'Modern Family' Co-Creator Steve Levitan Gathers Top Showrunners for Gun Violence Prevention Event
Levitan encouraged Hollywood insiders to speak out on the issue: "Everybody’s voices are heard these days."
The Fox lot is home to many high-powered storytellers: Steve Levitan (Modern Family), Alex Gansa and Chip Johannessen (Homeland), Liz Meriwether, Brett Baer and Dave Finkel (New Girl), Brad Falchuk (Scream Queens), and Howard Gordon (24: Legacy). There are dozens more, of course, but the aforementioned creatives were among the nearly 60 guests seated inside Fox's Zanuck Theater on Wednesday afternoon thanks to an invitation from the former, Levitan, who sent out a studio-wide call to attend a summit-type event about America's gun violence epidemic.
To lead the proceedings, Levitan hosted John Feinblatt, co-founder of gun violence prevention group Everytown, who spoke for approximately 40 minutes followed by a Q&A session that lasted almost 20 minutes. (New York-resident Feinblatt also arrived 25 minutes late to the event, blaming L.A. traffic.) Topics in Feinblatt's presentation included a brief history of gun legislation, political maneuvering on the often-divisive issue, and recent victories in six states where background checks have been expanded following the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012. Voters in Maine and Nevada will vote on gun measures on the November ballot, he added.
Feinblatt and his organization "are on the front lines" of the gun movement, Levitan told The Hollywood Reporter, which is why he invited him to Fox for the educational and informational rundown of all that is happening right now.
"Is this, in fact, a tipping point?" Levitan asked, referring to the recent tragedy in Orlando where 49 people were killed inside gay nightclub Pulse on June 12.
Current events sparked a deeper conversation, but it's an issue Levitan has been focused on for more than two decades. "I lost a couple of friends to gun violence," he said. "And I just have always felt that for a lobbying group like the NRA to have this much influence over our lawmakers is an indication that something is wrong."
That said, Levitan continued that he is optimistic that change is coming. "The likelihood of a (Hillary) Clinton presidency and (Antonin) Scalia off the Supreme Court, there is real opportunity for advancement," he said, noting that he will be voting for the Democratic candidate. "She has been firmly, in my opinion, on the right side of this for sane gun laws. Of all the candidates, she has been the strongest and that is why she has my vote."
Clinton and her Republican competitor Donald Trump didn't come up during the Q&A portion of the event, which focused on the NRA's powerful influence on lawmakers, online gun sales and Hollywood's role on the issue. Also in attendance were Fox TV Group chairman/CEO Gary Newman and 20th Century Fox TV creative affairs president Jonathan Davis. Meriwether was one who raised her hand, asking for advice on how to get involved.
Feinblatt fielded the query by offering a three-part answer: Get involved, donate money and demand to know every politician's stance on gun regulation if and when they ask for cash to help their respective campaigns. "Money speaks really really loudly," he said. "Politicians have not heard that there is a class of people in this country who will put this issue at the top and make it a litmus test. Those are three suggestions that will help tremendously."
He also praised Oscar-winning actress Julianne Moore for her tremendous help in rallying top names in the creative field to join the cause. She launched Everytown's Creative Council, which includes J.J. Abrams, Jennifer Aniston and Reese Witherspoon. Everytown also recently partnered with Billboard on an open letter to Congress signed by 200 artists. "We’re in actually, probably a better position than we’ve ever been for decades," Feinblatt concluded. "I do say, once again, it can’t just be about laws and ballots and court decisions. It has to be about culture, about product changes, because it's those things together that will actually make a difference."
As for what Hollywood can do, Levitan said it's about action. "Could Hollywood be a little more responsible in its portrayal of guns? Probably. But entertainment is entertainment. I understand that and I'm not looking to come down too hard on that," he said. "People can continue to speak out, get informed, get involved, contribute, lend fame and notoriety to the effort. Everybody’s voices are heard these days."