restricted access 12 - George Clooney—The Issues Guy
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220 ★★★★★★★★★★ ✩✩✩✩✩✩✩✩✩✩ 12 George Clooney The Issues Guy DAVID STERRITT George Clooney has the looks of a classic Hollywood star, somewhere between Gary Cooper and Cary Grant, and his most memorable roles—the eponymous Michael Clayton and Danny Ocean, for instance— take full advantage of the fact. Yet his most significant contribution to American cinema comes less from his appearances in crowd-pleasing entertainments like The Perfect Storm (2000) and Ocean’s Eleven (2001) than from his participation in films that take considerable aesthetic risks (e.g., Solaris in 2002 and The Good German in 2006) and those that share his strong political sensibility, such as the geopolitical thriller Syriana (2005) and the brilliant legal drama Michael Clayton (2007). Of particular note are two of the films Clooney himself has directed: Confessions of a Dangerous Mind (2002) and Good Night, and Good Luck (2005), both of which deal with intersections between popular culture, represented by the television industry, and political machinations, treated satirically in the earlier production and soberly in the later one. Broadly speaking, Clooney’s career since 2000 reflects an George Clooney. expanding interest in public affairs that has placed him in the front ranks of Hollywood progressivism. This essay looks at the connections among his activities as actor, activist, and celebrity, with attention to his skills and abilities , the regular-guy reputation that sticks to him despite his iconic status, and the question of how his political views feed into movies he decides to make, engaging with some of Clooney’s critics along the way. ★ ✩★ ✩★ ✩★ ✩★ ✩ The Side of Justice Clooney’s activism on and off the screen, including his antiwar activities and advocacy for humanitarian causes, has made him one of the few contemporary movie stars to place his celebrity at the service of both cinematic innovation and sociopolitical progress. Political activism is central to his image as a movie star and a pop-culture icon, as reportage and comment on his career demonstrate. “Unseating old-time liberal ‘actoractivists ’ such as Warren Beatty, Tim Robbins and director Rob Reiner,” a British journalist wrote in 2005, “Clooney has now emerged as the leading political voice in Hollywood, winning plaudits from liberals and stinging attacks from conservatives” (Paul Harris, “Hollywood Politics—How a HeartThrob Became the Voice of Liberal America,” Observer, 27 November 2005, 18). Clooney is “an outspoken Darfur activist who sees his fame as a means to draw attention to a conflict often ignored by the world,” said an NBC reporter in 2009 (Ann Curry, “In Darfur, Clooney Is an Activist First, Then Actor,” Dateline NBC, 16 March 2009). The actor “manages to balance Hollywood stardom and serious activism,” CNN stated in 2010 (Jay Kernis, “Intriguing People for January 18, 2010,” 18 January 2010). Clooney has often encouraged the perception that strong political views and forays into political activism are among his most important concerns. “I’m a liberal,” he said to television interviewer Larry King in 2006, adding that “the liberal movement morally, you know, has stood on the right side of an awful lot of issues. We thought that blacks should be allowed to sit at the front of the bus and women should be able to vote, McCarthy was wrong [and] Vietnam was a mistake” (interview with George Clooney, “Larry King Live,” CNN, 16 February 2006). Making a similar point more recently to a German magazine, he said he finds it “quite amazing that ‘liberal’ nowadays has become a swear word [since] in the history of our country it always meant to be on the side of justice. It started with the witchhunt in Salem; the conservatives’ point of view was: ‘Burn them at the stake,’ and the liberals ’ point of view was: ‘There are no witches.’ And that’s how it continued with the civil rights movement and women’s suffrage” (“My World—George GEORGE CLOONEY 221 Clooney,” Brigitte, qtd. in Deborah White, “The Politics of George Clooney, Actor and Liberal Activist,” www.about.com). Clooney’s many efforts to foster a resolution of the civil war and humanitarian crisis in Sudan are widely known, as are the activities of Not on Our Watch, an organization “committed to stopping mass atrocities and giving voice to their victims,” which Clooney founded with five other influential figures in 2005 (“Who We Are,” notonourwatchproject.org/who_we_are).1 All of this notwithstanding , Clooney has soft-pedaled his politics at times, seeing downsides as well as advantages to the activist image he has acquired. (This...


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