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Gerald Molen won a best picture Oscar for co-producing Schindler’s List with Steven Spielberg and has produced such Hollywood blockbusters as the first two Jurassic Park films and Twister. He’s a former U.S. Marine and is a sought-after motivational speaker.
So he’s not accustomed to being shunned.
Such was the case, though, when he was invited to speak to the graduating class at a Montana high school. But upon arriving, was told by the principal he would not be allowed to deliver the speech he had prepared.
The reason, he believes, is politics.
Molen is one of those rare conservatives in Hollywood (he’s even making a documentary called 2016, based on the Dinesh D’Souza book The Roots of Obama’s Rage) and because of that, he says, Ronan High School principal Tom Stack decided to disinvite him — and he didn’t tell him so until after Molen made the 90-minute drive from his home in Bigfork, Mont.
Unlike Hollywood, Ronan isn’t exactly a hotbed of liberalism (its state representative is a Republican), still, Molen says that Stack told him straight up that he wouldn’t be allowed to address the students because he was “a right-wing conservative.”
“He said some callers didn’t want the kids exposed to that, despite not knowing what my message would be,” Molen told The Hollywood Reporter.
Stack did not return several calls seeking comment, nor did representatives from the Ronan School District.
Molen has spoken at dozens of schools and never accepts a fee. When one is offered, he asks that it be donated to the Shoah Foundation, the nonprofit organization founded by Spielberg and dedicated to the remembrance of the Holocaust.
When speaking to students, Molen’s presentations usually invoke Oskar Schindler, who is credited with saving 1,100 Jews during the Holocaust and is the subject of the Oscar-winning 1993 film that Molen co-produced with Spielberg and Branko Lustig.
For the Ronan students, Molen planned to use Schindler as an example of what courageous individuals could accomplish, and he also planned to ask them to “imagine your future is a movie. Forty years from now, you’re writing a script about your accomplishments. What would that script look like?”
“It was a totally apolitical speech,” Molen said.
Molen wrote about being disinvited, and his story was published in the Montana newspaper, The Daily Inter Lake. Now, several Ronan citizens are demanding details.
“It’s shocking,” said Colleen Adler, a resident with three children in the school district who has been trying, unsuccessfully so far, to get an official explanation for the cancellation. “It’s very frustrating.”
“I’m pissed off,” said Chuck Lewis, an occasional volunteer at the school. “Why would a school dishonor a man who served his country?”
Lewis, also a former Marine, posted Molen’s story on his two Facebook pages and asked his 3,000 “friends” to contact the school board to demand it apologize to Molen and invite him to speak to next year’s Ronan High School graduating class.
“They should have never censored him like that,” said Lewis.
It’s unknown how many phone calls have been placed, but one e-mail to the school board that was made public read: “I would like to know the process and people who canceled Gerald R. Molen’s talk to the Ronan Senior Class. I would like to also have a list of other speakers who have addressed the high school in the past five years.”
UPDATE: The incident as described by Molen “did, in fact, occur,” superintendent of schools for the Ronan district Andy Holmlund told The Hollywood Reporter on Friday.
“It is my understanding that the high-school principal made the decision based on his point of view. It is not the view of the district. That’s not the expectations that the district maintains. That principal will not be serving in this school district for the upcoming school year.”
Holmlund said Stack has accepted a position with a school in Clinton, Mont., though he refused to say when or why that decision had been made. Residents say it was likely unrelated to Stack’s decision to disinvite Molen.
Asked why Stack had not responded to several phone calls, Holmlund said: “I can’t speak to the fact that Mr. Stack isn’t talking.”
Asked about the public’s response to the sudden, nationwide publicity to the controversy, Holmlund said: “Oh, it’s on fire, sir. Justifiably so. We don’t expect people to be treated poorly.”
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