The decade's most triggering comedy
As news broke last week that Amazon has entered into an agreement to purchase MGM, one of the oldest, most venerable studios in Hollywood, the media’s attention turned to the broad outlines of the $8.5-billion-dollar deal. Given the tech giant’s atrocious record on free expression, conservatives might want to focus on the fine print.
From deplatforming Parler to scrubbing best-selling books that challenge transgender orthodoxy, Amazon has proved it has no qualms stifling views it disagrees with. Which raises the question—why should the public expect it to act honorably when it comes to movies?
Some will no doubt argue that even if Amazon censors films and filmmakers that fail to toe the leftist line, it’s only buying a single movie studio. There are plenty of other film companies and streaming platforms in the U.S. But remember, there used to be plenty of other booksellers as well. Now, Jeff Bezos controls an estimated 80% of that business, and he’s been using his power to artificially distort the market.
These five documentaries Amazon has suppressed in the last two years alone demonstrate why its attempt to seize a bigger piece of the showbiz pie is bad news for free speech.
What Killed Michael Brown (2020)
If anyone should be safe from censorship, it’s celebrated columnist Shelby Steele. A Hoover Institution fellow at Stanford and winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award, National Humanities Award, Writers Guild Award, and an Emmy for his documentary work with PBS, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more decorated documentarian.
Yet when Steele tried to submit his film detailing what really caused the death of Ferguson’s Michael Brown to Amazon’s self-publishing arm, the tech giant decided Steele’s work wasn’t good enough to sit on the shelf alongside “Shark Exorcist” and “Our Alien Origin Story.”
The company sent Steele’s son, director Eli Steele, an email saying, “Unfortunately, we have found that your title doesn’t meet Prime Video’s content quality expectations and is not eligible for publishing on the service at this time. We will not be accepting resubmission of this title, and this decision may not be appealed.”
Amazon’s treatment of “Created Equal” proves that when it comes to black conservatives, there is no achievement great enough to prevent Jeff Bezos from muzzling them.
Michael Pack constructed his documentary from more than 30 hours of interviews with one of the foremost legal minds of our generation. Even PBS recognized the public’s interest in hearing from a man who rarely speaks from the bench, repeatedly airing the story of Thomas’ rise from abject poverty in the segregated south to the highest court in the land as part of its U.S. history series. Amazon, however, evidently didn’t find Thomas’ singularly American tale worth honoring and dropped it from its service without warning.
Adding insult to injury, after pulling “Created Equal” during Black History month, the streaming giant continued to make a documentary about Thomas’ discredited accuser, Anita Hill, available for free to Prime subscribers. The company’s arrogant disregard of the nation’s lone African-American Supreme Court Justice is so great, to this day, it has not deigned to tell the public or the press why it will not provide his story to its customers.
Gonzo “new right” commentator Mike Cernovich billed his documentary on the sorry state of modern journalism as an “insider’s look at the Fake News phenomenon and the consequences of media misinformation.” Among the eclectic mix of subjects he interviewed were famed psychologist Jordan Peterson, Dilbert cartoonist Scott Adams, Project Veritas founder James O’Keefe, and Black Lives Matter-Greater New York president, Hawk Newsome. Yet despite the film’s popularity and strong review score, Amazon removed it from its streaming platform without warning and without explanation. Then the story grew even stranger.
As detailed in The Hollywood Reporter, Amazon didn’t just stop selling the title, it began removing it from the libraries of people who had already bought it. “The distributors were shocked,” Cernovich told THR. “They had never seen this happen before. Amazon told them, ‘It’s not a technical issue. We don’t have to tell you why we removed [it].’”
In this case, however, it might not just have been conservative politics that got the doc yanked. The richest man in the world might have had a more personal interest. According to Cernovich: “I believe the film was banned from Amazon because there is a sequence discussing Jeff Bezos and Amazon’s $600 million contract with the CIA,” he told THR. “Bezos does not want the public reminded of that.”
Citizen K (2019)
The documentary about the downfall of one of Vladimir Putin’s most formidable enemies had everything that makes for a prestige picture, including an Oscar-winning director and a premiere at the Venice film festival. Thus, it was no surprise when it scored a prime (no pun intended) position on Amazon’s theatrical release calendar. But at some point between the calendar’s announcement and the film actually hitting the service, the retailer got cold feet.
A source told The Hollywood Reporter, “The film was seen as too incendiary and risky for a multinational corporation to distribute.”
Sometimes, Amazon doesn’t so much suppress as stall, as it did in the case of Amanda Milius’ “The Plot Against the President.” Like other filmmakers on this list, Milius brought an impressive pedigree to her project. Her father is Oscar-nominated writer/director John Milius (“Dirty Harry,” “Apocalypse Now”), and she has a background in the State Department at the Bureau of Global Public Affairs. She based her documentary on the best-selling 2019 book from veteran journalist Lee Smith. In other words, her film was topical, timely, and well-researched.
Yet when Milius submitted the film to Amazon in early October, in plenty of time to release before Election Day, the company stonewalled, telling her it was “under review.”
Milius’ studio had a long history of placing films with Amazon and said it had never encountered such a problem before. “We’ve never had an issue with a title getting blocked on Amazon to date,” Turn Key Films CEO Cory Tucek told The Hollywood Reporter. “I think it is a little ironic that the first title we’ve ever had subjected to this happens to be a title that talks about media corruption, bias, and censorship. I don’t think it is a coincidence either that Amazon would block a title that sheds a favorable light on Donald Trump.”
Or as Milius told THR, “If [Amazon] treated all political films equally it wouldn’t be an issue. But Amazon has a history of discretely removing films that don’t politically align with their agenda.”
The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.