In 1947, The Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals, which included such members as Walt Disney, Clark Gable, Gary Cooper and Ronald Reagan, hired Ayn Rand to create a guide for moviemakers to use in identifying the attempts of collectivists to infiltrate their films and smuggle in the ideas of communism to the American people.
“The influence of Communists in Hollywood is due, not to their own power, but to the unthinking carelessness of those who profess to oppose them. Red propaganda has been put over in some films produced by innocent men, often by loyal Americans who deplore the spread of Communism throughout the world and wonder why it is spreading.”
In a little known paper that would be called the “Screen Guide for Americans,” Rand argued that it was the responsibility of the film industry to oppose completely the introduction of Communist ideas into American films.
“It is the avowed purpose of the Communists to insert propaganda into movies. Therefore, there are only two possible courses of action open to you, if you want to keep your pictures clean of subversive propaganda:
1. If you have no time or inclination to study political ideas — then do not hire Reds to work on your pictures.
2. If you wish to employ Reds, but intend to keep their ideas out of your movies — then study political ideas and learn how to recognize the propaganda when you see it.
But to hire Communists on the theory that “the won’t put over any politics on me”…is an attitude for which there can be no excuse.”
Rand lays out 13 guidelines “for all those who do not wish to help the advance of Communism” in film, but I think they can be applied to all spheres of artistic action:
- Do not take politics lightly.
- Don’t smear the free enterprise system.
- Don’t smear industrialists.
- Don’t smear wealth.
- Dont’ smear the profit motive.
- Don’t smear success.
- Don’t glorify failure.
- Don’t glorify depravity.
- Don’t deify “the common man.”
- Don’t glorify the collective.
- Don’t smear an independent man.
- Don’t use current events carelessly.
- Don’t smear American political institutions.
While the guide is one of Rand’s lesser known works, it stands out as both a fascinating piece of Objectivist intellectual development and history of American cinema. It is also remarkable to consider what might have happened if her guide had been taken seriously by the leaders of the industry.
Rand ends her paper with a call to action and a reminder to her audience that free speech does mean freedom of association:
“Let the Communists preach what they wish (as long as it remains mere talking) at the expense of those and in the employ of those who share their ideas. Let them create their own motion picture studios, if they can. But let us put an end to their use of our pictures, out studies, and our money for the purpose of preaching our expropriation, enslavement, and destruction. Freedom of speech does not imply that it is our duty to provide a knife for the murderer who wants to cut our throat.”
Since the paper has all but disappeared to a few obscure website, I’ve attached the entirety of the Screen Guide for Americans here so that you can read it for yourself.