Last article in our 6 week series on Hollywood Politics Inside & Out
The arts and politics have had a relationship spanning many, many centuries so it was a natural progress for politics to merge into motion pictures when it was invented. As we have looked at before, we know documentaries and propaganda films are the most obvious examples. However there is usually some political issue in most films, both mainstream and independent, whether it was intentional or not. That’s a lot of movies to choose from! Here are four, spanning over the 100+ year old industry, which will help us get a glimpse of its history.
In the 1930’s, the political themes that run through movies were the Great Depression and the effect it had on people. Many films featured travel to find work and the subsequent crime as people struggled with the on-going economic crisis. One film which had an impact in this time period is I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang (1932). Based on a true autobiography by Robert Elliott Burns, the story follows an ex-military sergeant James Allen, played by Paul Muni, who quits his office clerk job to become an engineer but soon finds out that there is hardly any work available. He accidently gets caught up in a robbery and is sentenced to a Southern chain gang. The story follows Paul’s escape and life on the run. The film made consumers aware and question how crime and punishment should work. At the time the film was released, Robert Elliot Burns was still in prison. He (and other prisoners on chain gangs) was able to appeal his sentence and was released due to the public’s reaction. Chain gangs stopped being used in 1955 and I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang helped pave the way. 
The 1940’s propaganda films gave way to fear of communism and corruption. All though the next film features corruption, the film makers were caught up in the post war paranoia. On The Waterfront (1954) stars Marlon Brando as Terry Malloy, an ex-fighter and now dock worker who is used by his corrupt union boss to help with an ambush on another dock worker. After the doc worker’s murder Terry feels guilty and has to decide whether to testify to the police and Waterfront Crime Commission or to keep quiet and save his life. At the same time this film was released the basic plot, crime and corruption in New York’s dock yards, was a major problem. The International Longshoremen’s Associational was suspended due a few members who had proven to be criminals. The director of the movie, Elia Kazan was caught up in his own battles just before filming. The Cold War had begun and fears of communist spies and another possible war were wide spread. Elia had been a member of the Communist Party (1934-1936) before resigning in protest was called to testify to the House Committee on Un-American Activities. At first he refused to name names but changed his mind which caused him to lose friends. Similarly, the script writer Budd Schulberg also had to testify to the House Committee on Un-American Activities, all of which made it hard to find a producer. Despite all this the film was a success and Elia Kazan introduced many new actors to audiences and influenced a new generation of directors. 
In 1992, Malcolm X directed by Spike Lee and starring Denzel Washington was released. Just like the man 27 years before race issues still played a part in the production of this film. Originally the film studio had wanted Norman Jewison, who had earned an Oscar nomination for his civil rights film In the Heat of the Night, but after a public outcry, Jewison bowed out and the studio decided on Spike Lee. Even after this there were still protests over how Spike and Denzel would portray Malcolm. There was even an up roar over Spike Lee asking for black journalists to interview him. It was assumed that Lee wanted only black interviewers however the reality was that he preferred them because they were obviously more understanding and that of course any interviewer of any colour was welcome. Misunderstanding aside, this requests opened some media outlet’s eyes. They found that they lacked diversity and added black journalists to their staff. The film was a hit with both critics and consumers. The film reminded and inspired many minorities to keep striving and pushing forward for equality. 16 Years later the U.S.A. elected their first black President Barak Obama and just today he won his second term! So although race issues still exist, things are getting better! 
2008 Saw the release of Milk, a biographical film based on the life of gay rights activist and openly gay politician Harvey Milk. The film follows Harvey (played by Sean Penn) from 1970 when he decided to move to California with his partner Scott Smith (played by James Franco) which subsequently inspired him to move into politics to his murder in 1978. Although the film studio tried to keep it separated from the on-going campaigns against or for California’s Proposition 8, which would ban gay marriages, the film premiered two weeks before the vote. Despite the film receiving high scores with critics and consumers Proposition 8 still passed.