Deadline Political Editor Discusses How Culture, Politics and Blockbusters Collide

By: Ted Johnson, Deadline Hollywood

Most moviegoers went to this year’s biggest blockbuster Barbie and came away pleased by its quirky entertainment, but in the weeks up to its release, there was a simmering battle over what the movie meant to the cultural zeitgeist. Warner Bros. Discovery threw a lavish pre-screening party at the British ambassador’s residence, all designed to highlight what the movie said about women’s empowerment. Contrast that to Ben Shapiro, the founder of the conservative site The Daily Wire, posted videos of himself burning Barbies after watching the movie, which he deemed too “woke.” Studios, networks and streamers have come to rely on social media and high profile word-of-mouth as they market their projects, but they also have to factor in the very real possibility of backlash, as so much of culture gets weaponized.

Capitalizing on the attention that comes from Hollywood and the hundreds of millions poured into a marketing push, political figures, pundits and podcast hosts try to influence public taste for movies and TV shows, to their advantage and their detriment.The campaign against Barbie didn’t hurt its ticket sales, as Warner Bros. Discovery fired on all cylinders to make sure that the movie had strong awareness and a blockbuster opening.

At the same time, Shapiro’s campaign against it translated into millions of views on Twitter and YouTube, while perhaps calling attention to his own ambitions for his company’s efforts to go beyond politics into entertainment content. This effort to tap pop culture for partisan gain is not new.  Flash back more than 30 years to Vice President Dan Quayle’s attack on Murphy Brown, giving birth as a single mother, “mocking the importance of fathers.”

In the midst of a presidential campaign, it helped solidify Quayle’s status as a figure who could appeal to the right. The show itself capitalized on the controversy, to the tune of blockbuster ratings.The difference now is the frequency and intensity, spread on YouTube, TikTok and Twitter, that can have an actual impact on a portion of the audience.

Other projects have suffered. Five years ago, Universal released First Man, about the life of Neil Armstrong. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and others on the right stirred a campaign against it because it did not feature the iconic close up shot of Armstrong planting the flag on the lunar surface, triggering the idea that the move was somehow un-American. Despite strong reviews and a launch event at the National Air and Space Museum, the movie proved to be a box office disappointment. The absence of the flag was not the only reason for this, but studio executives privately fretted that it certainly did not help. In other cases, artists capitalized on the negative attention. After an outcry over his Try That In A Small Town, with Country Music Television pulling the song, Jason Aldean fueled a backlash that helped solidify it as a hit.

As Hollywood studios try to manage the downsides, political figures who wade into pop culture also risk getting mired in a battle with an uncertain endgame. Ron DeSantis initially made Disney part of his presidential campaign, accusing the company of supporting the sexualization of minors after it came out against his parental rights legislation, known to its detractors as the “don’t say gay” law. But his attacks have gotten mired in the courts, in a rather complicated battle over a special district that covers Walt Disney World. As his chief rival Donald Trump expanded his lead, DeSantis said that he had “moved on” from the fight.

In the coming months, Hollywood will be in the spotlight as a congressional committee turns its attention to studio relationships with China, adding additional scrutiny to whether movies have been tailored to ensure entry into the country’s marketplace. Inevitably, some other studio release this year will become a target. You can be sure plenty will be scrutinized with Warner Bros. Discovery’s next big release, Wonka. And as the rhetoric heats up, studios will have to be ever more sophisticated in countering the drummed up controversies.

Stop California SB 362 – The Delete Act

California SB 362, known as the Delete Act, would negatively impact access to data for political campaigns. The bill would create a portal via the California Privacy Protection Agency’s website for residents to remove all personal data from all data brokers registered with the state. The bill is up for a vote in the Assembly Appropriations Committee and we ask that you reach out to members you know and ask them to NOT advance the bill.

Concerns with California SB 362:

  • Impact on Political and Public Awareness Campaigns and Voter Outreach: Data brokers are crucial for political campaigns to reach constituents, drive turnout, and for fundraising. The bill’s deletion requirements would hinder campaign strategies and reduce voter engagement, especially reaching younger and diverse voters.
  • Unnecessary and Confusing Duplication: CCPA already applies to data brokers, and there are no gaps in California’s privacy law. The bill would create unnecessary duplication of regulations and compliance efforts negatively impacting small businesses.

These are just a couple of many concerns with CA SB 362. We ask that you reach out to the committee members listed below and ask them to NOT advance SB 362 and hold the bill for further study and review

Take Action:
Below is a sample email you can use to reach out to State Assembly Committee on Appropriations Members.

Thank you for your commitment to our industry principles and ensuring the strength of our democratic process,

Robyn Matthews
Director, Advocacy and Industry Relations

Committee on Appropriations Members:

Chris Holden (Chair), Dem – 41
Megan Dahle (Vice Chair), Rep – 1
Isaac Bryan, Dem – 55
Lisa Calderon, Dem – 56
Wendy Carrillo, Dem – 52
Diane Dixon, Rep – 72
Mike Fong, Dem – 49
Gregg Hart, Dem – 37
Josh Lowenthal, Dem – 69
Devon Mathis, Rep – 33
Diane Papan, Dem – 21
Gail Pellerin, Dem – 28
Kate A. Sanchez, Rep – 71
Esmeralda Soria, Dem – 27
Akilah Weber, M.D., Dem – 79
Lori Wilson, Dem – 11

Sample Email:

Subject: Vote NO on SB 362

Dear Assemblymember [Name]:

As a steward of data in political campaigns, I ask that you vote to NOT advance SB 362. SB 362 will negatively impact political and public awareness campaigns.

While privacy is a critical consideration, SB 362’s provisions could inadvertently hinder our ability to effectively engage with voters and carry out successful political campaigns. Specifically, I worry about its potential impact on voter education and participation, particularly among younger and diverse demographics.

Our campaigns rely on data brokers to reach constituents, encourage voter turnout, and facilitate fundraising. SB 362’s requirements to remove personal data could limit the reach of our campaign messaging, ultimately diminishing public participation and weakening the democratic process.

Additionally, these deletion previsions already exist within the current CCPA. SB 362 introduces unnecessary redundancy and complicates compliance efforts for small businesses, without addressing any gaps in privacy law.

Given these concerns, I respectfully ask that you oppose the advancement of SB 362 and consider holding the bill for further study and review.

Thank you for your time and consideration,

[Your Name]
[Your Title/Company]
[Your Contact Information]

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