|So Damon executive-produced - and, we hear, largely bankrolled - this Sunday’s The History Channel special “The People Speak,” a collaboration between Zinn and some of the biggest names in Hollywood, to put a new twist on some old history lessons.|
“The film is an inspirational film about democracy,” Zinn told us. “It’s about how people - not governments - achieve social change.”
Of course, Damon and Zinn go way back. They were neighbors in Newton when Damon was 5 and Zinn was writing “People’s History,” and have been close ever since. In his breakthrough flick, “Good Will Hunting,” Matt’s character, a Southie genius janitor, tells his shrink, played by Robin Williams, to read Zinn’s book: “It’ll knock you on your ass.”
And Will Hunting’s monologue about why he shouldn’t work for the NSA (“It’ll be some kid from Southie over there taking shrapnel in the ass.”) was inspired by Zinn’s work.
“Ben and I were laughing our asses off writing that,” he recalled. “We liked it that the smartest guy in Boston was reading Howard Zinn.”
After Damon’s big-screen shout-out, Zinn’s book went on to sell 2 million copies. So it is only right that Matt is the first big name to appear onscreen in “The People Speak.” He reads The Declaration of Independence . The performance sets up the rest of the documentary, which, the producers say, “celebrates democracy.”
The film intersperses historical footage with dramatic performances of documents, letters, speeches and diaries written by some of the better-known Americans who shaped this country’s history: Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson, Mark Twain and Susan B. Anthony . But other voices, not often heard in high school civics class, also are included: Nez Perce Chief Joseph, heavyweight champ Muhammad Ali, factory worker Genova Johnson Dollinger, socialist Eugene Debs and rebel Massachusetts farmer Plough Jogger .
The documentary, mostly filmed in Boston at the Emerson Majestic Theatre, features “W” star Josh Brolin, who also produced the flick, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, Viggo Mortensen, Danny Glover, Kerry Washington, Marisa Tomei, Q’orianka Kilcher, Michael Ealy, Don Cheadle, Jasmine Guy, David Strathairn, Eddie Vedder, John Legend, Chris Robinson and Lupe Fiasco . It was co-directed by Chris Moore, Damon’s “Project Greenlight” partner and a “Good Will Hunting” producer.
“To have a normal history lesson on TV is nice, but you’ll probably fall asleep,” Brolin said. “We are aiming to convey the viscera of events through these speeches and hopefully they will wake you up and inspire you.”
But how will Damon & Co. convince the audience that “The People Speak” is not just some vanity project by a bunch of Hollywood lefties?
“I’m sure the Glenn Becks and Sean Hannitys and O’Reillys are going to say we’re out of touch,” said “The Road” dad Mortensen. “But how can you fault a project that’s about ordinary people? These things were said. These people had the courage to speak. They were fighting for people like themselves and others and they did it by speaking up. I think it’s really inspiring and has made me feel more connected to the idea of the United States of America.”
If you are wondering why the History Channel chooses to push this Anti-America, anti-capitalist, anti history piece to the screen.
|The flick had a star-studded premiere in New York last month where most of the cast turned out to celebrate the partnership with The History Channel. The cable channel signed on to distribute the film last summer, culminating Damon and Moore’s 10-year odyssey to make “The People Speak” and find it a home. (It didn’t hurt that History Channel GM Nancy Dubuc is a former BU student of Zinn’s.)|