Elections magnify film politics amidst a closely contested presidential race

By Scott Collins, Ben Fritz and Rebecca Keegan

Los Angeles Times (MCT)

Published: Saturday, Nov. 3 2012 3:00 p.m. MDT

LOS ANGELES — Steven Spielberg knows the dust that can be kicked up when Hollywood takes up political themes in the weeks before a closely contested presidential election.

So the veteran director didn't take any chances with his new "Lincoln" movie, pushing back the release until the weekend after the Tuesday election.

"The movie coming out after the election gives the film at least a chance to stand on its own," Spielberg said in an interview. The filmmaker said he wanted the historical drama to be viewed in the context of its own time, not the present.

With Democratic incumbent Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney locked in a close race, partisans on both sides are looking for hidden propaganda from the entertainment industry, which enjoys a cultural prominence like few others.

Some political moves are overt. Clint Eastwood, who squared off against an empty chair at the Republican National Convention, made a commercial on behalf of GOP candidate Romney last week. Barbra Streisand, an icon of the Hollywood liberal elite, recently put out an "emergency" fundraising appeal for Obama.

In other cases, claims of Hollywood politicking are open to debate.

Some Obama foes are voicing suspicions over the content and broadcast date of "SEAL Team Six," a new film backed by liberal mogul Harvey Weinstein that chronicles the Navy strike team that pursued and killed Osama bin Laden.

The film is slated to air on National Geographic Channel tonight at 9 and be available Monday on Netflix, which is just one day before the election.

In an article last week, The New York Times reported that "some of the Obama moments (in the film) were added at the suggestion of Mr. Weinstein" — triggering criticism that Weinstein was essentially giving Obama a free ad.

"The fact that they are releasing it two days before the election and editing the film to add the president — of course it's political," said Gerald Molen, an executive producer of the anti-Obama documentary "2016: Obama's America."

Weinstein disputes any such intent, saying Obama was included because of the crucial role he played in green-lighting the raid.

"If people think the president is a hero in the movie, that's because he is. If they think he isn't, that's their interpretation," Weinstein said in an interview. "Joe Biden was against (the raid) and that's in the movie, too."

In a separate interview, director John Stockwell said Obama footage wasn't included originally because it wasn't in the film's budget.

"There was always an element of Obama in it, but we couldn't afford to buy the footage we wanted from the White House or the battlefield in Afghanistan until the Weinsteins got involved," Stockwell said.

The National Geographic Channel, meanwhile, is owned by News Corp., whose chief Rupert Murdoch has been an outspoken supporter of conservative causes. A News Corp. spokeswoman did not respond to an email seeking comment.

This is hardly the first political spat for Hollywood. In 2004, Michael Moore's anti-George W. Bush film "Fahrenheit 9/11" was released amid the heat of the presidential campaign, spurring conservative complaints that entertainment industry liberals were using their resources to try to tilt the election toward Democratic nominee John Kerry.

The film became a hit, grossing $119 million at the box office — but Kerry nevertheless lost the election to GOP incumbent Bush. Screenwriter Aaron Sorkin, who often takes up political themes in his work, has made no secret of his left-wing leanings in works such as "The West Wing," "The American President," and his most recent HBO series, "The Newsroom."

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