kingdom, There Will Be Blood, and many other really good movies), prompting this back and forth:
RUDIN: Would he like to finance some movies.
PASCAL: I doubt it. Should I ask him if he liked DJANGO?
RUDIN: 12 YEARS [A Slave].
PASCAL: Or the butler. Or think like a man?
RUDIN: Ride-along. I bet he likes Kevin Hart.
You see, he’d like those movies cuz he’s black, haw haw!
Now, here’s the really gross part about this wacky back-and-forth: as Buzzfeed reports, “Pascal is a major Democratic donor; she gave $5,000 to Obama’s re-election campaign and cut a $30,800 check to the Democratic National Committee, according to OpenSecrets.” According to FEC filings, Rudin made donations of $2,000 to both Obama for America and the Obama Victory Fund in 2012. In other words, as they’d presumably tell you, these Hollywood muckety-mucks couldn’t be racist — they voted for Obama! They even contributed to his campaigns!
But of course they could be racist. Not in the “you can’t sit at this lunch counter” way of yesterday, or even the “Mike Brown was a thug” way of today, but in the quiet assumptions of their personal prejudices — prejudices that, in this case, wield far more power than yours or mine. Sure, they’re joking around, but when two people with this much influence over the images of people of color in media think that even the most powerful black man in the world is only interested in these specific color-coded movies, well, sorry, that says something.
In his recent, searing Hollywood Reporter op-ed on racism in Hollywood, Chris Rock notes that a deleted scene from his new film Top Five included the following line from his character’s agent: “I’m the only black agent here. They never invite me to anything, and these people are liberals. This isn’t the Klan.” The actor who said that line? The aforementioned Kevin Hart. And the producer of that film? I couldn’t make this shit up: Scott Rudin.
“It’s a white industry,” Rock writes. “It’s the most liberal town in the world, and there’s a part of it that’s kind of racist.” And that, in a nutshell, is what we’re looking at here: two Obama donors and proud liberals, sharing a giggle over the idea that their black President must only like slave narratives and Kevin Hart comedies — which, incidentally, seem to be about the only black films they’ll bother to make. Rudin has called the Sony leak “a criminal act, and the people behind it should be treated as nothing more nor less than criminals.” He’s right — and sifting through them to screenshot, say, emails of Joel McHale asking for a cheap TV is an insult to pretty much everyone involved (from victims to bloggers to readers). But when a nugget like this lays bare so much of what’s wrong with the people running Hollywood, it’s worth noting, and contemplating.