Samara O'Shea

Once Upon a First Amendment

I’ll take an independent film over a blockbuster any day, and this past weekend I saw a good one. It’s called Trumbo—the story of screenwriter and novelist Dalton Trumbo. If you don’t know him by name, you know his work.

In 1947, Trumbo, along with nine other writers and directors, was called before the House Un-American Activities Committee to testify on the presence of Communist influence in Hollywood. Trumbo refused to cooperate. He was blacklisted, and eventually, spent 11 months in prison in the federal penitentiary in Ashland, Kentucky. Once released from prison in the early 1950s, Trumbo continued to write scripts—such as Roman Holiday and The Brave One both of which went on to win Academy Awards—under different names. In 1960, after ten years of writing under a pseudonym, staring actor Kirk Douglas decided to make public Trumbo’s credit for writing Spartacus. This was the beginning of the end of the blacklist.

It’ll come as no surprise that my favorite aspect of the documentary is that the story is powerfully told through the words of Dalton Trumbo’s letters as read by Joan Allen, Paul Giamatti, Nathan Lane, Josh Lucas, Liam Neeson, David Strathairn, Donald Sutherland, Michael Douglas, and Brian Dennehy.