A few years back, we released The Imitation Game, a story about Alan Turing (wonderfully portrayed by the extraordinary Benedict Cumberbatch). Turing was a true genius in every sense of the word. He was the grandfather of computer science, a code breaker, whose work has been credited with bringing an end to World War II by breaking the Nazi’s Enigma code. Turing, whose work saved an estimated 14 million lives, was also a gay man. In the 1950s in Britain, as was the case in many other places throughout the world, being gay was a crime and men like Turing were arrested, jailed, and in some cases, like Turing’s, underwent horrific medical torture.
When we were working on the movie, Benedict said to me that he wanted to do right by all of the men who received similar treatment to Turing and were criminalized simply because of who they loved. So we recruited Stephen Fry and the film’s producers, Teddy Schwarzman, Nora Grossman and Ido Ostrowsky, and we created a grassroots movement to lobby for change through Pardon49k.org. To date, more than 600,000 people have joined our fight and signed the petition to pardon these men. All looked good until this last month when Parliament blocked the vote through a filibuster to approve the pardons. I failed. We all failed, but our fight is not over because we’re not finished.
Since my brother Bob and I started Miramax, we have always operated by a motto that now drives The Weinstein Company. It comes from Kurt Vonnegut: “There is no good reason good can’t triumph over evil, if only angels will get organized along the lines of the mafia.” For me, filmmaking has always been about telling stories that need to be told. Stories that move or excite people are at the root of all of our films. There’s a long history in Hollywood of movies that have moved the dial socially – films like I Am A Fugitive From A Chain Gang, Fury, How Green Was My Valley, Grapes Of Wrath, Gentleman’s Agreement, Pinky, Imitation Of Life, The Defiant Ones, To Sir With Love, Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner and Judgment At Nuremberg are just a few that come to mind. I firmly believe change comes from these movies. In some way, they’ve changed the dialogue and influenced the way we look at things for the better.
I’m lucky that at Miramax and now at The Weinstein Company we’ve been able to shine a light on some true stories that are so extraordinary they transcend belief. Our first documentary at Miramax called The Thin Blue Line chronicled the wrongful conviction of death-row inmate Randall Adams and ultimately led to his exoneration and release from prison. Our film Bully chronicled the alarming presence of bullying among teenagers in our schools and the lasting impact it has on them not just physically, but mentally and emotionally too. I’ll beat you to the punch and point out the irony of me producing a film titled Bully given my reputation, but I’ll level with you, my age and five kids not only has given me perspective, but it has mellowed me. My kids mean everything to me. It’s my job to make sure they are safe and happy. After seeing Bully, I knew immediately that we needed to help give a voice to all the kids who are victims of bullying and help put a stop to it once and for all. We not only started a national dialogue and raised tremendous awareness for a widespread and often overlooked issue, but also created tools for teachers, parents, and students, everyone really, to get involved in bullying prevention and creating safer school environments for our kids to learn and grow up.
The Imitation Game is another such story. It’s no exaggeration to say that without Alan Turing, life today would be completely different. He single-handedly changed the course of history, and without him I dread to think what our world might be like today. His legacy is unending.
In 1952, Turing was prosecuted inhumanly for homosexual acts and in 2009, after 57 years, the then-UK Prime Minister pardoned Turing. Now his name has been cleared and Turing’s family has finally gotten some peace in that decision. Unjustly however, thousands of others have not received the same acknowledgment. We started a petition through Change.org in 2014, which we are now re-launching at Pardon49k.org, that ultimately got the backing and commitment of all three candidates running to be the UK’s next Prime Minister – Nick Clegg, Ed Miliband, and David Cameron. Each adopted the position as part of their platform and ultimately, when Cameron was re-elected, he put forth a bill known as the Alan Turing Law to pardon the remaining 49,000 men.
Now, all the cynics out there might look and say, that was a neat idea to try to pardon 49,000 lives during Oscar season. There are years I’ve gone from cynic to optimist to sometimes ignoring all of the chatter, since everyone says the Oscars and awards are all I care about. And while I would be lying to say that the awards haven’t made me proud, every once in awhile, you get the opportunity to transcend all of that.
A few weeks ago, the decision to officially pass the Turing Law, which would grant amnesty to the thousands of others, was blocked by a conservative Member of Parliament, but luckily will be reintroduced for a vote this coming December. We understand the concerns of those who stand against the bill that some of these men included in the 49,000 were in fact criminals. The truth, however, is the vast majority were not, and just as it shouldn’t be a blanket pardon, it is also wrong to maintain the blanket criminalization of thousands of innocent people. The bill includes a provision that would vet and exclude any man convicted of a crime still recognized today. The only thing most of these men were guilty of was simply being born during a time of ignorance. The world has become more educated and has evolved past those closed minded attitudes. The UK Parliament needs to do the same.
Academy season is a time when great conversations are going to surface and positive messages will be spread. Movies this year like Fences, Hidden Figures, Loving, Moonlight and others all have incredible things to say. Giving those movies a microphone and a platform is a rather good means of generating awareness and starting conversations. Even though The Imitation Game is now in the rear-view mirror and we are three years removed from it being an awards contender, we are all still fighting to make that change.
We’ve seen the injustices done to those 49,000 people and we cannot allow it to continue, not in 2016. We’ve enlisted civil rights lawyers David Boies and Ted Olson, who were responsible for overturning the California Proposition 8 law, to advise on the Turing Law. We intend to hire the same caliber of legal minds in the UK to help us in our efforts. We’ll use the power of social media, we’ll meet with the people who obstructed the bill originally, calling for justice in the face of such obscure and outdated decisions, and we’ll enjoy the tenacious work and eventually celebrate the justice these men should have had long ago.
Movies are meant to influence and empower us and hopefully that’ll change our world for the better. Our films over the years like The Thin Blue Line, My Left Foot, Fahrenheit 9/11, Silver Linings Playbook, Philomena, The Hunting Ground, CitizenFour, Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom, Fruitvale Station and The Crying Game are just a few that spark the conversations we need to be having and motivate the actions we need to take. And while those are just our films, there are so many that other studios have made like Brokeback Mountain, 12 Years A Slave, Slumdog Millionaire, Spotlight, Milk, and one gem I saw this year was Disney’s Queen Of Katwe with incredible performances by David Oyelowo and Lupita Nyong’o. It was inspirational and deserves to be seen by families everywhere. Speaking your mind has risks and rewards. I’m always happy when our films that cast a light on prejudice, bigotry and ignorance go on to win awards and praise from groups like NAACP, Human Rights Campaign and GLAAD, but that comes with its share of costs. There will always be those who disagree with you, and I’ve had my share like the NRA, some of whose members have come after me on a personal level over the years. Rather than being cynical about the work we do, we should celebrate our directors, screenwriters, actors and filmmakers bringing these issues to the forefront. So I look forward to the discussions throughout this award season and indeed all year long, not only during the Oscars. If I’ve learned anything from last month’s failed Parliamentary vote, it is this: we all need to remember, myself included, it’s not enough to start the conversation, but we need to follow through — and we will. The Members of Parliament who blocked the vote last month are hopefully about to get a new lesson in parliamentary procedure! Maybe we should show them Mr. Smith Goes To Washington — that’s how filibusters move us forward, not set us back.
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