Hollywood missed an opportunity to support free speech when the world was piling on Kathy Griffin last week.
That was the feeling among several major showrunners and TV producers on stage Friday morning at an ATX Television Festival panel. Griffin was widely criticized by both the right and the left, including many in Hollywood, for a photo shoot in which she held a bloodied pumpkin head made to look like Donald Trump.
“What Kathy Griffin did, whether you like it or not, is a piece of political art,” said Javier Grillo-Marxuach (“The Middleman,” Netflix’s upcoming “The Dark Crystal”). “For politically conscious art it was fairly mercenary and kind of banal but she did it, and we have to defend her right to do that. Or we will not be able to do much more milk-toast crap that is much less defensive than what she did.”
Grillo-Marxuach noted how rocker Ted Nugent “spent 8 years openly advocating open armed rebellion against a black president and now he’s sitting behid the desk in the oval office. I wouldn’t want to repress Ted Nugent’s right to say whatever he wants even if that’s ‘wango tango’!”
He added that it goes both ways: “She has a right to put it out there, she also has to take the lumps but she has the right to put it out there and we have to defend that right,” he said. “That a lot of people didn’t is supremely disappointing.”
“The Vampire Diaries” and “The Originals” executive producer Julie Plec said that she believed Griffin “stepped into something that gave ammunition to the other side… they got to have a field day with it and say [liberals are] hypocrites and horrible people. When you’re at war, wherever your ammunition comes from, if it hits at the right moment, whoever provided it is dead meat for a minute.”
Beau Willimon (“House of Cards” and Hulu’s upcoming Mars drama “The First”) decried a double standard, as pundits, talk show hosts and comedians are now consistently losing their jobs for speaking their minds. For example, just minutes after the panel was over, CNN announced its decision to cancel “Believer” and fire its executive producer/host Reza Aslan over comments he made on Twitter.
“Yet the President of the United States has not lost his job for committing numerous crimes, and admitting to having sexually assaulted women,” Willimon said. “The double standard is that the person who bears the most responsibility, the leader of the free world, should be held to the highest standard and that seems to be the only person not losing his job!”
The ATX TV Festival runs June 8 – 11 in Austin, Texas. IndieWire will be on the ground throughout, so check back for more coverage this weekend.