Last week, Antonia Sabato Jr., the former soap opera actor, announced his plans for a conservative movie studio.
“We are putting together a plan to create a conservative movie studio for all patriots to do projects that Hollywood would never do,” he tweeted last Thursday. “No more blacklisting and no more injustice from the socialist’s elites.”
Sabato says he’s been blacklisted from left-wing Hollywood because of his political beliefs. He also said his yet unnamed studio already has a movie in the works and he’s encouraging conservative producers to reach out to him.
This is not the first time a conservative alternative to the main entertainment outlets was attempted.
In 2010, Kelsey Grammer attempted to launch a conservative television network called RightNetwork. The purpose of the network was to target conservative Americans “looking for content that reflects and reinforces their perspective and world-view.”
It dissolved a year after its launch.
I wish Antonio Sabato Jr. well with his endeavor, but I’m convinced that his project will meet the same fate as Grammer’s RightNetwork unless he does it right.
One problem I knew would sink Grammer’s RightNetwork was the branding. As a conservative consumer of books and movies, the story and whether it interests me trumps every other consideration. If a story is blatantly biased or pushing an agenda it turns me off. And that’s regardless of whether the agenda is conservative or liberal. I stopped reading Stephen King’s novels when he couldn’t separate his politics from his writing. Many “conservative” films, particularly Christian films, seem to rely on their agenda more than quality writing or filmmaking.
Naturally, conservatives are really eager to find conservative counter-culture wherever they can. They’re so eager that they find it in places where it may not really exist. Whether it’s Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, or some other popular series, there’s typically someone on the right who can find conservative themes in them. Others attempt to align the latest pop-culture phenomenon with their politics. Classic books are not immune to this either. George Orwell’s 1984 is the perfect example of a book adopted by the conservative movement as essential reading. That didn’t stop liberals, who completely lack any self-awareness, from rushing to read the novel after Trump was elected because they were convinced he would become the embodiment of authoritarian government.
If only they had read the book when Obama was president.
I’ve long held the belief that conservative counter-culture’s best chance of succeeding is not to form their own club. Let me explain why.
When searching for conservative fiction online, I find dystopian novels, science-fiction and fantasy, political thrillers, Christian fiction, crime thrillers, military stories. The title and imagery on the cover leave no doubt they are meant for conservative readers to consume, because they are written and designed to appeal to them. These books tend to have anti-Hollywood, pro-military, anti-Communism, or pro-Second Amendment themes splashed right on the cover. Words such as “liberty” or “freedom” or “patriot” can sometimes be found on the cover somewhere.
But, there have been many successful mainstream movies that contain conservative themes and yet succeeded. Ghostbusters, for example, begins with Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis, and Bill Murray leaving academia to find success in the private sector, before the dreaded EPA comes in and ruins everything they’ve done.
Movies like Knocked Up, a Judd Apatow movie, also get picked out as conservative movies because the entire plot hinges on the main character, played by Katherine Heigl, choosing not to have an abortion. The movie Juno is similarly chosen because the title character can’t bring herself to abort her unborn child and chooses instead to give her unplanned baby up for adoption.
The Dark Knight was often pegged as a conservative movie, with Batman’s story considered to be an allegory to George W. Bush’s war on terror.
Movies like Stand and Deliver, Lean on Me, and The Pursuit of Happyness come to mind as conservative movies that are not political.
If you dig sports movies, can any other sports movie compare to Rudy for its conservative message?
There are lots of movies labeled “conservative” by pundits on the right, and while that description may be subjective, it does support my belief that the best chance for “conservative” movies to thrive is not by being explicitly conservative. Had any of these movies been produced by a network that specifically catered to conservative audiences, they would not have found success. Self-identifying conservative work won’t win the counter-culture war. Conservative novelists shouldn’t brand their work as conservative. Conservative movies or television shows shouldn’t brand their work as conservative.
Sometimes, all it takes is for a television show or a movie to simply not present conservative characters as evil. The Netflix series The Ranch and the Fox sitcom Last Man Standing have both done this successfully.
The best thing for conservative producers to do is not try to appeal to just one side of the political spectrum. Their goal shouldn’t be to entertain conservatives only. Their goal should be to entertain everyone, regardless of politics, and hope that the message of the story sinks in. Movies like God’s Not Dead aren’t exactly going to appeal to audiences that don’t already support the film’s overt pro-Christianity messaging. The first movie did surprisingly well at the box office, but did it preach to the choir or win over nonbelievers?
If conservative counter-culture just wants to preach to the choir, it will fail. If Antonio Sabato Jr. wants to succeed, his movie studio needs to put out movies with stories that appeal to everyone, not just conservatives. It shouldn’t brand itself as a conservative alternative to Hollywood. It should be a place for high-quality content, that misses Hollywood’s radar, that everyone can enjoy.
I sincerely hope Antonio Sabato Jr. can create a successful alternative to liberal Hollywood. But, people watch movies to be entertained, not lectured. If his studio can appeal to everyone with quality movies, solid stories, and subtle conservative messaging, I think it can succeed where past attempts have failed.
Matt Margolis is the author of the new book Airborne: How The Liberal Media Weaponized The Coronavirus Against Donald Trump, and the bestselling book The Worst President in History: The Legacy of Barack Obama. You can follow Matt on Twitter @MattMargolis