- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 2, 2005

The closet-conservative theory of Hollywood is that liberal dominance is real but not as total as it looks. The entertainment hub, according to the theory, is full of follow-the-crowd types who just want to go along, get along. There are some dissidents there, but they — wisely — don’t advertise themselves.

That’s what Namrata Singh Gujral, an ethnic Indian actress who began working in Hollywood shortly before the September 11 terrorist attacks and loves her adopted country, thought. In her more optimistic moments, she still thinks that.

But then, taking to heart President Bush’s post-September 11 appeal to Hollywood for help in the war on terror, she and aviation screenwriting consultant Joe Cooper shopped around a script called “Americanizing Shelley,” a light romantic comedy with pro-American sentiment. They thought they’d find takers among mainstream production companies.

No such luck.

“Shelley” is no patriotic chest-thumper. “It’s engaging, it’s warm, it’s tender, it’s funny — it’s all those things you want to experience when you see a film,” assures a veteran executive producer who is helping develop and raise money for the project, but who asked to remain anonymous.

One “well-known producer,” Miss Gujral says, watched a short work-up of the movie and liked it — for the most part. There was that pro-American element: Must Shelley, the titular foreigner, lose her anti-American stance by movie’s end? The producer, shaking his head, said, “Some people never learn.”

Another producer, a female, reacted this way to the short film’s dedication to “our troops who laid their lives on the line for our freedom”: “We can’t have that; that’s ridiculous. In this climate” — Iraq was going south, the Abu Ghraib prison scandal had erupted — “I’m ashamed to be an American.”

So Miss Gujral, who recently wrapped the indie movie “Mitsein,” and Mr. Cooper, a Naval Reserve pilot soon to be deployed to the Middle East, pulled a Mel Gibson of sorts. They decided to opt out of the system and form a company of their own, American Pride Films Group. Their plan is for a full-scale production and distribution operation.

The modestly budgeted “Americanizing Shelley” is first on the slate; a more expensive war picture is next, provided the company can attract enough investors. (Contributions are tax deductible, and a portion of profits will go to families of killed or wounded American soldiers.)

According to its mission statement, APFG believes “Hollywood is doing a shoddy job of portraying the many blessings and freedoms our nation offers — not just to Americans, but to people worldwide.” Movies that do a better job, they reason, of conveying American values, not just its vast material wealth, and portray average Americans as decent, generous people, will be handy tools in combating anti-Americanism abroad.

“If we can sell them our jeans and we can sell them our fast cars, then why can’t we sell them positive American sentiment?” Miss Gujral demands.

While gratifying in concept, the primary rationale behind APFG is that there’s a gap in the movie marketplace. Pro-American movies might have blockbuster potential akin to Mr. Gibson’s pro-Christian “The Passion of the Christ.” Mr. Cooper sees movies with positive messages being relegated to the industry’s animation segment, while Hollywood churns out live-action movies that are consistently “anti-values, anti-religion, anti-military.”

“The American public are not getting what they want; they’re getting what the entertainment system thinks they want,” the executive producer says. “They’re not listening.

“We believe there’s a huge market that wants to feel good about being American,” Mr. Cooper says. “When’s the last time you saw a war movie where the top brass aren’t villains?”

Sometimes political correctness is the culprit, as in the terrorist identity switch from Islamic radicals to neo-Nazis in the adaptation of Tom Clancy’s “The Sum of All Fears.”

Other times it’s a pacifist tic, as in a line in the ostensibly pro-American movie “Saving Private Ryan.” Tom Hanks’ character, Mr. Cooper noticed, said that if Matt Damon’s title character could be sent home alive, “then something good will have come of this war.”

“Was defeating Nazism and fascism not a good thing?” Mr. Cooper challenges.

Asked if APFG films would compromise artistic value for the sake of pro-Americanism — in short, will it make heavy-handed or excessively sentimental message-movies? — Miss Gujral bristles. “As opposed to all the miracles that already come out of Hollywood every weekend?” she says.

She and Mr. Cooper promise something more subtle than soapbox stomping. “It won’t jump out and hit you in the face; that’s not the intention,” Mr. Cooper says.

“We’re picking material that’s a good story anyway, but that highlights something good about America,” Miss Gujral says.

“If you just went neutral, that would be an improvement,” Mr. Cooper insists. “We’re not trying to subliminally advertise or propagandize. We just want to tell the truth.”

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