“The past is never dead,” William Faulkner famously wrote, adding “it’s not even past.” The 20th-century literary icon and Nobel winner, who sojourned for a while in Hollywood to drink heavily and collect then-easy screenwriting money, was, of course, talking about the personal histories that ineluctably shape us. But being from the South, he was also aware of the broader weight of history, as well.
Indeed, the region’s politics are still insistently trying to cram an early 19th-century worldview down the throats of everyone else, as we approach the one-quarter mark in this relentlessly interesting 21st century of ours — including our southernmost state, about which, more in a moment.
So perhaps it’s unsurprising that most of our near-term history, and the very same showbiz concerns, headlines, and horrors that occupied so much of 2022’s news cycle, is still with us, much as a Denver Boot still shackled to your car after being in arrears on parking tickets.
Though perhaps such imagery might inadvertently serve to minimize the scars and sorrows of very real losses people suffered, such as the family of Cinematographer Halyna Hutchins.
As previously reported, her widower, Matthew, had announced a settlement “subject to court approval,” in his wrongful death suit against Rust’s producers, including Alec Baldwin.
The settlement included an unexpected — perhaps even unwelcome — resumption of filming, with Matthew Hutchins among the executive producers. But that, in turn, seemed upended with the more recent news of involuntary manslaughter charges brought against both Baldwin and Armorer Hannah Gutierrez-Reed by Santa Fe District Attorney Mary Carmack-Altwies. Yet somewhat astonishingly, an attorney for the film insisted production would resume anyway — possibly with wounded director Joel Souza returning behind the camera.
This all may have the effect of making what already seemed like a macabre GoFundMe for the grief-stricken survivors (it’s hard to imagine any other reason for pressing ahead) seem even more so.
Of course, things haven’t actually pressed ahead on the “resumption” front, and there’s also a question of where the film might be finished. As the New York Times notes, “It is not yet clear where the production plans to restart filming, if it moves ahead… Last year, the production said that returning to New Mexico was not an option but that locations in California were under consideration.”
Finding suitable “locations” — in this case, for sprawling amusement parks and planned communities — was also what originally prompted Walt Disney to look far beyond the orange groves and barely subjugated deserts of southern California to the orange groves and barely subjugated swamps of Florida, when he created Walt Disney World in the 1960s.
Recently, as readers know, Disney has been incurring the wrath of the far right, a bit of historical irony, given Walt’s own politics. Of course, everything incurs the far right’s wrath these days — anger is as critical to them as oxygen.
Florida’s governor Ron DeSantis, who’s never seen a culture war battle that he didn’t prefer to the harder tasks of nuts and bolts governance, happily took on Disney as a Great Satan, after the company looked askance at his “don’t say ‘gay'” law, convinced that would further endear him to GOP primary voters (a brief political assignation that polling indicates is now evaporating, as “the base” returns to the felonious familiarities of the Saint of Mar-a-Lago).
It was also thought this was mostly for show, and that pronouncements about stripping the quasi-self governance Disney enjoyed in its Reedy Creek Improvement District would wind up in some tepid middle ground — perhaps new DeSantian members on the Reedy Creek board, but things still proceeding recognizably on — once the headlines had cooled and the legislature was left to its backroom deals.
But no! The Holy War against Disney has spilled right to 2023’s early headlines! In fact, Reedy Creek’s neighboring Orlando Business Journal interviewed its local state representative, Carolina Amesty, who, while acknowledging the gravitational center of tourist dollars in her district, was also quoted as saying “size and success should never be used as an excuse to provide any company with special exemptions from rules and regulations.”
Imagine if the corporation in question was an oil, arms, automotive, or investment firm, then try to visualize a GOP representative still saying the same thing.
These same talking points were echoed in a prepared statement from DeSantis’ communications director, Taryn Fenske, who said Disney will now “live under the same laws as everyone else, will be responsible for their outstanding debts, and will pay their fair share of taxes.”
You half expect to see posters of Che Guevara on their walls at some point.
Meanwhile, back in Hollywood, Disney, of course, has a new — a new old! — CEO since the skirmish began, as Robert Iger has returned to replace Bob Chapek, whose early opposition to some of DeSantis’ agenda swung the governor’s own “off with their heads!” wrath in the Mouse’s direction.
Iger has called the political drama “unfortunate,” but it remains to be seen how Disney will actually (officially, legally) respond, now that there has been a public notice that a bill would be introduced, in the upcoming legislative session, to wrest control of the board from the happiest improvement district on Earth to the state of Florida.
It likewise remains to be seen whether bonds to pay for all that Disney-adjacent public infrastructure (which Disney would no longer be paying for) will be sufficient to keep from zapping Orlando-area residents with a suddenly egregious tax bill — definitely something DeSantis will want to avoid as he makes his bid for the White House in the gleeful hope that he can start banning books and healthcare procedures and bossing media and entertainment companies around everywhere, not just in Florida.
The past, truly, is not past at all. The question of what kind of future lies ahead, however, remains very much up in the air.
Mark London Williams is a BTL alum who currently covers Hollywood, its contents and discontents, in his recurring “Across the Pond” dispatch for British Cinematographer magazine, contributes to other showbiz and production-minded sites, and musters out the occasional zombie, pandemic-themed, or demon-tinged book and script, causing an increased blurring in terms of what still feels like “fiction.”