Critics, like filmmakers, know all about negative feedback.
For every director who hears, “you stink!” there’s a critic who gets similarly attacked. It comes with the territory.
This critic spent days reading the negative Twitter reactions to his “Barbie” film review, much of it written before the film opened. How did they know the review was “wrong” when they hadn’t seen the movie in question?
It didn’t matter. “Barbie” was a cultural event with or without the actual film. The marketing team made sure of that. And then it became something else.
A culture war totem, like a COVID-19 mask or Ukraine flag pin.
And, once people absorbed its strident feminism, that feeling blew up across the culture. You didn’t just watch “Barbie.” You Tweeted about it, shared pink-drenched selfies on Instagram and told everyone within earshot you saw the film of the summer.
Plus, the media took sides in the matter, actively promoting it with more free coverage than any project in recent memory.
— The Hollywood Reporter (@THR) August 22, 2023
“Sound of Freedom” proved the opposite in nearly every way.
The Angel Studios film got pummeled in the press upon its release. It’s a QAnon-adjacent fear factory, and its star is a conspiracy theorist, reporters cried in near-unison.
Jim Caviezel anchors the film as a Homeland Security agent scrambling to rescue children from child sex traffickers.
The film was neither political nor faith-based, but the media labeled it as such. The public took the bait.
Conservatives rallied behind the film, while church groups acted as a de facto marketing team by spreading the word about “Freedom” and gobbling up movie passes.
Angel Studios’ “pay it forward” gambit worked, but word of mouth proved the best marketing muscle.
Two very different films. Two shocking success stories.
- “Barbie” hit the $1 billion mark globally in just a few weeks and became Warner Bros.’ top-grossing film … ever.
- “Sound of Freedom” earned $180 million stateside, numbers that no indie film studio would dare dream about.
The Left embraced “Barbie” with both arms. Conservatives, including The Daily Wire’s co-founder Ben Shapiro, shredded every element of the film.
The battle lines were quickly drawn.
The films perfectly captured the growing divide in the country. Were you Team Barbie or Team Sound of Freedom?
Part of this wasn’t fair.
“Sound of Freedom” doesn’t mention Biden, Trump or the GOP. No politicians elbow their way into the narrative.
While Christians rallied to the movie’s side based on a single line, “God’s children aren’t for sale,” that’s the extent of the film’s proselytizing. Faith-based movies are part of the film landscape, but “Freedom” didn’t look or sound like part of the genre.
Except the press made it one as part of its ongoing attacks on the film.
Right-leaning consumers, accustomed to their views being discounted, responded by making the film even more popular than it already was.
Meanwhile, “Barbie” earned every ounce of its progressive brand.
The screenplay mentioned the word “Patriarchy” at least 10 times, a not-remotely-subtle nod to its intentions. The story alternately demonized and diminished men, even those with microscopically small roles.
Co-star America Ferrera stops the film, cold, to deliver a victimhood lecture that might embarrass Gloria Steinem.
The filmmakers and marketing team denied the movie’s woke bona fides, but anyone with functional senses knew otherwise.
Liberal USA, along with the media, lapped it all up.
“Barbie” had other sizable advantages over “Sound of Freedom,” beginning with a gargantuan deficit in marketing muscle. The former film is based on a beloved toy and stars some of the most appealing stars of this generation.
“Sound of Freedom” covered a brutal topic, the exploitation of children, but it still held its own in theaters.
How many people saw, and enjoyed both “Barbie” and “Sound of Freedom?” How many of those consumers would admit as much on social media?
The Summer of 2023 saw America splitting along pop culture lines. While Hollywood, Inc. regularly reaches out to liberal consumers, we finally saw art that appealed to the Heartland.
- Jason Aldean’s “Try That in a Small Town”
- Oliver Anthony’s “Rich Men North of Richmond“
- Tom MacDonald’s “American Flags” (with Adam Calhoun)
This may be the new normal — art engineered for one half of the country. The best art unites us all, but that happens less and less in our splintered culture.
The press may loathe right-leaning art and use its diminishing clout to attack it, but that may make conservatives even more eager to buy it. That will give it more clout, and power than it might ordinarily have.
The public, divided along cultural lines as the 2024 presidential elections near, may pick their entertainment accordingly moving forward.