Posted on December 6, 2023

Why Social Justice Activism Is Unlikely to Get a Hollywood Ending

Megan McArdle, Washington Post, December 1, 2023

Movie fans have reasons to be thankful that the writers’ and actors’ strikes are over. Among them: The Oscars will go forward as scheduled, and the 2024 summer season is saved.

But amid the gratitude there might be bittersweet awareness that entertainment will never again be quite like it has been over the past decade {snip}

The tap of (practically) free money has gone dry, and it’s not clear what will replace the golden age. But it’s apt to be something more like the past, circa 2007 or so. Streaming movies will need bigger audiences, as did the mass-market films they replaced. And partly for this reason, studios are likely to dial back on their social justice initiatives.

This retreat is already underway — from the heady days when #MeToo was unmaking the casting couch and Frances McDormand was exhorting an applauding Oscars audience to demand inclusion riders on all future projects. Last summer saw an exodus of executive women of color who had been leading diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives at companies including Warner Bros., Disney and Netflix. As Variety noted, “When corporations tighten their money belts, DEI initiatives are often first on the chopping block.”

Nor is money the only reason that Hollywood might be backing away from diversity. Disney’s public feud with Florida over LGBTQ+ issues, which saw the corporation stripped of lucrative tax breaks, has clearly spooked many companies, including Disney. Bob Iger, its chief executive, has been very clear that it will no longer be taking such stands, telling CNBC that Disney is “there to manufacture fun.” “The last thing I want is for the company to be drawn into any culture wars,” he said.

In its latest annual report, Disney notes that “consumers’ perceptions of our position on matters of public interest, including our efforts to achieve certain of our environmental and social goals, often differ widely and present risks to our reputation and brands.”


It takes a lot of money to make movies and television shows, and most people turn to entertainment for a fantasy that reflects their own lives, only bigger and better. If they can’t see themselves on the screen — or, worse, if they find themselves cast as the villain — they won’t pay. This didn’t matter so much in the era when viewership was often almost an afterthought. But the easy money is now gone, and without it, unfortunately, a lot of other things will also turn out to be much harder than they once seemed.