Culture

Weary Of The Culture Wars? It Will Only Get Worse – Deadline

Does it ever feel like those of us in and around Hollywood are at war with the world?

We’re certainly fighting with Florida, over gender education—you heard all about it from the Oscar hosts, on Disney-owned ABC.

And we’re battling Texas, over abortion. Reese Witherspoon and another hundred stars planted the flag in that one.

In Georgia, it’s a beef over voting rights/ballot integrity. I’m so old, I can remember when Will Smith was a hero for leading the charge there, alongside Antoine Fuqua.

Then Bette Midler took on West Virginia. The issue was Joe Manchin, or the filibuster, or something.

Indeed, the movie business is in almost as many political and moral fights as the City and County of San Francisco, which, at last tally, had banned official travel to 28 states with policies that were deemed unacceptable to a once-freewheeling town known as Baghdad by the Bay. (Plus, we’re mad at Russia. But almost everyone is, so that doesn’t count.)

In short form, we’re mired in the culture wars. Following the lead of activist filmmakers and stars—who ran especially hot on social media during the long months of Covid lockdown—the industry has clearly aligned itself with progressive positions on inclusion, racial equity, gender and transgender rights, gun control, border enforcement, abortion, and any other issue guaranteed to divide both the polity and the audience.

When Disney chief executive Bob Chapek was pushed from public neutrality to open opposition toward Florida’s new education laws—“Don’t Say Gay” to those who oppose, “Anti-Grooming” to those who support—the battle lines were finally drawn. The middle ground disappeared. Even Disney wasn’t big enough to straddle the divide. Florida and its governor, Ron DeSantis, fought back, and are moving to rescind self-governing privileges of the company’s Reedy Creek Improvement District near Orlando. So righteous indignation suddenly has a price tag—and it could run to hundreds of millions of dollars.

It’s likely that Hollywood’s socio-political tilt has been costing it for years. But the “woke tax,” if you want to call it that, has been almost impossible to measure, obscured as it is by cross-currents—lockdowns, audience fragmentation , the streaming revolution, changing tastes. Who can say whether the collapse in awards show viewing owes more to lack of interest in the contenders or audience backlash against the lecturing and political barbs? Did the relatively weak opening of Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore reflect franchise fatigue or discomfort with the gay backstory? Did Netflix subscriptions stumble from competition and password sharing, or is the audience turned off by left-leaning content? It’s all mixed up together.

But cultural combat, overall, isn’t helping entertainment. The intensity of those who applaud a “break-through” is offset by the resistance of those who feel they, or their kids, are being reprogrammed by film and television. The net effect has been to bring tension and wariness into what was once a comfortable common viewing experience. If you patronize a Disney film, are you endorsing a position on transgenderism in the schools? If you watch Netflix, are you making a statement about climate change, or perhaps supporting the Obamas? Is a laugh for Amy Schumer a cheer for upholding Roe v. Wade?

For better or worse, that’s where we are. And the conflicts will only get sharper as Florida upends Disney, the Supreme Court rules, and the midterm elections approach.

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