feature image photo of Susan Sarandon by John Nacion / Contributor via Getty Images; photo of Melissa Barrera by Michael Buckner / Contributor via Getty Images
We’re continuing to see people punished for speaking out against Israel, genocide, and the mass killings of Palestinian civilians. Today,The Hollywood Reporter reported that bisexual actress Susan Sarandon was dropped by her talent agency, United Talent Agency (UTA), for speaking at a pro-Palestine protest.
At a rally in New York City’s Union Square on November 17, Sarandon gave a speech in which she empathized with Jewish Americans’ fears of the rise of antisemitism while also noting that this is how Muslims in America feel all the time. This is not the first time Sarandon has spoken up for social justice. She’s been critical of cops in the past, stands with trans people, and was critical of Hillary Clinton’s murky record on LGBTQ rights. She has been antiwar for over two decades.
It’s unclear where exactly UTA draws the line when it comes to its clients’ politics. The talent agency represents a wide swath of clients across the ideological spectrum, including people who have spoken out in support of Palestine in various capacities. They also rep vocal Zionists, including stars like Mayim Bialik as well as Sarah Silverman, who said on her podcast in 2021 that she supports Zionism and who made a now-deleted post on Instagram attempting to justify Israel’s decision to cut off electricity and water in Gaza.
just 3 weeks ago, sarah silverman called for israel to turn off water and electricity in gaza while it continued to be bombed and blamed her hateful post on weed. if you work at the daily show — take a stand. do not work with this woman. now is the time to make a moral choice https://t.co/Zr9pEdKU1V
— sarah hagi (@KindaHagi) November 7, 2023
Sarandon has since offered an apology on Instagram, apologizing for the specific wording she used while reiterating what her real meaning was:
So far, there has been no update as to her representation.
In addition to Sarandon being dropped by UTA, news also broke that Spyglass had quietly fired Melissa Barrera from the next Scream movie for her pro-Palestine social media posts. Barrera has been vocal in her naming of Israel’s bombardment of Gaza as a genocide and in her opposition to Israel’s apartheid rule over the Palestinian people. A Variety report on talent agency shakeups over employees taking pro-Palestine stands attempts to suggest Barrera played into an antisemitic trope about media control, but that really takes her post about media bias and social media algorithms completely out of context. Even if Variety is trying to say it’s what sources said about Barrera’s posts, there should at least be an addendum that includes the full text of Barrera’s post. The insinuation that Barrera is spreading an antisemitic trope is an absurd reach and one that conflates being critical of Israel with antisemitism.
the slashfilm article says melissa barrera was fired from scream 7 for leaning into "an antisemitic trope that jews control the media" and i have to assume it's referring to this instagram story. this is quite blatantly misconstruing what she said. pic.twitter.com/BHXNzqW64b
— jeremy (@jeremylovesyall) November 21, 2023
That same Variety report details the forced resignation of top Creative Artists Agency (CAA) agent Maha Dakhil, who came under fire for posting about witnessing genocide on her Instagram story. Dakhil was seemingly asked to issue a public apology and step out of her role on the agency’s internal board, but thanks in part to advocacy by her client Tom Cruise, was allowed to remain at CAA as an agent.
The report also notes some agents at UTA have apparently called for writer Ta-Nehisi Coates to be dropped for being a signatory on the open letter from participants in the Palestine Festival of Literature calling on “the international community to commit to ending the catastrophe unfolding in Gaza and to finally pursuing a comprehensive and just political solution in Palestine.” Even though the agency decided to drop Sarandon, Coates is still represented there for now.
Important you guys understand that UTA is one of the top 5 agencies.
They are saying it’s because of anti semitic comments made at this rally…I watched a video of her there where she quite literally thanks Jewish people MULTIPLE TIMES for being there/showing solidarity…..? https://t.co/UQShCvHNwi
— Mariah Rose Faith Casillas (@MariahRoseFaith) November 21, 2023
In anonymous accounts, a Middle Eastern actor told Vulture recently that what happened to Dakhil “scared the shit out of us.” The actor goes on to say: “I’m very careful not to use words like genocide, occupation, colonialism, open-air prisons — despite believing they do accurately describe what’s happening in Gaza.”
Journalists are being fired or forced to resign for speaking out against genocide. Sarandon was dropped for making statements that align with what her politics have been all along.
Meanwhile, the media bias Melissa Barrera was actually talking about in her post that apparently others have decided to erroneously label “antisemitic” is very much alive, and shadowbanning of pro-Palestine content has forced a lot of Instagram users to employ “algospeak.” Even Variety‘s biased reporting on Barrera’s posts is evidence of that exact media partiality she’s openly criticizing!
I’m curious to see if there will be ripple effects to Spyglass’ decision and if more actors will speak up or choose silence. Queer singer Kehlani has been bold in her demand for more celebrities to speak up. Sarandon, Barrera, and Barrera’s Scream co-star Jenna Ortega all signed an open letter calling for a ceasefire, which shouldn’t be considered controversial. Ortega has also posted on her own social media account in support of Palestine.
News of Ortega’s departure from Scream VII dropped one day after the Barrera news broke, but Variety is reporting it has nothing to do with the Barrera decision but rather her filming schedule for the upcoming season of Wednesday. The timing is…odd. And if Ortega’s participation was in question well before Barrera’s firing — the narrative the trades are going with — it seems like it would have been announced before now. I’m interested to see if Ortega speaks to the decision at any point.
In an official statement about Barrera’s firing, Spyglass said:
“Spyglass’ stance is unequivocally clear: We have zero tolerance for antisemitism or the incitement of hate in any form, including false references to genocide, ethnic cleansing, Holocaust distortion or anything that flagrantly crosses the line into hate speech.”
There are no specific references in the statement to posts made by Barrera. Also, the statement reads as tacit genocide denial. Scream VII‘s director Christopher Landon also made a “statement” on Twitter that has since been deleted but read, vaguely: “Everything sucks. Stop yelling. This was not my decision to make.”
To make matters even murkier, a new Hollywood Reporter story has come out citing sources who say the firing was not made in response to that specific social media post about shadowbanning but rather came a full month before the news broke, when Barrera began posting in solidarity with Palestine. “Before her firing, sources say her deal to return as Sam Carpenter, the lead character she introduced in 2022’s Scream, had been finalized,” THR notes. The same story claims Ortega’s deal had not been in place and that her departure had to do with salary negotiations rather than the original story of scheduling conflicts. The timing of the Ortega announcement, however, still seems odd.
Barrera has continued amplifying reports and images about the violence in Gaza since news of her firing broke and has yet to shift the focus to herself, which is definitely the right way to show solidarity, especially as a celebrity. In fact, 1,300 actors have now signed an open letter accusing various institutions of censoring and punishing artists who have spoken in support of Palestine, and while the letter lists Barrera’s firing as an example, I haven’t seen Barrera post about the letter herself, as she continues to center the genocide rather than Hollywood.
Over half a century after the Hollywood Blacklist torpedoed the careers of actors and other creatives for any association with the Community Party, we’re now seeing people in the film and television industry being punished for criticizing Israel and standing in solidarity with Palestine.
This story was originally published on November 21, 2023 and has been updated.