Dalton Trumbo sacrificed everything to draw attention to our free speech rights — that’s what made “Trumbo,” the film about the blacklisted screenwriter of the 1940s starring Bryan Cranston, Diane Lane and Helen Mirren – worth making for director-producer Jay Roach.
Speaking at the Toronto International Film Festival, Roach discussed the First Amendment and the film’s depiction of how an external threat like Communism can lead to internal threats to America’s freedom of expression, in an interview with Wrap editor-in-chief Sharon Waxman.
“As soon as you have a threat of totalitarian Communism — or today, terrorism or immigrants that you believe are somehow the source of all evil — you can turn that into some kind of campaign that whips up more fear,” Roach said.
The anti-Communist crusaders of the late 1940s went to extreme lengths to discredit Trumbo and nine other Hollywood figures who were blacklisted from official work for more than a decade as a result of their association with Communism.
“The untruth and the distortion came to be: These screenwriters in mainstream Hollywood writing films like ‘Roman Holiday’ are being puppeteered by Moscow to hypnotize Americans who are not aware that these films are convincing them to get behind ‘The Communist Manifesto,’” he said.
As this mentality persisted, Roach added, our right to privacy was diminished.
“The first thing that gets thrown out when it succeeds — and it often does — is the constitutional protections get tossed out; the right to privacy, the right to spy on you, the right to squash people’s speech,” the director said. “That’s so on edge of happening moment to moment, so to tell a story about a guy that would sacrifice everything to draw attention to that, that’s what made it worth making to me.”
He also observed that screenwriters face similar if not equivalent challenges today, starting with “Trumbo” screenwriter John McNamara.
“He will never get enough credit because in our town, screenwriters are treated as workers for hire … Nine out of 10 of the Hollywood 10 were screenwriters,” he said. “Who do you throw under the bus? The screenwriters. It’s a horrible injustice. He’s the guy that deserves the lion’s share of credit for this film.”