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The New Hollywood McCarthyism Emerging Around Palestine

Over the past week, a new Hollywood McCarthyism has emerged: multiple people in Hollywood have lost jobs and representation over their support of Palestine. We must denounce and fight these attacks which weaken the movement and scare supporters into silence.

Sybil Davis

December 3, 2023
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Following the outbreak of Israel’s latest war on Gaza, Melissa Barrera, an up-and-coming young actor who made a name for herself as the star of the Scream franchise, became vocal on social media, denouncing the war on Gaza and resharing posts which accused Israel of perpetuating ethnic cleansing and genocide. In response to these posts, Spyglass Media, the production company of Scream, fired Barrera from the upcoming film and accused her of antisemitism despite Barrera explicitly posting, in one of her Instagram posts denouncing Israel, “We don’t need more hate. No Islamophobia. No antisemitism.” 

In their statement on Barrera’s firing, Spyglass wrote: “We have zero tolerance for antisemitism or the incitement of hate in any form, including false references to genocide, ethnic cleansing, Holocaust distortion, or anything that flagrantly crosses the line into hate speech.” This statement makes it very clear that their objection to Barrera’s comments were because she called the Israeli offensive what it is:  ethnic cleansing and genocide against the Palestinian people. 

Calling Israel’s assault on Gaza ethnic cleansing and genocide isn’t a fringe claim but rather an accurate description of the situation that has been adopted by everyone from genocide scholars to UN officials. Under the logic put forward by Spyglass, anyone who denounces the genocide in Gaza is antisemitic and may stand to lose their job. This is the beginning of the new McCarthyism that we’ve seen used to target other pro-Palestine activists — especially in universities — which uses the smear of antisemitism to cover up what the attack actually is: an attempt to stop opposition to the genocide in Gaza. 

Barrera’s firing comes in the midst of other attacks on pro-Palestine Hollywood figures. Susan Sarandon, an outspoken supporter of Palestine, was dropped by her agents for her comments at a pro-Palestine rally — a rally where she clearly declared herself to be opposed to antisemitism. One of the top agents at the talent agency CAA was demoted for her social media posts opposing the Israel offensive, including one saying “What’s more heartbreaking than witnessing genocide? Witnessing the denial that genocide is happening.” CAA also fired Jouman (Jasmine) Barakat, an assistant at the agency, for her posts calling Israel “a fascist regime” and calling Zionists white supremacists. CAA also dropped two clients, Saira Rao and Regina Jackson for their anti-Israel social media posts. After being dropped by CAA, Rao said that Hollywood is “punishing people of color for speaking out… It’s disgusting. The genocide is indisputable. You can watch it on live TV. CAA will be on the wrong side of history.” 

In the midst of these attacks, the Hollywood unions have been silent. This mirrors the larger silence we have seen from Screen Actors Guild (SAG) and the Writers Guild of America (WGA) on the larger situation in Gaza. WGA has made no statement, and SAG’s only statement was in support of Israel. In a year where we saw the power of organized labor in Hollywood, this silence speaks volumes. As their rank-and-file members are attacked as part of this new Hollywood McCarthyism, the leaderships of these powerful unions sit on their hands — even as Hollywood workers organize themselves to put out statements calling for a ceasefire and as other major unions such as the UAW join calls for a ceasefire. This is unsurprising considering that the SAG leadership includes proud Zionists like Fran Drescher and Michael Rappaport. To combat this compromised leadership, Hollywood workers need to organize themselves as the rank and file of these unions to demand that unions defend members who are being attacked and join the larger trend of labor supporting the movement for Palestine.  

These attacks are likely just the beginning of a more intensive backlash against vocal supporters of Palestine in Hollywood. It is particularly dangerous for young actors like Barrera whose careers can be destroyed just as they are beginning by these targeted attacks. This smear campaign is intended to scare Hollywood workers into silence by making it clear that denouncing the genocide in Gaza will hurt their careers. It is reminiscent of the campaign against leftists in Hollywood that culminated in the infamous blacklists of Hollywood workers during the McCarthy era which left many unable to work, destroying once promising careers. Many on social media are already warning about the danger of new blacklists of people speaking out in favor of Palestine 

To protect the movement for Palestine, we must fight these attacks back at every turn. The firing of Barrera and the attacks on Sarandon and at CAA are the shots across the bow which must act as a warning for everyone. These are attacks on the basic right to free speech and must not be allowed to pass. Hollywood workers must call on their unions to denounce these attacks and the movement must stand in unflinching support of those who are experiencing attacks for their pro-Palestine positions — be they in Hollywood, universities, health care, or elsewhere. If they touch one of us, they touch us all. The attack on Barrera makes it easier for the bosses of Hollywood to attack other Hollywood workers, especially those without the platform and recognition that Barrerra has.

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Sybil Davis

Sybil is a trans activist, artist, and education worker in New York City.

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