Amerika is a twelve-hour mini-series filmed by ABC-TV to be aired in February over twelve evenings. At more than $40 million (U.S.), it is the most expensive mini-series ever -- and one of the most controversial.
The time is the 1990s. The Soviet Union has conquered the U.S. and enslaved the population. They have done this by exploding several nuclear weapons high above the U.S., knocking out communications with the electromagnetic pulse. The nation. already demoralized by collectivism and "special interest groups," is easily dominated by the Soviets and their partners, United Nations troops. The story follows the efforts of one leader who tries to inspire his fellow Americans to resist the Soviets. It has been described as a cross between Red Dawn and Dynasty.
After ABC aired The Day After, which was a relatively believable depiction of the results of a nuclear war, the network was lobbied by right-wing groups to produce something that reflected their viewpoint. Amerika is the result. The storyline is the brainchild of Ben Stein, a writer known for his extreme anti-Communism and as a former speechwriter for Presidents Nixon and Ford. Among the stars are Americans Kris Kristofferson and Mariel Hemingway, but many Canadians are involved. The majority of the series was filmed in Southern Ontario and public money, through the City of Toronto and the Province of Ontario, was spent providing various ancillary services.
Performing Artists for Nuclear Disarmament (PAND) issued a statement before the production arrived in Toronto suggesting that the show will be detrimental to the cause of peace and disarmament. Members felt that the message that the U.S. is weak and faces conquest by the USSR is false, and that it is particularly dangerous to suppose such a conflict could happen without a nuclear war. A controversy was generated both inside and outside the local acting community. PAND was accused of censorship by some, and applauded by others. Some Canadian actors and actresses refused parts in the show, but only a few were willing to say so publicly. Others feared being blacklisted. To discuss these issues, and to spread word about Amerika, PAND hosted a forum in June of last year, in which Donald Wrye, the producer and director, participated. ABC forbade media access to the forum. When questioned, Wrye acknowledged the implausibility of the premise and said using Soviets as invaders "was not my notion...It could have been lizards. However, since it is essentially entertainment," it will "have no specific effect on the audience."
Several at the forum disagreed with him and formed a group later called Propaganda Alert. They organized several actions around the filming, such as publicizing the content of the show, talking with people working on it, holding a candlelight vigil outside a school that was used as a location, apparently without the awareness of some staff members as to the content of the script. The group also protested the use of public money to assist the production, and is investigating the possibility of having the production prosecuted under the hate provisions of the Criminal Code. An Equal Time Campaign is being launched. By coincidence, Peter Watkins has completed his fourteen-hour film, The Journey, a plea for peace shot around the world. The group is asking that this also be aired by ABC.
In the U.S., many groups are organizing around Amerika, some lobbying ABC for a panel discussion to follow the show, like the one Ted Koppel hosted following The Day After. One protest comes from the U.N., which is considering suing ABC because of its astonishing portrayal of U.N. peacekeepers as thugs, rapists, and stooges of the Soviets, and the misuse of the U.N. symbol.
But ABC, now at the bottom of the three network race, thinks Amerika will raise its ratings. Maybe they're right. It will certainly tug at the heartstrings of American patriotism and anti-Communism. Americans are brainwashed in psychiatric wards, made to live in shantytowns, tortured in gulags, and deprived of real hamburgers, and there are line-ups for everything. Members of Congress are massacred, the Capitol burned, and copies of the Constitution defiled. One character says that she used to think she was a citizen of the world, but then she realized she was an American. In the last scene the American flag is draped over the hero's casket as his son says, voice catching, "dying isn't so bad. It's having lived for nothing...Dad lived for me...He lived for you." There won't be a dry eye in the land.
Amerika the series may get ABC in trouble with women. Misogyny is rampant. Three of the four main female characters betray their country and sleep with Russians. The general theme is that women enjoy rape and forceful intercourse. "He makes love in a harsh and demanding way...the rougher he is with her, the more aroused she is" read the directions of one scene. Feminists are seen as one of the "special interest groups" who are responsible for the demoralization of America. (These include peace groups.) Men may also object to the script's implication that sexual potency equals political potency equals lack of compromise. And some people may not like the fact that the majority of the U.N. bad guys are Black, Hispanic, or Oriental.
Canadians who wish to do something about Amerika can reach Propaganda Alert through Laura Sky, at 566 Palmerston Avenue, Toronto, Ont. M6G 2P7.
Letters of protest can also be sent to the Public Relations departments of the sponsors, who will probably be the Chrysler Company and Merrill Lynch. To protest to the film series' star, write Kris Kristofferson through his agent, J. Wiatt, 8899 Beverley, Los Angeles, CA 90048. You can also write to Alfred R. Schneider, V.P., Policy and Standards, Capital City/ABC, Inc. 1330 Avenue of the Americas, New York N.Y. 10019. It will be instructive to see how the protests in the U.S. are handled. If it becomes un-American to protest Amerika, then the Right will truly have enslaved the "home of the free."