Samuel Corum/Getty Images; Mark Félix/AFP via Getty Images
In recent years, backlash on social media has become commonplace as cultural figures and organizations use digital platforms to express their views in response to world events.
But some have also faced real-world consequences – fallout that extends far beyond the realm of social media – for making public statements about the current conflict between Israel and Hamas.
The concrete consequences of taking sides
In the world of talent management, Maha Dakhil of the prestigious Creative Artists Agency, which represents Tom Cruise, Natalie Portman and Madonna among others, resigned from the agency’s internal board of directors last Sunday after publishing a series of Anti-Israeli comments on social media. Dakhil also resigned from co-headship of CAA’s film department.
Then, on Tuesday, Dakhil’s outspoken stance on the war brought in one of the agency’s main clients, west wing And Social network creator Aaron Sorkin, to abandon CAA and return to his former agency William Morris Endeavor. “Maha is not an anti-Semite,” Sorkin said in a statement to NPR. “She’s just wrong.”
Dakhil is not the only powerful Hollywood agent to face consequences for his statements on the conflict. On Thursday, Kitty Laing, head of comedy at United Agents, resigned from her role on the agency’s executive committee over her anti-Israel social media posts. (However, Laing will continue to work with its client list.)
And the real-world consequences of talking about war aren’t just happening in Hollywood. Fractures appear in the cultural landscape.
At least two employees of 92NY (92nd Street Y) have resigned after the popular New York cultural center failed to follow through on a planned appearance by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Viet Thanh Nguyen and suspended the remainder of its poetry reading season. Nguyen was among more than 700 writers who signed an open letter published in the London Review of Books calling for a ceasefire in Gaza. “I have no regrets for anything I said or did regarding Palestine, Israel, or the occupation and war,” the author posted on Instagram.
And on Thursday, ArtForum editor-in-chief David Velasco was ousted by its parent company, Penske Media Corporation, days after the international visual art magazine published an open letter calling for an end to violence against civilians in the conflict. and humanitarian aid to Gaza. The initial letter did not condemn Hamas’ attack on Israel. It was later revised.
The dangers of remaining silent
At the same time, by choosing not speaking out carries similar pitfalls, as the Writers Guild of America (WGA) recently discovered.
The union, which represents Hollywood screenwriters, released a response Tuesday to a letter sent by more than 300 of its members, including Jerry Seinfeld, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel designer Amy Sherman-Palladino and CountryGideon Raff, asking why the WGA failed to issue a statement condemning Hamas’ attack on Israel.
The WGA’s final statement to its members, published in full by Variety, called Hamas’s October 7 attack on Israel an “abomination” and explained why it had not initially issued a public statement on the conflict. The union denied having “hidden hateful views” and being “paralyzed by factionalism,” and said it was “humiliated by the scale of this conflict.”
But the WGA’s explanation hasn’t stopped some writers from questioning their union membership or, in the case of at least one writer, abandoning it. Dan Gordon, who co-wrote Wyatt Earp with Kevin Costner and The hurricane with Denzel Washington, resigned his membership in the WGA on Tuesday, calling the union’s lack of a statement “appalling.”
To express yourself or not to express yourself?
All of this comes at a time when much of the public expects, and even favors, cultural figures who speak out on world events.
Nearly half of the more than 2,000 people who responded to a Hollywood Reporter poll last week said it was “very appropriate” or “somewhat appropriate” for a celebrity to speak out on the Israel-Hamas conflict . Less than a third said they did not think it was appropriate, while a quarter had no opinion on the matter.
“There is a growing feeling that as a publicly visible figure, you also bear a social and political responsibility that comes with the attention capital you possess and that can be converted into political influence and discursive power” , said Sandra Mayer, historian of literature and culture. based at the Austrian Academy of Sciences and co-editor of the recently published anthology Fatherhood, activism and celebrity.
“With the rise of social media over the past 15 to 20 years, the apparent leveling of public discourse, and the proliferation of opportunities for interaction between prominent public figures and ordinary citizens, there is increased pressure for these individuals express themselves and take advantage of the privileges and opportunities that their status offers them.
Mayer said that due to the “controversial and extremely emotional” nature of this particular conflict, it is not surprising that the two are speaking out And remaining silent has put cultural figures and groups in difficulty.
But she said celebrities would likely continue to use their platforms to share their opinions on this war — and other issues — regardless of the consequences.
“It’s probably too early to say how and to what extent this will affect the future of celebrity speaking out,” Mayer said. “But I don’t think we can expect celebrities to be less vocal in the future.”