Hollywood directors, writers, and artists see themselves as heirs to the 18th-century French Enlightenment — as disciples for truth, equality, and justice.

But only when it's easy or liberal.

As the Hollywood Reporter reports, two upcoming movies have had their references to Vladimir Putin scrubbed.

The first is "Red Sparrow," a spy thriller set in Russia and based on a novel by the same name. The novel was written by a former CIA officer and has received praise for its sharp writing and inside-espionage feel.

The second is "Kursk," a movie based on the August 2000 sinking of a Russian nuclear submarine in the Barents Sea.

Both movies were supposed to include references to Putin. The fact that they will not speaks to Hollywood's cowardice.

For a start, you can't tell the story of the Kursk without Putin. That's because Putin played a central role in the crisis, and not a positive one.

When he was first informed that a Russian submarine had sunk, Putin did nothing. He did not organize the Russian Navy into a coordinated response or demand immediate rescue efforts. Even worse, when foreign governments offered to assist Russia with their specific submarine rescue capabilities, Putin rejected their offers of help. It was not until five days after the sinking that Putin changed his mind. The families of the dead were ignored and rejected.

Amazingly, just a month after the Kursk had sunk, Putin was asked on CNN about the incident. In response, he offered a smirk.

For a leader who claims to be competent and in charge, the Kursk disaster was a stunning failure.

Of course, the ultimate story of the Kursk is about the lives that were lost and the suffering of their families. But to leave Putin out is to tell only two-thirds of the story. The executives who must have researched the tragedy know this. That they nonetheless decided to leave Putin out shows their fear.

In the case of "Red Sparrow," while Putin's role is more remote, the element of a Russian intelligence officer being recruited by a CIA officer is one that would be strengthened by Putin's appearance. Not simply because Putin is the president of Russia, but because Putin is the spymaster in chief. Putin lives for intelligence briefings and aggressive operations. Every day, he takes a very deep interest in what his various intelligence services are doing around the world.

Again, leaving him out is thus nonsensical unless they did so for reasons of fear. And clearly, that's what's going on here.

In both cases, the production studios evidently decided that avoiding an upset Putin was more important than telling the truth of the story. And in basic terms, it might be. But here's the thing. Artists are supposed to push the boundaries of free expression wherever their artistic impulses drive them. And considering Hollywood's standards (joking about assassinating Trump, for example), the town has no problems with bucking standard decorum.

By failing to include Putin in stories that directly involve him, however, Hollywood has put fear before freedom. It's pathetic.

Still, Hollywood's failure here can't simply be placed on Hollywood. It also represents a failure of American governance. After all, were Hollywood officials confident that they would be protected from Putin's reprisals by the U.S. government, their willingness to show Putin might be greater.