Monty Python veteran and award-winning director Terry Gilliam lashed out against cancel culture in an interview with The Times published on Friday, blaming “activists” among theater staff for sinking his production of ‘Into the Woods’ for London’s Old Vic theater last year.
“They are totally closed-minded,” he complained, referring to the staff who lobbied the Old Vic’s management to cancel his take on the Stephen Sondheim musical over comments the director had made on transgender issues and the #MeToo movement.
“[They think] there is only one truth and one way of looking at the world. Well, ‘f*** you!’ is my answer to them,” he said.
Back in November, the Old Vic scrapped ‘Into the Woods’, offering no explanation amid what the Times called a “staff uprising.” The row was reportedly triggered after Gilliam urged his followers on Facebook to watch ‘The Closer’, a Netflix special by US comedian Dave Chappelle that had been seen by some as transphobic.
Also reportedly playing a part were comments – made in an attempt to mock identity politics – in which Gilliam said he could refer to himself as a “black lesbian.” He also controversially called the #MeToo movement a “witch hunt.”
In his Times interview – his first conversation with the media since the November controversy – the director held his ground.
He claimed he never had an opportunity to personally confront the theater’s artistic development team, which had been among those who had taken issue with his statements. Instead, all of his interactions had been with management, he said.
“I think it’s very sad,” Gilliam pointed out. “They allowed a small group of kids to dictate to them or to intimidate them.”
He also mentioned that the cancellation was at least in part caused by “a feeling of guilt” associated with actor Kevin Spacey, who had been artistic director at the Old Vic until 2015. Spacey now stands accused of inappropriate sexual behavior during his stint at the theater, to which its management is said to have turned a blind eye.
Gilliam said he has no regrets. “When I announced [I was] black lesbian, the anger was not from LGBT people or black people,” he argued. “It was from people who felt they had to defend these victims of Gilliam’s joke, the ‘activists’. They love the idea of other people’s victimhood so they can be defenders.”
He also stood by his #MeToo comments, reiterating that he still thought the movement was a witch hunt. “Despite the monstrousness of Harvey Weinstein – yes, victims were there – but there were also people who benefited. Hollywood is full of adults who are ambitious. That’s all I said; I’m not saying crimes have not been committed,” Gilliam explained.
A former member of the famous Monty Python comedy troupe, Gilliam went on to become a highly successful filmmaker, with 13 feature films under his belt, including ‘Brazil’, ‘Time Bandits’ and ‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas’. The only American in the troupe, Gilliam renounced his US citizenship back in 2006.
Arising in the 2010s as a phenomenon largely confined to the internet, so-called ‘cancel culture’ has since become widespread, claiming many victims, including celebrities, politicians, athletes, and journalists. Usually understood as the shunning of a public figure following widespread condemnation in response to behavior or statements perceived as inappropriate, it has been repeatedly criticized as harmful to free speech.