THE PEOPLE VS LARRY FLYNT:
A FEMINIST CRITIQUE AND PROTEST
by Diana E. H. Russell, Ph.D.
Copyright © 1998. All Rights Reserved.
The People vs. Larry Flynt is a highly manipulative movie designed by Director Milos Forman and Producer Oliver Stone to make a hero out of Larry Flynt, thereby fostering approval for pornography in general and Hustler magazine in particular. Following are some examples of the manipulative techniques used by these men.
A. Forman's Manipulative Techniques
1) Minimizing the Kind of Pornography in Hustler
The pornography that is shown in the movie -- mostly brief glimpses of Hustler covers and large pictures on the walls -- doesn't show the extremely abusive, misogynist, and often violent material that is characteristic of Hustler magazine. If the movie had shown as few as ten examples of pornographic pictures selected by feminists and published in this hardcore magazine, I believe that the reactions of audiences -- particularly the women -- would have been extremely different. The vast majority of women have no idea about the kind of pictures and contemptuous woman-hating texts that appear on virtually every page of Hustler. Milos Forman and Oliver Stone may justify these omissions by saying that they wanted their movie to get an R-rating, but I suspect that they were fully aware of the fact that showing the real Hustler magazine would have sabotaged their goal of heroizing Flynt.
Similarly, if The People vs. Larry Flynt had shown just ten racist-cum-sexist examples of pornographic pictures in Hustler, I believe that the vast majority of black people as well as politically progressive whites who saw the movie would have had far more critical views of Larry Flynt and his so-called achievements.
Animal rights advocates would be especially appalled to see the sexual objectification of animals in Hustler, pictures showing animals being beaten and killed, and portrayals of bestiality.
Hustler also displays material that is anti-Semitic and homophobic. It contains sadistic cartoons about poor and disabled people. And it includes various forms of child pornography: cartoons, text, and photographs of women who look like children ("pseudo-child pornography"). A series of cartoons titled "Chester the Molester" constitute the most notorious example of this genre of porn in Hustler. They were a regular feature of the magazine until cartoonist Dwaine Tinsley was convicted in 1990 for sexually abusing his daughter (a conviction that was later overturned on a legal technicality). Although Flynt maintains that he is opposed to kiddy porn, his claim make no sense in light of these materials and the fact that the "Internet version of Hustler boasts 'the youngest flesh allowed by law'" (Bernstein, 1996, p. 36).
People who are particularly outraged by racism, anti-Semitism, homophobia, ablebodyism, child sexual abuse, and bestiality, would all be especially appalled if examples of such materials had been shown in The People vs. Larry Flynt.
2) Stereotyping Right-Wingers and Erasing Feminist Opponents of Pornography
The People vs. Larry Flynt portrays all the opponents of pornography as stereotypic right-wingers who are physically ugly, stupid, and ridiculous fools in contrast to the relatively good-looking Flynt (Flynt is actually a rather ugly man with a speech impediment that makes him sound drugged or severely intellectually challenged), and his charming, handsome young attorney. This makes Flynt's often-humorous and gutsy defense of pornography appealing by contrast, causing audiences to applaud his feisty attacks on the nasty, smug, hypocritical, and seemingly sexually uptight anti-pornographers.
Feminists' well-known criticisms of pornography in general and Hustler magazine in particular are completely missing from The People vs. Larry Flynt. The decades of feminist protests involving thousands of women throughout the United States have been totally erased. The enormous body of research on pornography that demonstrates the myriad ways in which it harms women and children is totally ignored. The movie conveys that right-wing prudes and hypocrites are the only critics of pornography. What an abominable lie!
My hunch is that producer Oliver Stone obtained substantial funding for The People vs. Larry Flynt from pornographers and their collaborators. Tonya's disclosure to me that Larry himself invested considerable money in this movie lends credibility to my hunch.
Right-wingers aside, there is not a single female character in the film who expresses any reservations about pornography or any criticism of Flynt. This is one of many indications of what a third-rate, simple-minded fairy-tale it is.
3) Lies and Omissions
The People vs. Larry Flynt is full of lies about Larry that make him appear far less reprehensible than he really is. For example:
a) Flynt is depicted as a loving husband.
The People vs. Larry Flynt conveys that Larry had only one wife (Althea Leasure) and that he had no children, whereas in reality, he married five times and had several children -- at least some of whom he abandoned. He had a very brief marriage with his first wife because she refused to have sex with him otherwise (Flynt, 1996, p. 28). He also left his second wife, Peggy, and their two daughters, Tonya and Judy, shortly after his first child, Tonya, was born (Judy only learned when she was 14 that Larry wasn't her biological father [Labash, 1997]). Larry decided that "it was a good thing for me to move on" because "I felt love for my child [Tonya] but not for her mother" (Soergel, 1997, p. A6).
The People vs. Larry Flynt, however, portrays Larry as an ever-loving, adoring, and supportive husband who, after one brief bout of violence toward Althea -- his fourth wife -- at the beginning of their relationship, never again abused her physically or sexually. This explains why at least one reviewer has described the movie as "a love story, with tragic overtones" (LaSalle, 1996).
Althea, who contracted AIDS from an infected needle, is no longer alive to tell the true story of how Larry treated her. However, her brother-in-law, William Rider, maintains that she admitted Larry beat her, and that he had also shot at her on one occasion (1997, p. 48).
In contrast to the movie's portrayal of Althea dying from a drug overdose and/or drowning in the bathtub, Rider provides convincing evidence that Larry may have murdered her. Rider reports that Althea herself was convinced that Larry was responsible for her developing AIDS (1997, p. 50). According to Rider, she awoke one evening to find one of Larry's flunkies standing over her. On observing her wake up, she saw him quickly put his hand, in which he held a syringe, behind his back. When Althea was diagnosed with AIDS a few months later, she concluded that this man had deliberately infected her with this lethal virus (Rider, 1997).
Rider also reports that in 1984, Althea named her sister, Marsha, as "the sole heir and chief beneficiary" of her by-then considerable estate (1997, p. 48). Althea was found dead less than two months after Larry succeeded in getting her to change her will so that he became the sole heir and beneficiary (Rider, 1997).
The movie portrays Larry as heartbroken about Althea's death. "That's another lie," writes Rider.
***When Althea's family arrived at Flynt's mansion two days after her death ... he basically ignored them and continued to watch porno films. (1997, p. 48)
If Larry loved Tonya, as he claimed, he appears to have had no compunction about leaving her as well as her mother and sister Judy in poverty despite his extreme wealth (Soergel, 1997, p. A6; also see Flynt, 1996). Tonya disclosed how "other children made fun of her clothing," and that "for a time, her bedroom was her mother's walk-in closet" (Soergel, 1997, p. A6). Flynt used to fly Tonya and her sister Judy to his mansion from time to time. Tonya told reporter Matthew Soergel that, "Seeing such opulence made her life in Jacksonville harder to bear" (1997, p. A6).
b) Flynt's incestuous abuse of three of his daughters is obliterated.
According to Tonya, Oliver Stone was fully aware of the incestuous abuse perpetrated by Flynt on her and her sister. She said that he also knew about Larry's threats to kill her that had made her too afraid for many years to publish the autobiographical account she is now planning to write (personal communication, December 26, 1996). Stone's desire to heroize Larry despite knowledge of his abhorrent and criminal behavior is immoral and misogynist, and makes him a colluder in Flynt's incestuous offenses. The autobiography that Tonya plans to write will presumably bring some of these ugly truths into the public domain (a movie about her life is also being discussed). However, I very much doubt that Tonya's revelations will be treated with as little skepticism by male critics as they have shown toward the lies and omissions about Flynt in The People vs. Larry Flynt. (More of Tonya's story will be told later in this article.)
Journalist Matt Labash describes concrete evidence substantiating the claim that Flynt sexually molested another of his daughters, Theresa, when she was 12 or 13 years old. Labash heard and transcribed an audiotape that Althea recorded when she confronted Larry about Theresa's disclosure that he had sexually abused his daughter in 1983 (1997, p. 26; also see Rider, 1997). Larry admitted on the tape that he had told Theresa that "he wanted to see if she was built like her mother," and that he had directed her to take off her gown and panties and to lie down next to him on the bed (Labash, p. 26). Larry also admitted on tape to telling Theresa: "Your c___ even looks like your mother's" (Labash, p. 26). When Althea demanded to know if he had spread Theresa's legs, Larry responded, "No, she didn't want me to" -- thereby admitting that he had either proposed doing this or started doing it.
Incensed that Althea was so angry about what he had done, Flynt protested, "But Althea, I didn't try to f--- her" (p. 26). Althea reminded him that his paralysis made that impossible. When Althea inquired why Larry had asked his daughter if she'd had an orgasm, he said, as if aggrieved by his daughter's disloyalty, "I was just trying to keep her from being so uptight about her body. That's all, and then she runs her mouth to you" (Labash, p. 26).
Despite this record, Theresa now "vehemently defends her father from accusations that he molested her:"
"I've slept in the same bed with my dad probably over 2,000 times as a kid ... [until I was] probably about 15 .... It's just part of my childhood." (Labash, p. 26)
There can be no doubt at all that Larry Flynt is a guilty of one of the most heinous forms of child molestation: father-daughter incestuous abuse.
B. The Film-makers' Collusion with Larry Flynt
The fact that Larry Flynt plays a small part in The People vs. Larry Flynt (a judge) is one of several indicators that he was on good terms with Forman and Stone. This, combined with Larry's presence on the set, makes it likely that he played a role in the relatively positive way he was portrayed in the movie. "Throughout the film we learned from Larry," Oliver Stone reported (The People vs. Larry Flynt: Production Information, Internet, p. 10). And Janet Yang, one of Stone's two co-producers, noted that, "People who have led dramatically divergent lives have become bonded together by their mutual faith in the project" (p. 9). Clearly Tonya Flynt-Vega had no place on that set and her ugly revelations about her father's violent and sexually abusive behavior toward her and her sister had no place in the script-writers' sanitized portrait of Larry Flynt.
I have heard from more than one source that material unfavorable to Larry was deleted from the original script. If this is true, I surmise that Forman succumbed to Larry's influence. Perhaps Larry's financial investment in the movie also played its part (Tonia didn't tell me how much Larry invested in the movie, but she said that he is angry as all hell because the relatively poor box office returns have resulted in financial loss). I wonder when, and how often, such a bond has existed between Hollywood film-makers and the subjects of their stories. But regardless of how unprecedented it may be, it indicates that Larry must have been (and presumably still is) pleased with how he was portrayed in this movie (obviously he wouldn't have been happy with, or acted in, a film that showed the true Larry Flynt).
C. The Crass, Unethical Values of Milos Forman and Oliver Stone
In his foreword to Larry's presumably ghost-written autobiography, Oliver Stone describes Flynt as "the late twentieth-century version of Horatio Alger pursuing the American Dream" (Flynt, 1996, p. xi). But Horatio Alger was an American author who wrote books about "impoverished boys who through hard work and virtue achieve great wealth and respect" (The American Heritage Dictionary, 3rd edition, 1992, p. 45; emphasis, mine). Larry can hardly be described as virtuous; nor has he achieved great respect -- except by fellow pornophiles and materialists who believe that being rich deserves respect no matter how many people were exploited on the journey to upward mobility. Stone elaborates on his fanciful Horatio Alger comparison with the following bullshit:
I find him personally to be more in the rapscallion tradition of Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn -- the country boy, misunderstood by so many, trying to figure it all out, rafting down the American psyche of a country gone wacko. (Flynt, 1996, p. xi)
Among several reasons Stone offers for finding Larry Flynt so "fascinating" (Flynt, 1996, p. xii) is the fact that "He has had sex both with a chicken and with some of the world's most beautiful women" (Carroll, 1996, p. E1). Stone does concede that Larry "is also an exploiter of women" (Flynt, 1996, p. xi), but this apparently, to him, trivial fact appears to have no impact on his view of Larry as a hero (Flynt, 1996, p. xiii). Can we be surprised that a man who finds misogyny and bestiality to be inconsequential would trivialize the kind of pornography characteristic of Hustler magazine in his movie?
Milos Forman, after apologizing for his dislike of pornography as if it were merely an insignificant difference in his and Larry's aesthetic taste, goes on to say that, "As long as I live, I will always admire Larry Flynt: his life, his courage, and his tenacity" (Flynt, 1996, p. xv). What an ignorant, morally despicable, male-biased statement!
I anticipate that this grossly distorted movie, which is full of lies and omissions, will contribute to the mainstreaming of Hustler and the viciously sexist kinds of material that this magazine contains. I consider Milos Forman and Oliver Stone to be guilty of promoting pornography in The People vs. Larry Flynt -- and therefore rape and other forms of violence against women and children. I believe the audience reaction to Larry and pornography would have been very different had The People vs. Larry Flynt included the following information:
a) The fact that Larry sexually abused his daughter Tonya for many years (Tonya's sister Judy is currently denying that she was abused), as well as his daughter Theresa;
b) Ten examples of pornographic pictures in Hustler magazine selected by feminists.
I believe that the insertion of this information/material in The People vs. Larry Flynt would have lessened the pro-pornography effects that this movie will have, as well as making it a less grossly flawed movie than it is now. As Gloria Steinem has so eloquently stated in her Op-Ed piece for the New York Times:
Let's be clear: A pornographer is not a hero, no more than a publisher of Ku Klux Klan books or a Nazi on the Internet.... What's left out [of the movie] are the magazines's images of women being beaten, tortured and raped, women subject to degradations from bestiality to sexual slavery. (New York Times, 1997. p. A13)
FEMINIST DEMONSTRATION IN SAN FRANCISCO TO PROTEST
THE PEOPLE VS. LARRY FLYNT
Wendy Stock and I organized a feminist demonstration outside the Kabuki Theater in San Francisco to protest The People vs. Larry Flynt on its opening night -- Friday, December 27, 1996, at 6:30 p.m. Tonya Flynt-Vega, Larry's 31-year-old daughter, had flown in from Florida to be our main speaker.
Tonya is currently working on a book about her painful experiences tentatively entitled, A Pornographer's Daughter. We were thrilled when she accepted our invitation. We had found it very difficult to locate Tonya, but we persisted because we felt that it would be invaluable for San Franciscans, and indeed, the whole world, to hear from her in person about the trauma of growing up with Larry Flynt as her father, as well as her views on Director Milos Forman and Producer Oliver Stone's fictional movie. Before Tonya had even read the script of The People vs. Larry Flynt, she was worried about it:
I was frightened that Oliver Stone might glorify my dad and make him out to be a hero who has sacrificed everything to fight censorship and protect freedom of speech. My worst fears were justified. The movie shows him as a great guy who is only interested in fighting for freedom and the right for people to say and print whatever they want (Media Watch, 1996).
Tonya elaborated on her distress about the movie in the following passages:
"The reason that I'm so upset about this film is that it justifies my dad as a pornographer. It supports his argument that there are no victims of pornography and that pornography does no harm.
"If you want to see a victim of pornography, just look at me. Since I was a very little girl, I was surrounded by the stuff. I had to go through so much pain and grief to survive."
That pain, she says, was typified by the Christmas card her father sent her when she was 12. On the front was a drawing of a grinning Santa Claus. Inside was a gift of hundreds of dollars and a picture of Santa having sex with a nude woman.
"I cried so much about that card," she remembers. "Can you imagine sending something like that to your little girl?"
And "look at what it's done to him. He began sexually abusing me before I was 10, and that went on until I was 18. Now this film will tell people Larry Flynt has suffered only because he couldn't be silenced. What a lie, what a perversion of the truth. And what have pictures of women being violated got to do with freedom of speech?" (Daily News, 1996, p. 7)
Here, on the other hand, is one of Larry's self-interested lies about pornography in the July issue of Hustler:
I feel pornography is art. It's hard to fathom something with more socially redeeming value than pornography. There's no evidence pornography is harmful to anyone. (Quoted in Media Watch, 1996)
Hearing nonsense like this it's little wonder that Tonya and many other women who know about Larry's vile, misogynist politics, are enraged.
Tonya also reports that Larry molested her older sister Judy in childhood, and that he developed an "extreme infatuation" for Judy in 1984 when she was 20 years old (Labash, 1997, p. 24). Although Judy denies that Larry sexually abused her as a child, she does admit that he "asked her to marry him" when she was 20 (Labash, 1997, p. 24).
We started our demonstration about an hour before the 7:30 p.m. showing of the movie. The speakers stood atop the upper steps of the Kabuki Theater while the line of movie-goers passed by on the sidewalk in front of us. About 20-30 women and a couple of men who came to participate in the protest were scattered in front of and beside us. Demonstrators held gigantic blowups of three pornographic pictures from Hustler magazine:
- the notorious cover picture showing a woman being ground up in a meat grinder;
- a cartoon showing a young girl being sexually molested by her father; and
- a photograph of a workman applying a large drill to a woman's vagina accompanied by the quip: "At last, a cure for frigidity."
Other protesters carried large signs, four of which read:
LARRY FLYNT IS NO FIRST AMENDMENT HERO.
HE'S A PIMP, PORNOPHILE, AND INCEST PERPETRATOR;
LARRY FLYNT, MILOS FORMAN,
AND THE SO-CALLED CRITICS
THINK WITH THEIR PRICKS!
INCARCERATE LARRY FOR INCEST, BESTIALITY,
AND INCITING SEXUAL VIOLENCE;
LARRY BELONGS ON THE FBI'S LIST OF THE 10 MOST
WANTED CRIMINALS IN THE US.
Two of us wore T-shirts with "LARRY FLYNT IS A CHILD MOLESTER,"
emblazoned on our chests.
We had planned to have a continuous showing of pornographic pictures from Hustler magazine throughout our protest, but the manager of the Kabuki Theater decided to withdraw his permission -- granted a few days earlier -- to allow us to use the theater's electrical outlet for our slide projector and loudspeaker system. The Kabuki security guards also demanded that we move off the theater steps onto the sidewalk. We variously negotiated, defied, and acquiesced to these demands.
When one of the security guards leant over a woman to tell her to move, touching her shoulder as he did so, I did the same to him. He made a big fuss about this, complaining that I had assaulted him. I pointed out that he was doing the same thing to the woman in front of him. After I refused to obey another security guard who kept demanding that I move off the steps, he told me that we could be arrested if we didn't comply. I told him to go ahead and call the police. I knew that the police would give us plenty of warning before arresting us; meanwhile, our protest could carry on. I also thought the drama of the police coming to arrest us might motivate the media to give us better coverage. And I believed that if any of us chose to get arrested, this would intensify the media's interest in our action. The security guard, however, backed off.
The Kabuki guards' constant harassment totally disrupted our plans, including the slide presentation, but did not succeed in stopping our speakers from denouncing Larry Flynt, The People vs. Larry Flynt, movie director Milos Forman, producer Oliver Stone, Hustler magazine, and pornography in general.
Following is a summary of our protest's major objectives, denunciations, and exhortations to action that were included in our press release.
A. To Protest THE PEOPLE VS. LARRY FLYNT:
- For heroizing Flynt, a notorious pimp, pornographer and pornophile who qualifies as one of the most misogynist exploiters and destroyers of women in the twentieth century.
- For failing to expose Flynt's role in the escalation of sexual abuse and violence against women and children -- in Hustler magazine and in his many other pornographic enterprises.
- For ignoring the harm done by pornography to girls and women who are used to produce it, as well as to girls and women who are degraded, raped, and/or murdered by the consumers of pornography.
- For distorting history by erasing the feminist critique of pornography, which is not about sexual explicitness, but about sexual violence.
B. To Denounce:
- To denounce Larry Flynt as well as The People vs. Larry Flynt for contributing to hate crimes against women and children, and to recognize that pornography is a form of hate speech.
- To denounce Flynt for sexually abusing his daughter, Tonya Flynt-Vega, and to publicize the fact that he is an incest perpetrator who deserves to be in prison for this crime, as well as for many other crimes.
C. To Urge All Women and Progressive Men to Action!!
- To protest those movie critics who are heaping praise, awards and accolades on The People vs Larry Flynt. For example, this movie was one of the runners-up for the best film of 1996 by The New York Film Critics Circle; it has been nominated for several Golden Globe Awards, and it is considered a serious contender for one or more Oscars at the Academy Award Ceremony in Los Angeles in March 1997.
- To recognize that Flynt's glorification of sexual violence against women is just as serious as the glorification of racist or homophobic violence.
- To join the ZERO TOLERANCE OF PORNOGRAPHY movement in recognition of porn's devastatingly destructive effects on women and children.
The speakers, besides Tonya, appear below along with a brief bio about their activities against pornography.
GARY R. BROOKS, Ph.D.: A clinical psychologist and Associate Professor at the Texas A&M University Health Sciences Center in Temple, TX. Gary is the author of two books including the recently published The Centerfold Syndrome.
MELISSA FARLEY, Ph.D.: A clinical psychologist and researcher who has testified as an expert witness on the harmful effects of pornography. Melissa is also a feminist activist who has been arrested many times in acts of civil disobedience to protest the harm of pornography.
NORMA HOTELING: Executive Director of SAGE (Standing Against Global Exploitation), a San Francisco-based project organized by and for survivors of abuse, prostitution and trauma. As a survivor of prostitution, Norma has counseled thousands of prostitutes and other exploited women and girls.
DIANA RUSSELL, Ph.D.: Professor Emerita of Sociology at Mills College, and author, editor/co-editor of 14 books, mostly on sexual violence. Diana's books on pornography are Making Violence Sexy: Feminist Views on Pornography and Against Pornography: The Evidence of Harm. She has been an activist against pornography since 1976.
ANN SIMONTON: A former top model who exposes the disturbing consequences of media images, including porn. Ann is the founder and director of Media Watch, a nonprofit that brings out a feminist publication about pornography and sexism in the media. She has been arrested 11 times for protesting everything from beauty pageants to pornography.
WENDY STOCK, Ph.D.: Associate Professor of Psychology at John F. Kennedy University in Orinda, CA., pornography researcher, and feminist anti-pornography activist. Wendy has lectured on the topic of pornography for many years and has conducted extensive research on the impact of pornography on women.
We decided that Tonya should speak last because we knew that the media were likely to disappear as soon as she'd finished speaking. We changed this plan, however, when it seemed that the crew from CBS-TV may actually disappear before she'd spoken. When Tonya started to speak, the CBS photographers and journalists circled around her, their lights glaring in her face. As soon as she'd finished, it was lights out, and they were on their way.
Even though we were not calling for people to boycott The People vs. Larry Flynt, a few of the women lined up to see it told us that they'd decided to skip it after hearing what we had to say. A dismissive response from our involuntary audience was far more common, however. Nevertheless, we believed that these women and men would have our protest in mind as they watched the movie. Unfortunately, women who are ignorant about pornography in general, and Hustler magazine in particular, will have no way of identifying the movie's lies, distortions and omissions. Hence, seeing the movie will tend to miseducate them rather than enable them to understand our outrage.
But our purpose was not limited to educating those in line for this fraudulent piece of pro-porn, pro-Flynt propaganda. We hoped that the media would carry our message throughout the country. Although we only barely achieved this goal (see the section on media coverage below), our efforts did help to ignite other feminists' protests in several cities.
After speaking at our demo, Tonya was invited to San Diego where she was interviewed by several media representatives. And, shortly after returning to her home in Jacksonville, Florida, there was a big front-page spread about her titled, "The People (and daughter) vs. Larry Flynt" (1997).
We were particularly pleased to be able to put the New York feminists in touch with Tonya, who agreed to speak at their press conference on January 7. Gloria Steinem and Dorchen Leidholdt also spoke there, and their press conference received very good coverage, including a short oft-repeated segment on CNN. Steinem's powerful Op-Ed article was published in the New York Times that same day, and subsequently republished in other newspapers and other countries and made available throughout the world on the Internet.
MEDIA COVERAGE OF PROTEST
Although we had faxed our press release to about 30 different media representatives, only a CBS Channel 5-TV News crew and the San Francisco Chronicle covered our protest (Solis, 1996). While we are accustomed to the media's opposition to any anti-pornography point of view in libertarian San Francisco, this poor response nevertheless shocked and disappointed us.
CBS-TV's coverage of our protest on the 10 p.m. news failed to include Tonya's vitally important revelations about having been sexually abused by her father from the age of 10 years old until she was 18. Tonya also mentioned in her speech that Larry had molested her sister Judy. But apparently CBS didn't share our desire for the world to know that Larry Flynt is a child molester/incest perpetrator.
CBS' brief coverage of our protest was incorporated into the opening of A&E's nationally syndicated "Larry Flynt Biography" shown twice on December 28, 1996.
San Francisco Chronicle journalist Suzanne Espinosa Solis concluded her article by quoting Larry Flynt denial that he had ever sexually abused Tonya. Solis failed to point out the well-known fact that perpetrators typically lie about their guilt.
In her speech outside the Kabuki Theater, Tonya also accused Larry of threatening her life on several occasions, including when she told him that she planned to inform the public about his incestuous abuse. Those who are knowledgeable about the dynamics in families headed by violent, sexually abusive men -- especially rich and powerful ones who use their money to buy favors and punish non-cooperation -- would find Flynt's claims of innocence totally implausible.
Many people do not realize that Larry publishes child pornography in his Hustler magazine, and almost every word and picture appearing in that despicable woman-hating publication reveals his utter contempt for women and girls, as well as his trivialization of incest, extrafamilial child sexual abuse, bestiality, rape, torture, mutilation, and femicide (the killing of women because they are women). Surely this man, who actually admits that he's raped a chicken, should not be more credible than Tonya! (Flynt describes his violent act of bestiality in his autobiography [1996, p. 12]).
Several days after our protest in San Francisco, Tonya told me that being interviewed in this city was the worst and most unsympathetic experience she'd had with the media. She also informed me that a media representative in Florida told her that he would only publish her accusations against Larry if she would take a lie detector test. She declined, not seeing why on earth this should be necessary. How often, one wonders, is the media only willing to publish accusations that are supported by lie detector tests -- tests that are known to be unreliable!? I rather doubt that this unidentified man would require that Larry Flynt pass a lie detector test before he would publish Larry's denial of his daughter's charges.
Although Tonya didn't disclose in her San Francisco speech any details about the sexual abuse to which Larry subjected her, Weekly Standard journalist Matt Labash quotes her quoting Larry on one of her first visits to his mansion as saying: "Come over here and let Daddy put his big d__k in your little p---y" (1997, p. 23). Labash goes on to report:
Tonya tells me a lot of things about Larry, none of which made the shooting script. She says he welted her with a belt, had her watch porn videos, put her on a liquid diet, and weighed her in every Friday when she briefly lived with him (this is confirmed by her half-sister Theresa, who works for Flynt). Most disturbing are her claims of sex abuse. When she was 10, she says, "He would not take my panties down -- he'd tell me he wanted me to take my panties off, he'd make me do it so I felt scared and ashamed and humiliated, and he'd get his jollies off doing that. (1997, p. 24)
Labash also quotes the following assessment of Larry's attitude to women contained in a psychiatric evaluation of his mental state:
"Mr. Flynt seems particularly frightened of women, whom he feels the need to control. He has accomplished this generally through denigration and sexual exploitation." The report goes on to cite Flynt's credo: "The man who controls p___y controls the world" (1997, p. 24)
This description of Larry is certainly consistent with the material in Hustler magazine, but it is totally inconsistent with the portrayal of his relationship with Althea in The People vs. Larry Flynt.
This is how I concluded my speech at our San Francisco protest:
I am appalled that a woman-hating pornophile like Larry Flynt is being celebrated by the likes of Milos Forman, Oliver Stone, and a bandwagon of male critics. Had Flynt published a magazine that celebrated the rape, torture, mutilation, castration and killing of men, do you think they would have ignored such material? Of course they wouldn't! These men think with their dicks! They suffer from testosterone poisoning.
Imagine how scandalized progressive people would be if Milos Forman and Oliver Stone had made a movie about slavery in which they heroized slave owners while ignoring their devastating exploitation, brutality and sexual violation of slaves. Even if such a film were well-acted, would critics fail to mention the appallingly partial, insensitive, white-washed and racist contents of the movie? I don't think so!
I strongly suspect that Forman deliberately chose to have the critics judge "Larry Flynt vs. Women" before the public had a chance to see it so that the critics would not be influenced by negative public reactions. I suspect Forman is also counting on this strategy to reduce public criticism -- even to appear to invalidate it. Many people assume that the critics must be right, so critics' opinions can significantly influence theirs. If this weren't the case, film awards, which are decided by critics, wouldn't be such an important publicity coup.
WE MUST NOT LET THIS STRATEGY WORK!
Flynt appears to have set his heart on taking a breather from his outcast status, and he seems to see this movie, and the acquisition of prestigious awards, as a kind of exoneration of him and the vast quantities of vicious pornography that his porn empire has produced and distributed.
Many of us agree with his perception. That is why it is so important that women and progressive men throughout the United States and abroad, take a stand against this movie's outrageous attempt to honor one of the most despicable male predators in this country. In addition to being a predator, his publications have caused, and continue to cause, immeasurable harm to women and girls all over the world.
WE MUST ACT ON OUR ANGER WITH MILITANCY AND DARING TO STOP THIS APPALLINGLY BIASED AND DISTORTED FILM THAT IGNORES THE DEVASTATING CRIMES AGAINST WOMEN THAT FLYNT HAS PERPETRATED, AND CONTINUES TO PERPETRATE, FROM GETTING AN OSCAR AND OTHER PRESTIGIOUS AWARDS.
The purpose of this article is to encourage women everywhere to actively protest The People vs. Larry Flynt (which should be retitled: Larry Flynt vs. Women and Girls; or, better yet, Larry Flynt: Pimp, Pornographer, and Pedophile). This piece starts out with critiques of the movie, the Director, Milos Forman, and producer Oliver Stone, and the uncritical critics. It then moves on to a description of the first feminist demonstration against this over-rated, ideologically-motivated charade about Hustler magazine's founder and owner, Larry Flynt. This section also includes criticism of the media coverage of The People vs. Larry Flynt and some eloquent statements by Larry's daughter, Tonya Flynt-Vega, about him and the movie. The article concludes with an excerpt of the speech I made at the protest in San Francisco along with a list of protest slogans.
I hope that women and men who want to protest this movie's appalling glorification of one of this centuries' most notorious pornographers will find useful information or inspiration in this article. They are welcome to use and/or quote from it without obtaining my permission.
SLOGANS CONSIDERED FOR PROTEST SIGNS
LARRY IS AN INCEST PERPETRATOR
LARRY IS A CHILD MOLESTER
THOSE WHO PRAISE LARRY CONDONE CRIMINAL BEHAVIOR
MILOS FORMAN, OLIVER STONE, AND FLYNT BELONG IN THE HALL OF SHAME
MILOS FORMAN, OLIVER STONE, AND THE SO-CALLED CRITICS THINK AND JUDGE WITH THEIR PRICKS!
LARRY FLYNT, MILOS FORMAN, OLIVER STONE AND THEIR ADORING "CRITICS" SUFFER FROM TESTOSTERONE POISONING
LARRY FLYNT HAS ABUSED THE FIRST AMENDMENT TO PROMOTE RAPE AND CHILD MOLESTATION
LARRY FLYNT HAS FOUGHT FOR MEN'S RIGHT TO DEMEAN AND VIOLATE MORE WOMEN MORE SEVERELY
LARRY, A FIRST AMENDMENT HERO? BULLSHIT!!!
HE'S A PIMP, PORNOGRAPHER, AND PEDOPHILE
INCARCERATE LARRY FOR INCEST, BESTIALITY, PIMPING, PORNOGRAPHY, HATE CRIMES, AND INCITING VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN AND CHILDREN
LARRY IS A CRIMINAL, GUILTY OF INCEST AND PORNOGRAPHY-RELATED CRIMES AGAINST WOMEN AND GIRLS
THOSE WHO PRAISE LARRY SUPPORT INCEST, BESTIALITY, PIMPING, PORNOGRAPHY, HATE CRIMES, AND INCITING MEN TO COMMIT THESE CRIMES AGAINST WOMEN AND GIRLS
LARRY BELONGS ON THE FBI'S LIST OF THE 10 MOST WANTED CRIMINALS IN THE US
Anonymous. The People vs. Larry Flynt: Production Information. On the Internet.
Nina Bernstein. "A free speech hero? It's not that simple," The New York Times, Arts and Leisure, December 22, 1996, Section 2.
Jerry Carroll. Larry Flynt vs. The People," San Francisco Chronicle, December 17, 1996.
Larry Flynt. An Unseemly Man: My Life as Pornographer, Pundit, and Social Outcast, 1996.
"Flynt-Stone feud," Daily News, July 7, 1996.
Matt Labash. "The truth vs. Larry Flynt," The Weekly Standard, February 17, 1997.
Mick LaSalle. "Mr. Flynt goes to town," San Francisco Chronicle, December 27, 1996.
William Rider. "The real Larry," Penthouse, Vol. 28, No. 6, February 1997.
Diana E. H. Russell. The Secret Trauma: Incest in the Lives of Girls and Women. New York: Basic Books, 1986.
Diana E. H. Russell. Making Violence Sexy: Feminist Views on Pornography (Ed.). New York: Teachers College Press, 1993.
Diana E. H. Russell. Against Pornography: The Evidence of Harm. Berkeley, California: Russell Publications, 1994. (Available in some bookstores, or order from Russell Publications, 2018 Shattuck Ave, Box 118, Berkeley, CA 94704. $12.95 plus $3 for postage and handling)
Diana E. H. Russell. Incestuous Abuse: Its Long-Term Effects. Pretoria, South Africa: The Human Sciences Research Council Publishers, 1995.
Diana E. H. Russell. "Tonya vs. Larry Flynt," letter to the Editor, San Francisco Chronicle, January 15, 1997.
Diana E. H. Russell. Behind Closed Doors in White South Africa: Incest Survivors Tell Their Stories. To be published by Macmillan Press, London, England, June 1997, and St. Martin's Press, New York, August 1997.
Matthew Soergel. "The people (and daughter) vs. Larry Flynt," The Times-Union Jacksonville, January 2, 1997.
Suzanne Espinosa Solis. "Feminists protest film's portrayal of Flynt," San Francisco Chronicle, December 28, 1996, p. A21.
Gloria Steinem. "Hollywood cleans up Hustler," Op-ed, New York Times, January 7, 1997.
"The People vs. Larry Flynt out in Sept.," Media Watch, Vol. 3, No. 1, 1996.
I want to thank Wendy Stock for initiating our protest, and for doing most of the organizing work entailed in it. It was she, for example, who tracked down Tonya Flynt-Vega, invited her to speak, and paid for her airfare.
I am very grateful to Tonya Flynt-Vega for coming to our protest; without her, there probably would have been no media coverage at all. I also want to express my deep admiration for her remarkable courage in standing up and fighting an extremely vicious, dangerous, and murderous man. It was this treacherous movie that fired her up to take the risks required of her to speak out about the movie, the real Larry Flynt, and the real consequences on her of being his daughter. Tonya deserves our commitment to support her in whatever ways we can; at this time, this means to get out and fight against this movie's receiving the awards that Larry Flynt now craves with all his heart.
I would also like to thank Gayle Pitman for her editing assistance.