Since this seems to be a hot topic, it’s probably time to dive into it. I’ve seen plenty of stories now, mostly on the Right, that the Oscar movie is dead or dying. The holiday box office numbers were yet again disappointing like last year’s warning sign. The truth is there is a micro view and a macro view. It’s depressing and complicated confronting any of it.
The Critical Drinker has now declared 2022 to be the year the insular bubble of “woke” Hollywood burst and reality finally crashed the party. That’s partly true. It has to be. If Hollywood wants to continue to put movies in theaters they are going to have to ‘come out, come out, wherever you are,’ and realize that 75% of this country either doesn’t trust them anymore or hates them outright.
The reason you don’t hear more about it is that film coverage itself is in a bubble. Film Twitter is a bubble. The New York Times, Entertainment Weekly, and Vanity Fair are all in the same bubble, the same echo chamber. When you add abject fear and hysteria into that, you get Salem in 1692. That means even if these journalists could see what was happening, they can’t admit it.
Lest we forget Sean O’Connell and the story of Turning Red. His review led to a mass hysteria reaction on Twitter that very nearly got him fired from Cinemablend. How dare he, a white male, give his impression of a film that was aimed at adolescent girls and was intersectional (I think)? He, a white male, is meant to be stepping aside, shutting up and allowing marginalized groups to rise. That plays well on Twitter and in various hives online where building one’s clout and platform overrides market concerns (like box office).
Hollywood is still run by the same people who ran it before, only this time they’re mainly looking out for their brand and image in Salem Village. They have to be seen as non-witch-loving Puritans or else their products will be viciously attacked and their image/brand tarnished. So we’ve seen an overreaction or over-correction to a long-standing problem of Hollywood being mostly run by, and revolving around, white men.
So now when people turn on any network news that aims its product at the “Left,” aka not Fox News, you will see intersectionality everywhere. It has to be there. It has to be Woke M&Ms:
Vivek Ramiswamy calls this “Woke Capitalism.” As long as they signal their virtue, they can do anything, sell anything. No matter whether it hurts them or the environment, no matter if it crashes at the box office, no matter if it’s absolutely terrible — the goal is to protect oneself in a time of extreme fear and hysteria at the hands of very loud activists who have a major voice. They control the media and the media buckles under the pressure, not to mention many outlets such as Variety, The Hollywood Reporter, etc. have hired activists and fired the dreaded white men. So their coverage has to sort of justify their place in the ranks — meaning, it has to also be activist.
When it comes to streaming platforms, this doesn’t matter that much. They aren’t trying to appeal to a majority. They’re trying to maintain good branding so that Gen Z, or wealthy white liberals specifically, will praise them and want to associate with them. They will want to share that association on social media because it builds their own clout. The market doesn’t matter that much. It is worth mentioning that Netflix and Spotify have gone to some lengths to de-Woke themselves a bit, but only a bit. A tiny tiny bit.
Here is a pretty good explainer of the disconnect between ‘go woke, go broke’ and ‘woke capitalism.’
Before you say it, Andrew Doyle is not a conservative, but that news network is usually associated that way. Unfortunately, this isn’t discussed in any direct way on the Left, which is why it’s necessary to navigate rightward.
Next, we have to go over the word “woke” because it almost always becomes the focal point. I’ll leave it to Ramiswamy to explain why it’s used to name the thing no one can seem to name:
“Wokeness has remade American capitalism in its own image. Talk of being “woke” has morphed into a kind of catchall term for progressive identity politics today. The phrase “stay woke” was used from time to time by black civil rights activists over the last few decades, but it really took off only recently, when black protestors made it a catchphrase in the Ferguson protests in response to a police officer fatally shooting Michael Brown.
These days, white progressives have appropriated “stay woke” as a general-purpose term that refers to being aware of all identity-based injustices. So while “stay woke” started as a remark black people would say to remind each other to be alert to racism, it would now be perfectly normal for white coastal suburbanites to say it to remind each other to watch out for possible microaggressions against, say, transgender people—for example, accidentally calling someone by their pre-transition name. In woke terminology, that forbidden practice would be called “deadnaming,” and “microaggression” means a small offense that causes a lot of harm when done widely. If someone committed a microaggression against black transgender people, we enter the world of “intersectionality,” where identity politics is applied to someone who has intersecting minority identities and its rules get complicated. Being woke means waking up to these invisible power structures that govern the social universe.”
I’m using it here because it’s used everywhere now to explain something that’s hard to explain. If you say “woke,” then people know what that means. This is not about the Black community, whose issues are separate from the white community attempting to absolve themselves of guilt and shame.
Now that we’ve got all of that out of the way, let’s get to the meat of the matter: is the Oscar movie dying?
The Oscar movie died a long time ago. It’s just that no one noticed. Remember the analogy I’ve been writing about for ten years or so about the first class section of the airplane? That the Oscar movies eliminated the public from the conversation, and that led to a kind of closed-off elitism? This isn’t new. What’s happened of late is that the combination of “woke” zealotry overwhelmed all aspects of American culture at the same time that concern about COVID exposure has inhibited the habits of the only audience the Oscar movies had.
The Harvey Weinstein Oscar movie is most definitely dead. The prestige period film about good people doing good things has been replaced by the prestige “woke” film of finding new ways to talk about the same subjects: #MeToo, racism, etc. That did serve a purpose for a while, but it’s become almost the only kind of thing on offer. Films that aren’t that, like The Fabelmans or The Banshees of Inisherin, are swept up in it too somehow because they look like an “Oscar movie,” and audiences figure they’ll wait for streaming.
Movies are expensive, and they require time and effort to go them. What would be something people would risk all of that to see? Not something they’re going to be irritated or depressed by, not now, not when times are as hard as they have been.
Film Twitter mostly sees movies for free. Their opinion should not count as much as people who have to pay to see movies, yet the dynamic has been reversed. In the old days, the market decided. If people liked a certain type of movie, then more got made. If it bombed, then careers could be ruined. Now, it doesn’t matter.
As you can see by the new model at Netflix, because people pay per month, they’ll watch just about anything. Filmmakers can make three-hour movies, indulge their every whim, and it will still get seen and might even get into the Oscar race. There is no way to fail.
Failure matters when you’re talking about building a successful business. How can you know what not to make if even the commercial failures are rewarded because they serve some other purpose? The reason Hollywood movies were so white, so male, and so heterosexual for so long wasn’t that people are evil at their core. It’s because when it comes to the practice of storytelling in our lives, we tend to want to watch that which reflects our own experiences and ourselves.
It is terrible that so many people were left out of that experience for so long, but the majority weren’t. Now, it’s safe to say that has flipped. Now, the majority is being left out as Hollywood desperately tries to virtue signal to spare themselves a bad image or bad branding. As we move away from theatrical and more to streaming, branding and image matter more, and box office matters less.
You can easily see our future as a species. Civilization is migrating online. Our online behavior is determined by clicks, views, engagement, and branding. That takes away the power of the ordinary consumer to vote with their feet. One person, one movie ticket. Now it’s what will get a lot of likes if I stand next to it on Instagram. What will make ME look good? How can I define myself as a Good Puritan?
Hollywood essentially built its house of straw, and the big storm finally came. COVID wiped out their main demographic: wealthy white liberals. They are the kind of people who wear masks while walking alone in the park. The chances of them going to the movies are going to be slim. But even those people are also kind of done with “woke Hollywood.”
What that means is that movies have robbed the public of the essentials of storytelling. There has to be an anchor to the truth. As a species, we have an attuned bullshit detector. We can spot their manipulation of reality from a mile away, and when that happens, the focus is off the story and on the people who are so afraid of criticism that they drag out a person of every type and skin color to use as shields to protect them.
The Oscars now have the same problem. No white men for Best Picture or Best Director has led to them twisting themselves up like pretzels trying to right the wrongs of society every time. Well, if there is one industry that really must rely on meritocracy, then it’s film awards. Otherwise, there is no point. If it isn’t about the best, and a majority of professionals don’t decide the best, why even have awards at all? Why not just hand out certificates of achievement? Doesn’t that serve their purposes better than pretending “deserves” has something to do with it?
I say this as someone who argued for decades about inclusion and diversity. But never in all that time did I think they would then rig the game to hand out awards that got them off the hook and made them look good. I always thought the person winning had to actually deserve it.
Perhaps it’s true that 2022 would be the year Hollywood finally got the message. Top Gun: Maverick shines the light out of darkness to say that what people want and what the majority wants isn’t that hard to figure out. This was one of the few films that makes you feel GOOD while watching it. It doesn’t take you down a rollercoaster ride of emotions that leave you gasping for air by the end and reaching for your meds. Feeling good at the hands of Hollywood — that’s what it’s all about. And while it’s true that “wealthy white liberals” only feel good when they’re in the presence of “correct” casting and intersectionality, that isn’t the majority of people who pay to see movies.
Movies have become like fast food. They are reduced down to a few recognizable brands. They always taste the same, and they are incredibly unhealthy. No one really cares as long as the money train keeps rolling on. The answer isn’t to make fast food healthier. The answer is to make something better than people might buy instead. Starbucks did it. How hard can that be?
The Oscars should not be about serving the guilty, fretful minds of people who no longer have to worry about the struggle of daily life. Part of what has gutted the industry is just that: they’ve completely lost touch with what it means to live and work hard labor all day long and want some kind of mind-blowing entertainment by the end of the day. Frank Capra knew that. That’s why he made the kinds of films he did. He wasn’t aiming them at the cultural elite. He was aiming them at the little guy.
The Oscar movies are dying because no one really cares what people who are that cut off from the reality of everyday life think anymore about anything. To them, it looks like lecturing at best and pointless naval gazing at worst. Even if we know these movies that aren’t making any money are good, that doesn’t mean people out there in the world will trust us. They don’t.
America is at a crossroads now. We have one foot in the reality of everyday life and one foot in the virtual world where we get lost in unreality. We are increasingly isolating ourselves from each other in the real world, and right on top of each other online. It is a strange time to be alive.
But the film industry and the Oscars must not get swallowed up in the virtual world, at least not yet. The people need you. They need you because they need culture too. This can’t be a better country or world if you foist upon them fast food all of the time. This point is made in the film The Banshees of Inisherin, one of the best of the year. Without access to culture, friendship, and compassion, we turn to violence, loneliness, and hatred.
Finally, the question: can movies come back? Yes, they can. The films that did really well this year did so because they were authentically themselves. They weren’t “woke pandering” movies with a few exceptions here or there:
Top Gun: Maverick — 700 mil
Avatar: The Way of Water — 450 mil and counting
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever — 400 mil
Elvis — 150 mil
Nope — 123 mil
Everything Everywhere All At Once — 70 mil
The Woman King — 67 mil
Those that underperformed did so because they flipped the script, and they tried to foist an ideology upon a built-in audience. If you give people what they aren’t expecting, then you will make them angry and lose their trust. It’s okay to try it, but don’t be surprised if you fail at it or lose your audience.
Serve the majority, listen to the market, listen to the people and Hollywood — and the Oscars — can thrive. Many people will distort this message and say it’s “White supremacy in action.” And as long as we keep going down the road of accusing and finger-pointing witch hunts, you might as well stick a fork in it. It’s done.