To paraphrase and parody Mr. Rod Serling, “Picture, if you will, a world where Chevrolet only marketed to Redheads, Allstate only to brown eyed homeowners and Microsoft only to people measuring 5’10 or taller. Fortune 500 companies dependent on profiting as much as possible but only targeting a quarter of their demographic. No, it’s not the Twilight Zone, it’s…….HOLLYWOOD!” (cue the overly dramatic piano and violins).
During a recent interview for Playboy Magazine, outspoken Actor/ Director/ Activist Ben Affleck offered his personal opinion regarding the small collection of Conservative artists in Hollywood.
“When I watch a guy [on screen] I know is a big Republican, part of me thinks, I probably wouldn’t like this person if I met him, or we would have different opinions. That sh*t fogs the mind when you should be paying attention and be swept into the illusion.”, said Affleck.
No matter which side of the aisle you lean, you have to admit, he’s not wrong. In our currently divided, hyper-political world, the political leanings of actors, directors and talk show hosts has increasingly become an issue when it comes to television ratings and box office receipts.
The point Affleck appears to be missing is that this bias and political prejudice he himself possesses and speaks of is most assuredly cutting both ways these days. Unfortunately, the producers and network executives have been slow to acknowledge this obvious complication and, as a result, are paying some pretty hefty prices for their unchecked activism. Spend a few minutes talking with an executive who has the unenviable job of selling advertising time for the Late Show with David Letterman and they’ll tell you, alienating 50% of your buying audience is a costly and foolhardy mistake.
Numbers don’t lie and the numbers tell us political prejudices have most definitely affected the bottom line on Affleck’s side of the aisle more than it has-or ever could- the Hollywood Republicans. If, for no other reason than the left vastly outnumbers the right in the entertainment industry, as it always has and always will.
In 2007 Robert Redford directed, produced and starred in the film Lions for Lambs, a left leaning morality tale, a celluloid soap box of sorts for Redford’s strongly held political beliefs, which also starred big box office powerhouses Tom Cruise and Meryl Streep. In almost any other situation this cast would have had even the most financially reserved producer in the business on their knees and drooling, with big dollar signs gleaming in their twinkling eyeballs but, despite several positive reviews from some of the most respected critics in the country, the film underperformed, or to be more specific, it bombed, hard, in a nuclear way. Many of you reading this have, in all likelihood, never even heard of this film, which, in Hollywood terms, almost seems unthinkable given a campaign and poster that prominently featured the names and visages of Redford, Cruise and Streep. Of course, if you offered this supposition to Redford and his fellow producers they no doubt would argue that it wasn’t politics that lead to the film’s poor performance but rather, “several mitigating factors including Cruise’s high profile relationship with Scientology and Katie Holmes…”
Of course, you should expect nothing less from a town that spends most of it’s time and all of it’s money resisting the basic concepts of reality, both personally and professionally.
The evidence of political division is obviously not limited to Redford’s film. Aaron Sorkin’s HBO series, The Newsroom, which also received mostly positive notices during it’s run and went on to win 3 Emmy’s in 2013, including a Best Actor award for series star Jeff Daniels, failed to earn a 4th season renewal from the network. Like Redford’s film, opinions vary regarding the reasons for the cancellation but most agree the show’s preachy, left leaning politics drove many audience members away. Unlike the HBO hits The Sopranos or Game of Thrones, the series failed to generate any measurable water cooler conversation. While it’s true HBO’s Real Time with Bill Mahr often runs the same risk of rubbing 50% of the general public the wrong way, it should be noted that Mahr’s program costs less than a quarter of the money The Newsroom did and, unlike Sorkin’s politico pulpit, still, at the very least, has people talking, (it might not always be good talk but, nonetheless, they’re talking, which in turn means someone is watching).
Perhaps an even more glaring example of political divisiveness in entertainment would be NBC’s critically acclaimed 30 Rock, which ran for seven seasons on the network, totaling 139 episodes. This is no small achievement given, as Deadline Hollywood has reported, “it’s ratings rarely rose above the level of abysmal”. The series was nominated for a staggering 112 Emmy awards, of which it took home 16 in addition to 6 Golden Globes. Just last year the Writer’s Guild of America named 30 Rock one of the best-written television series of all time, ranking it at 21st place. A reasonable person might ask: “How is it possible such a highly regarded show never found a bigger audience after 7 years on the air?” An intelligent person will answer: “Politics.”
30 Rock starred Alec Baldwin, a blindly opinionated and often abrasive mouthpiece for the Democratic Party who, in what would prove to be a less-than-inside-joke, was cast as a blindly opinionated and often abrasive Republican. Sure, it’s a “funny idea” but it’s the type of humor only a small portion of the viewing public is going to appreciate.
As if Baldwin’s casting weren’t politically problematic enough, his co-star and series creator Tina Fey, had already alienated a large swath of America by insinuating herself into the Presidential election cycle of 2008, by way of her dead-on but less than flattering impersonation of Republican Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin. To her credit the dangers of bias and divisiveness were not lost on Fey, who explained in her 2010 interview with Vogue Magazine, “People started projecting politics onto me,” she said. “There are people who hate me now because of that.” Fey’s parents are Republicans, and she herself is an Independent. “The partisan nature of politics continues to appall me. I’m almost paralyzed by my inability to see things in black-and-white. I encountered a lot of hard-core Democrats who are just as rabid and hateful, and I found that just as shocking. It was scary to be in that world of politics. I felt uncomfortable to be in that discussion.” In her book, Bossypants, Fey went even further, “Some may argue that exploiting Governor Palin and her family helped bring attention to my low-rated TV show,” Fey wrote. “I am proud to say you are wrong. My TV show still enjoys (enjoyed) very low ratings. In fact, I think the Palin stuff may have hurt the TV show. Let’s face it, between Alec Baldwin and me there is a certain fifty percent of the population who think we are pinko Commie monsters.“
In the most recent example to date, filmmaker Lee Daniels and his film The Butler failed to generate the kinds of numbers enjoyed by The Help in 2011, though it would seem the studio was marketing the film to attract the same audience. This was certainly a reasonable expectation which, in all likelihood, would have worked if it weren’t for Daniels and the film’s star Oprah Winfrey promoting the film with cries of racism, a subject the seemingly exhausted and shell shocked public were already beginning to tune out.
While out on the media circuit promoting the film, Winfrey felt compelled to cite a still unproven incident of perceived racism she experienced at a restaurant in Paris, (which, if it did occur, probably had more to do with her being American than it did her skin color, after all, we’re talking about Paris for God’s sake! ).Also, in an interview with the BBC, (again promoting The Butler), in what seems like an unrelenting compulsion to divide, she also injected race into the conversation and offered her observation that the resistance to President Obama’s policies in the U.S. was largely due to his race, (ignoring completely the fact that Obama was elected in a country where the African American population, according to the latest census, is at 13% and the fact that her billions were made by amassing a largely female audience, the majority of which were white American housewives).
Not to be outdone by Winfrey’s call to arms, Daniels, while promoting his film, told the Los Angeles Times “Hollywood would not allow me to make a black drama,I couldn’t get this movie off the ground even after ‘Precious’ made $100 million around the world,” referring to his 2009 award-season hit. One might reasonably suspect the reluctant producers were aware of something that has, as of to date, escaped Daniels; it’s not about your color Lee, it’s about your mouth.
It should also be noted, The Butler is ideally the type of film that should draw an audience of educated people who have a strong interest and appreciation of American history but, when you divisively participate in “stunt casting” by hiring Jane Fonda to play Nancy Reagan, you’re sending a not too subtle message that, in the end, compels those very people to simply stay home.
Daniels and Winfrey can argue racism and box office all they want but there’s no denying the film didn’t receive a single Oscar nomination in the same year Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave took home Best Picture, as well as the Best Supporting Actress award for Lupita Nyong’o
They say it’s best to avoid conversations about politics and religion at parties, this wise advice has been heeded for many, many years by countless numbers of successful people, but perhaps a more modern update to that warning is needed in today’s climate; you probably shouldn’t talk about these subjects at movie premieres either. Historically, these subjects have rightfully been relegated to only being shared on a “need to know” basis and, when it comes to entertaining as many of the ticket buying public as possible, the numbers should tell you, they don’t really need, or want, to know.
As a word of friendly advice Ben, you’ve already alienated a huge majority of the movie-going public by accepting the role of Batman, (God help us), you might want to give that mouth, and those politics, a little time out. I have no doubt your agent and Warner Brothers are begging you to do so, I’m thinking you should probably listen to them this time.
Scott Hopkins, Pop Bitez