Not surprisingly, Hollywood has gone all in for Hillary Clinton during this election season. The Democratic Party’s nominee has stood by smiling as celebrities such as Jay Z and Beyoncé offered expletive-laced performances and raised money for her campaign. Yes, celebrities worshiped Barack Obama. They still do. But the combination of Hollywood’s Clinton campaign support and Hollywood’s serial attacks on Donald Trump dwarf that devotion.
But at what cost?
It’s hard to say how much sway the Hollywood spin machine will have on Election Day. We can measure the views from that Joss Whedon-sponsored celebrity PSA calling Trump a “racist, abusive coward.” But tracking how many hearts and minds it changed? Impossible.
The same cannot be said of the fiscal fallout of Hollywood turning itself into Hillary’s unofficial SuperPAC during this endless election season. Consumers who either support Trump or simply aren’t sold on Clinton for very valid reasons may hold a grudge against the stars who shilled for Hillary.
In fact, it might be happening already.
Take the ballyhooed Budweiser ad campaign starring Seth Rogen and Amy Schumer, which promoted leftish advice on gender identity and the wage gap. The company stopped airing the ads following weak sales. Schumer is one of the most politically vocal stars in Hollywood, and she’s been beating the drum for Clinton for months; but after being booed by audience members at one of her stand-up shows in Tampa (after making disparaging remarks about Donald Trump), one wonders if she’ll rethink her blatant partisan pandering.
What about Zach Galifianakis? The Hangover star featured Clinton in one of his Between Two Ferns sketches during election season. Like the previous “Ferns” episode starring President Obama, it was crafted to impress millennials, and Galifianakis couldn’t have been more fawning. And yet, when he was asked, Galifianakis said he wouldn’t invite Trump on his faux talk show. Why? He said the real estate mogul was “mentally challenged.” (Imagine the outrage if Trump had said that about someone). Shortly after those comments, two new Galifianakis comedies hit the big screen—Masterminds and Keeping Up with the Joneses. Both flopped.
Leonardo DiCaprio’s recent documentary, Before the Flood, earned as much press as any film could muster. Both entertainment and political sites praised the climate change film, ignoring how the actor’s lavish lifestyle clashes with the film’s eco-message. Flood even featured President Obama, who spoke to the press along with DiCaprio to boost the film’s visibility.
Not to be outdone, the film’s director, Fisher Stevens, called Trump an “insane person” for disagreeing with the film’s climate change alarmism. Did all that free publicity rally audiences to watch the movie? Not exactly. It couldn’t even beat Bubble Guppies in the ratings.
And it’s not just celebrity support of election candidates that is turning off audiences. Blatant political correctness has also not fared well in Hollywood recently. Earlier this year, we saw how turning otherwise mainstream properties into political footballs can hurt the bottom line. Take Melissa McCarthy, who is as apolitical as she is funny. She’s also box office gold (witness hits like Spy and Bridesmaids). So when she signed on for the Ghostbusters reboot it seemed like a sure commercial smash. But then, McCarthy and Co. turned the project into a new front in the gender wars. They also tied the film’s promotional push to Clinton’s presidential campaign. The results? Sony, the studio behind the project, took a serious financial hit when the movie underperformed.
Today’s movie stars are more political than ever, even in years without a presidential election. But their mere presence no longer guarantees box office success.
Perhaps the more political stars could take a cue from the behavior of some of the industry’s most popular talents—many of whom don’t flaunt their ideologies. Look at Kevin Hart, Dwayne Johnson, and Denzel Washington. These megastars avoid those preachy PSAs and spend Twitter time promoting their products and connecting with fans, not trashing political opponents.
Last year, I asked Jack Black if he worried that his political positions might hurt his career. At the time, Black was prominently featured in a funny video supporting President Obama’s Iran deal. Black shrugged, saying controversy often can help a career.
In the wake of so many Hillary-supporting celebrities’ career failures, however, one wonders if he’d give the same answer today.