Director Jay Roach goes inside a dark patch of Hollywood history with “Trumbo,” chronicling the persecution of Dalton Trumbo (Bryan Cranston) and the rest of the Hollywood 10 that kicked off the blacklist amid anti-Communist hysteria stoked by the House Un-American Activities Committee. But that was way back then, right? We’ve come a long way from that kind of fear-mongering and reactionary politics.
Not quite. In making the film, Roach has been forced to examine how much hasn’t actually changed, despite the end of the Cold War. “Isn’t it kind of like things that go on now?” Roach ponders. “Certainly there are valid, real concerns. Real threats exist. No question that totalitarian communism was a true threat back then, and terrorism now is a true threat. But once there is a threat, there’s almost no chance it won’t be exploited to raise a kind of hysteria that leads to smearing people with labeling and tying them to that threat. People who aren’t threatening get thrown in and rounded up and kind of suppressed using the threat as the excuse. That’s a pattern, that happens all the time.”
Even when specifically discussing anti-communist sentiments, Roach finds strains of McCarthyism still alive and well more than half a century later. “I hope [the events of the film] will stand for the tendency, for example, to label anything that’s pro-worker as being communist,” he says. “If you’re interested in giving workers more safety on the job, health benefits and not working 80-hour or 100-hour weeks, you must be a communist.
“Obama has been smeared as a socialist just as a box in a flow chart of how do you smear somebody. During the Civil Rights Movement, J. Edgar Hoover justified putting bugs in hotel rooms wherever Martin Luther King went because Hoover succeeded with branding the whole civil rights movement as a communist plot. Could you imagine that selling now?”
Actually, Roach can, and that’s the root of the problem, really. “Other ones are selling now. ‘Immigrants are destroying America,’ Donald Trump — just those memes are old hat, they’re old chestnuts now, and I’m always amazed and surprised by it,” he says. “Even looking back, I’m astonished in myself that I went, ‘How could that have possibly happened in America, that these writers could be thrown under that bus?’ And I go, oh right, there’s another bus to throw people under right now.”
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