Bryan Cranston: The Black List Shouldn’t Be Something Screenwriters Want to Get On

Actor tells TheWrap he wants to change name of the annual screenplay list, whose creator says name was chosen to pay tribute to Dalton Trumbo and others

“Trumbo” star Bryan Cranston has a new goal in the wake of his and director Jay Roach‘s film about blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo: To change the name of the Black List, the annual list of the most-liked unproduced screenplays in Hollywood, before people forget about the shameful Hollywood Blacklist of the 1940s and ’50s.

And while the creator of the Black List, Franklin Leonard, defended and explained his choice of the name, he told TheWrap that “nothing would make me happier” than working with Cranston to pay tribute to Trumbo and the other victims of the Hollywood Blacklist.

Leonard’s Black List has been issued annually since 2004, but to Cranston the popular screenplay list threatens to overshadow the earlier blacklist. In that era, which is depicted in “Trumbo,” Dalton Trumbo and other writers were barred from working in Hollywood because of their political views, or because they refused to cooperate with the House Un-American Activities Committee.

“The problem is that if you say ‘the blacklist’ to people in Hollywood now, they think of it as a positive thing,” Cranston told TheWrap at a private party in the Hollywood Hills on Monday night.

“It’s that list that you want to be on, because it might help you sell your script. But if people think of the blacklist as a good thing, they forget the real meaning of the word, and they forget about what happened and how it destroyed people’s lives.”

Cranston had mentioned the subject in passing during his speech at the Palm Springs International Film Festival on Saturday night, saying, “The blacklist is not a show on NBC. Also, the blacklist is not that list that screenwriters want to get on, and I’d like to see a change in that name.”

On Monday, he reiterated to TheWrap that he was serious about that comment. “I don’t know what it will take to change the name,” he said, “but I want to try.”

The Black List was established in 2004 by development executive Leonard, who emailed close to 100 other execs and asked them to name the best unproduced scripts they’d seen in the last year.

Since then, the list has grown in visibility, with a number of Black List screenplays going on to be produced, including “Juno,” “Little Miss Sunshine,” “Blood Diamond,” “The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby,” “Frost/Nixon,” “The Spectacular Now,” “Spotlight” and the Oscar-winning “The Imitation Game.”

When asked by TheWrap for a response to Cranston’s comments, Leonard wrote the following in an email:

The Black List name was chosen, long before it was anything that anyone in Hollywood would have cared about, in large part to give tribute to the writers whose lives were destroyed by the Hollywood Blacklist. The other inspiration for the name came from a conscious desire to invert the assumption that ‘black’ somehow connotes ‘bad.’

I am a great admirer of those whose lives and careers were destroyed by Hollywood blacklist — their creative work and their political stand — something that I speak at length about in my Black List Table Reads interview with ‘Trumbo’ screenwriter John McNamara, which was specifically timed to the anniversary of the contempt of Congress charges (which also happens to be my birthday).

Nothing would make me happier than to work with Bryan on ways we can make absolutely certain that no one forgets the Hollywood Blacklist, what happened, and how it destroyed people’s lives.

And if I can be a bit of a fan for a second, ‘Trumbo’ and Bryan’s performance in it are an extraordinary accomplishment to that end. I couldn’t be a bigger fan of his or of the film.