“Terror on the Prairie” represents a lot of firsts for Gina Carano. It’s her first western, her first time producing a film, and her first project after walking away from the traditional studio system. She knows how many eyes are on her, waiting to see if there’s life after the establishment. And like Hattie McAllister, the homesteader she plays in the film, she’s determined to forge a new path through wild country.
By now, anyone with even a cursory interest in Hollywood news is familiar with Carano’s fall-out with arguably the most powerful institution in the industry: Disney. Once one of the biggest draws of its hit Star Wars series, “The Mandalorian,” the company Canceled her for voicing political opinions that fell afoul of left-wing orthodoxy. Rather than follow the typical pattern of getting her PR team to do damage control via public mea culpas and conciliatory late-night interviews, Carano fought back, taking her talents to The Daily Wire.
While doing double duty as a star and producer on “Terror,” Carano took pains to make sure the set operated differently than the one she experienced with LucasFilm. “We did this movie with a cast and crew that all knew what they were signing up for,” she says. “So we had a set where it was like, if you wanted to put a mask on, go ahead. If you didn’t. No worries. If you wanted to get vaccinated, fine. If you didn’t, great. Everybody was a responsible adult and kind of took care of each other. But [they] also took care of making their own decisions.”
She says that contrary to popular perception, she’s not an especially politically-minded person. But the pandemic compelled her to consider how stifled the conversation within the culture at large, and especially within her own industry, had become. She saw colleagues who were fearful to challenge progressive thinking on COVID mandates or cancel culture, and didn’t think what she was seeing was healthy.
“You know, it was a health pandemic, but it was more of a pandemic of thought and mind and freedom of spirit, too,” she muses. “I’ve always liked actors that don’t say anything political, but when it came to this timeframe, at this moment, I just felt somebody had to say something.”
Part of the reason Carano spoke up was not because she was trying to win an argument, but because she wanted her more liberal co-stars and bosses to appreciate that millions of Americans had different, but valid viewpoints. She hoped to use her position to bring more balance to the dialogue, which would in turn make it possible for other people in her industry to speak out. “Just one side has been saying something,” she argues, “but if everyone is allowed to communicate and debate, we can start finding a better way.”
Carano wasn’t the only “Mandalorian” veteran on the set of “Terror,” or the only one with a warning over where the country is headed in regard to stifling debate. Yves Manu, a former assistant director on the streaming series, has seen first-hand the danger that can come from allowing the government to seize power over issues like personal health decisions.
Originally from the Congo, he fled over civil war. After living for a time in a refugee camp in Malawi, a scholarship brought him to Los Angeles and, eventually, filmmaking. “So I’ve always admired the ability to actually be able to criticize the government and not get killed, right?” he laughs. He shares that as someone who witnessed political oppression up close, it’s been sobering to realize that many Americans don’t realize how tenuous the freedoms they enjoy really are.
“People don’t really know the gift they have until it’s gone,” he says. “You see all these tyrannical views on saying what other people must do. And it’s like, no, we live in a really complex world. Nobody has the same view on life or the outcomes.”
On the set of “The Mandalorian,” it was immediately clear to Manu that it would be a bad idea to voice opinions that challenged vaccine and mask mandates. “It was clear who was in power from day one. It was understood, ‘We all side with these guys and not those guys.’ So yeah, I quickly learned to just shut up,” he says.
While Manu didn’t leave the production over Carano, he was frustrated to see her ousted over a personal belief. “I’m still trying to wrap my head around how we got to a point where if I’ve [a] certain opinion about something that makes you the devil. That’s kind of where I draw the line. I work with anybody who wants to work — you might be as left wing as they come, you might be as right wing as they come, but as long as you have mutual respect for each other, we can work and dine together. That’s the America I came here for.”
It’s colleagues like Manu who inspire Carano to keep fighting. “You know, you sit there with him and I’m telling you, his life could be a movie in itself,” she says. “And there’s so many of these stories. It was people like that who reached out to [Terror producer Dallas Sonnier] and they were like, ‘We want to be a part of that.’ Then they would come up to me and say, ‘Thank you so much for standing your ground to make this happen.’ You know, Hollywood doesn’t own art.”
Manu says Carano’s stand is sending a message to the entertainment industry: “There is now a window of opportunity for all the creatives to create something from a place of freedom.”
(Disclosure: The Daily Wire has announced plans for kids entertainment content.)