Steven Spielberg says art should not be revised after it is put out in the world to reflect changing political views—or even a creator’s own changing perspective.
“For me, it’s sacrosanct … I do not believe in censorship that way,” the Oscar-winning director told executive chairman and former TIME editor-in-chief Edward Felsenthal at the TIME100 Summit on Tuesday.
Reflecting on his own decision to retroactively replace guns with walkie talkies in his 1982 film E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, Spielberg calls it an error, though he says he was initially sensitive to the fact that a scene showed federal agents approaching a bunch of children with firearms exposed.
“That was a mistake; I never should have done that because E.T. is a product of its era,” he says. “No film should be revised based on the lenses we now are either voluntarily or being forced to adhere to.”
Spielberg feels the same about art more broadly. Asked about the removal of language considered offensive from the latest editions of Roald Dahl childhood favorites such as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, he says, “Nobody should ever take the chocolate out of Willy Wonka, and they shouldn’t take the chocolate or the vanilla or any other flavor out of anything that’s been written.” In the newest editions of Dahl’s books, portions were rewritten to remove descriptions of characters as “fat”, “crazy” and “ugly.”
Over his illustrious decadeslong career, Spielberg’s work has spanned multiple genres, from the sci-fi marvel E.T. to the shark thriller Jaws. He poignantly documented the Holocaust in Schindler’s List and explored the expansive world of dinosaurs in Jurassic Park. His films have earned him three Oscars; two for directing and one for Best Picture.
It’s no surprise then, that as a child, Spielberg was used to dropping one hobby for another. He had stints with geology (“I would break open rocks”) as well as collecting comic books, trying out musical instruments, and making little animations. “I would take a school book, animate each page and then riffle them with my thumb,” he says. “I got in trouble in class because that’s what I did all day in school.” Eventually, Spielberg fell into television and film. His father was a television repairman, so he was exposed to it at an early age; their family supposedly had the first TV on the block.
Spielberg hasn’t made a film in every genre just yet, pointing to Westerns as one kind of film he has not explored. He ponders making one before quickly pulling back: “Don’t send me scripts!”
Spielberg’s 2022 film The Fabelmans marks the director’s first try at semi-autobiographical storytelling. The movie follows his journey as a child, growing as a filmmaker and wrestling with family secrets. That includes learning as a 16-year-old that his mother was in love with a close family friend, whom he regarded as an uncle.
“It was really scary because I wasn’t sure if I wanted to take my private life into the public but then I looked at the calendar and said I’m 76-years-old, if not now, when?” he says.
When history is written about his expansive body of work, Spielberg hopes people most remember him by three films: E.T., Schindler’s List, and The Fabelmans.
When it comes to his own television consumption, Spielberg is just like the rest of us. He’s hooked on the second season of White Lotus and has keenly been keeping up with Succession. Spielberg, too, is mourning the death of media mogul Logan Roy. “I miss him. I’m sorry he died but after two episodes post-mortem, I can safely say the kids are carrying the show themselves.”
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