September 23rd, 2020


Republicans buy movie tickets too, Paul Feig

Sonny Bunch

By Sonny Bunch

Published August 3, 2016

Over the weekend, I was reminded of the following (possibly apocryphal) Michael Jordan quote: "Republicans buy shoes too."

The line was (supposedly) uttered by the noted Chicago Bulls superstar after an African-American Senate hopeful had asked His Airness to endorse him in his race against Jesse Helms. "Jordan declined," according to a passage of the book "Second Coming" quoted in Slate. "He wasn't into politics, he explained, didn't really know the issues." And he didn't want to alienate a potential customer base.

Whether or not Jordan uttered the line (his reps deny it, but the former minor league baseball player wasn't exactly known for going out of his way to take political stands), it underscores a key truth: When you're an entertainer, you do yourself a disservice by needlessly alienating half of your audience for reasons that are entirely unrelated to the entertainment you're peddling. That's doubly true when you need a large audience to push your product into profitability.

Such as, for instance, when you're trying to sell a movie with a budget in the $150 million range and an ad campaign in the $100 million range.

So when the official Twitter account for the "Ghostbusters" reboot seemed to endorse Hillary Clinton - appending the Clinton-approved hashtag #ImWithHer to a tweet echoing the Democratic National Convention - I figured it was only a matter of time until they deleted it. And I was right!

After the deleted tweet starting getting some attention - first in conservative outlets such as the Daily Caller, then in mainstream pubs such as Entertainment Weekly, the New York Daily News, and the Wrap - the studio scrambled to explain itself. First, Sony denied that the tweet, which featured the Clinton campaign's preferred hashtag and celebrated women breaking through glass ceilings at the same time that metaphor was being used at the Democratic convention, was an endorsement.

"The tweet was never intended to be a political endorsement," a Sony press official told the Wrap. "It was a shout-out to our own glass ceiling-busters." This was not particularly credible to anyone with a set of eyes and a half-functioning brain. Sony's denial became even more implausible after director Paul Feig criticized the deletion, telling the Wrap that "none of us - producers or filmmakers - would have taken this tweet down," adding, "I personally am very much pro-Hillary."

Far be it from me to tell anyone how to tweet. But if you're in the business of selling remarkably expensive entertainment products, you might want to avoid alienating half of your potential audience by inserting yourself and your product into one of the most divisive elections in American history, featuring the two most loathed candidates of all time.

Now, maybe Feig's endorsement of Clinton on behalf of the film doesn't matter. The movie's been sold in part on its politics, leaning into the backlash against remaking the original with female leads. And speaking bluntly, Feig's reboot of the storied "Ghostbusters" franchise has been a bit of a disaster at the box office, having taken in just $106 million domestically and $158 million overall through its first three weekends, a far cry from the half-billion that Feig himself has suggested the film needs to make to break even. At this point, it'll be lucky to limp past the 1984 original's $229 million domestic haul.

While progressives may not see a big difference in the shift from a feminist defense of the film to an outright partisan endorsement, I can assure you things look different on the other side of the aisle. Republicans buy movie tickets too, and it's hard to imagine too many of them lining up for a ticket after this needless provocation.

This lesson swings both ways, of course. The marketers working on behalf of Michael Bay's "13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi" went out of their way to court conservative audiences. This was a double-edged sword, however, insofar as the appeals to Republican-leaning viewers - combined with the subject matter and its inherent connection to the Democratic nominee - meant that there was a decent chance liberal audiences would stay away.

Sure enough, "13 Hours" grossed just $52 million domestically, a figure in line with Bay's recent non-"Transformers" films but one that was well under what the picture needed to break even.

In these increasingly polarized times, it is undoubtedly tempting for entertainers to pick a side and try to rally their base in order to turn a profit. But it's still unwise. People on the other side of the political aisle buy stuff too, you know.

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