Director Politics: Hard To Peg

Article by Paul James

Its inability to attract big-name celebrity star power is one of the few areas where the Republican Party has consistently lagged behind the Democrats.

Where the left gets to claim support from Oprah Winfrey, Ben Stiller, Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, George Clooney, and Brad Pitt—basically anyone spoofed in Team America: World Police as a liberal member of the “Film Actors Guild”—the right has to make do with straight-to-streaming stars like Kevin Sorbo and Antonio Sabato Jr., past-their-prime conservative converts like James Woods and Jon Voight, and off-their-meds outliers like Roseanne and Kanye West.

Directors, however, especially the ones who’ve been navigating the Hollywood system for decades, often have a funny way of defying easy categorization. All kinds of big-time filmmakers who have probably never voted for a GOP candidate in their life have—sometimes accidentally—made movies with messages that Republicans adore. (Ron Howard, for instance, may be a self-proclaimed Democrat, but he’s also the guy who adapted not one but three Dan Brown novels for the big screen.)

Here are four other prime examples of directors who have managed to straddle both sides of the culture wars.

Clint Eastwood, Oliver Stone, Steven Spielbergn

CLINT EASTWOOD

Eastwood is undeniably one of the right’s biggest pop-culture icons. “Go ahead…make my day”—a garbled version of a line Eastwood spoke in 1983’s Sudden Impact—has been adopted by supporters of “stand your ground” statutes, and even President Reagan quoted it as a way of underlining his plans to veto any and all Congressional attempts to increase taxes. The 88-year-old director denounced Barack Obama from the stage at the 2012 Republic National Convention and favored John McCain during his 2008 presidential bid.

But Eastwood’s on-screen politics are harder to pin down. Critic Pauline Kael famously denounced the Dirty Harry series as fascist. On the other hand, his biographer Richard Schickel claims the film Eastwood felt the greatest personal attachment to was his 1980 flop Bronco Billy, in which he plays the manager of a traveling circus troupe that serves as a shelter for ex-convicts, hippies, army deserters, and other conservative undesirables. He’s made movies that prop up the myth of the Old West gunslinger (The Good, The Bad and the Ugly), but many others, like Unforgiven, ruthlessly tear that myth down.

He’ll make Flags of Our Fathers, which honors the patriotic men of the U.S. Marine Corps, then just three months later, he’ll turn around and release Letters From Iwo Jima, which compassionately presents the perspective of the Japanese enemy on the same events.

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