Dear philosophers, I have a question concerning politics and movies. Do people who boycott movies involving a certain actor/director/producer simply on the basis of the political views of that actor/director/producer acting reasonably? I wouldn't think so because a large part of how people decide whether to watch a movie or not is the history of the quality of the actor/director/producer's work and not that actor/director/producer's political views. What do you philosophers think?

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I think there may be a couple of different questionshere. One is: do people have theright to refuse to view a movie on the grounds that they disagree with thepolitics of someone involved in the making of the movie? The answer to that is, yes, ofcourse. No one has an obligationto see any particular movie, so one can decide whether or not to view it on anygrounds whatsoever. Sometimes people find the politics of some director or actor sorepugnant that they cannot bear the thought of viewing a film in which thatperson was involved.

That, notice, is a separate thing from making an aestheticjudgment about the film. One mightconsistently judge that a particularfilm is a masterpiece, and yet condemn the politics of the director who madeit, or the actor/actress who starred in it. I wish that intelligence, skill, and artistic visionwere always bundled together with moral virtue and political correctness – butthe reality is that they are not. (Wagner, in my estimation, is a case in point. A notorious anti-Semite, but he wrote sublime operas.)

But you might be asking a different question. You might be wondering aboutwhether people have the right to organizea boycott – that is, try to persuade a large number of people to refuse to seethe movie -- against a particularmovie on the ground that they disagree with the politics of someone involved inthe making of the movie. Here,again, there’s an easy answer: one has the right to try to persuade others ofanything they want. But I do thinkthat there are issues of moral responsibility here. Boycotts, if successful, have a serious economic impact ontheir targets, but also on many innocent others. This makes it morally incumbent on those who are thinking oforganizing a boycott to consider very carefully the likely consequences of theboycott, both in terms of the aims the boycotters have, and in terms of theforeseeable effects on people who are not actually the targets.

I do not myself approve of boycotts aimed at simply causingeconomic pain to some individual whose politics one dislikes. I want to see an argument that refusing to buy a certaincompany’s product – or view some director’s movie – will promote some positivepolitical end. I would support aboycott of a film, for example, that was produced by a studio that refused toabide by fair labor practices, or that allowed animals to be tortured duringfilming. In that case the boycottwould not only deprive the studio of income, but would publicize the abuses,all of which would put pressure on the studio to change its policies. And if the studio did change itspolicies, I would want the boycott to end. I would also support a boycott of a film that waspromulgating some slander or propagandistic message. But a boycottof – oh, I don’t know, say, Mel Gibson movies – what would be the point? To pressure Gibson into changing hispolitics? Economic pressure is nota legitimate means to achieving that sort of goal.

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