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Norman Lear offered a bleak assessment of the U.S. presidential campaign at the Sundance Film Festival opening night premiere of a documentary on his life and career in both Hollywood and political activism.
“We’re not in a very lovely place when you look at the clowns who are presently [running],” Lear, the creator of such iconic television shows as All in the Family, The Jeffersons and Maude, as well as the co-founder of liberal advocacy group People for the American Way, told a packed Eccles Theater crowd in Park City. “Is Trump still leading? I think it’s the American people saying they’re [angry] to the leaders with the way things are going.” The comments echo an interview Lear did with The Hollywood Reporter this week in which he referred to Trump as the “middle finger” of America.
Commenting further on the Republicans on Thursday night, Lear, 93, noted that he was invited last summer to speak to a group of major GOP power players. “I said, ‘Why don’t we hear Dwight D. Eisenhower’s name [in campaign rhetoric]? He led us in World War II and he was responsible for the interstate highway system and was a great Republican leader.’ ” The reason, Lear said: “He warned us [in a farewell speech] of a military industrial complex. I believe that’s why they won’t talk about it.”
Lear, taking the stage with Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady, the directors of Norman Lear: Just Another Version of You, as well as Sundance festival director John Cooper for a short Q&A with the audience after the screening, was overcome with emotion.
“If we could, all of us, find the largest bed and get into bed together, it would express what I’m feeling right now,” Lear quipped to big laughs.
The film, made as part of PBS’ American Masters series (the filmmakers are seeking a theatrical distributor at Sundance), details Lear’s rise from the son of an imprisoned criminal to comedy writer at the dawn of television to creator of some of the most boundary-pushing and game-changing hits in TV history, as well as his fight against the Moral Majority and for other liberal causes.
Lear’s movie was introduced by Sundance founder Robert Redford. “He brought humanity, edge, humor and vulnerability into the mainstream, and we owe him a huge debt,” said Redford.
The filmmakers made the documentary with cooperation from Lear, and it contains many rarely-seen home movies, footage of him on the set of Good Times and other classic shows, and interviews with colleagues and family. But the filmmakers retained final cut and said Lear remained “hands off,” despite the inclusion of details about his failed first marriage and disputes with the black cast of Good Times over how they were portrayed on the show.
Returning to world affairs at the end of the Q&A, Lear said he was alarmed by growing antisemitism around the world and the current political climate but he remained optimistic. “I don’t want to wake up in the morning and find that we don’t have hope that we will beat it all.”
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Representation in Hollywood