How President Obama's Election Win Impacts Hollywood (Analysis)
What the president's re-election means for industry causes like SOPA, Israel and the environment as showbiz flexes its political muscle.
This story first appeared in the Nov. 16 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
President Obama’s clear victory Nov. 6 over Mitt Romney has both exhilarated and empowered Democratic activists in Hollywood. The exhilaration, of course, comes from the fact that, whatever their initial reservations about his first term, entertainment donors ultimately rallied solidly behind the president, giving at least $30 million to Obama’s campaign, the Democratic Party and liberal super PACs. The empowerment stems from the realization among key strategists that Hollywood support is now more important than ever to the party’s national electoral efforts. “There’s no question Hollywood was crucial to Obama’s victory,” says veteran public policy consultant Donna Bojarsky. “In the end, they came in strong.”
As a result of the electoral college win (303-206, even with Florida still not called) for Obama over Romney, as well as key victories for Hollywood-backed Senate candidates (Elizabeth Warren over Scott Brown in Massachusetts; Claire McCaskill over Todd Akin in Missouri) and causes (gay marriage was legalized in Maryland and Maine), expect the industry to carry a fresh set of expectations into Obama’s second term. Although few in showbiz predict a quid pro quo, people will be looking for a sympathetic ear and a chief executive free of the need to seek re-election -- in short, a president who more closely resembles the passionate advocate they first embraced in 2008. “Now please be the guy from the third debate,” quipped Modern Family co-creator Steve Levitan on Twitter.
One of the first items on Hollywood’s agenda will be revisiting SOPA. In the most recent attempt to write new federal anti-piracy regulations, the Obama administration essentially sided with Silicon Valley, which is wary of further digital restrictions. Since then, industry insiders -- particularly MPAA chairman Christopher Dodd -- have gone out of their way to extend olive branches to the lords of cyberspace. The studio chiefs, including several who angrily withheld support for Obama until late in the campaign, will expect the White House to step up and provide leadership on a bill that brings together Hollywood and the digital dons -- who also have donated tens of millions of dollars to re-elect Obama.
Although Hollywood’s biggest environmentalists -- most notably Robert Redford -- came out decisively for Obama in the campaign’s homestretch, it’s no secret that they were frequently (and vocally) disappointed by his first-term record. If the president wants to maintain a relationship with green Hollywood this time around, he’s going to have to work hard to balance his campaign pledges to seek further energy independence with the environmentalists’ anxiety over development.
In part, Obama can satisfy his green constituents with stronger pushes for solar and wind power -- causes championed by industry activists such as Disney’s Alan Horn and wife Cindy -- but look for conflict over things like a renewed effort to build the Keystone Pipeline and the fracking technology that is opening vast new oil and natural gas reserves in the high plains and mid-Atlantic states.
Two unfulfilled promises from Obama’s 2008 campaign are likely to be very much on the minds of Democratic Hollywood’s progressive wing: comprehensive immigration reform and shutting down Guantanamo Bay. Latino voters played an unprecedented role in the president’s re-election, and Latino celebrities like Eva Longoria were among his earliest and most active campaign trail surrogates, so look for them to help sell the president’s plan for comprehensive reform. Similarly, civil libertarians cheered when Obama promised to shut down the Cuba detention facility. The issue didn’t come up much during the campaign, but such Hollywood progressives as Martin Sheen and Sean Penn will raise it now. Same goes for Israel, which Obama hasn’t visited since he was a candidate in 2008. Expect Hollywood’s Jewish activists to push for more attention.
"The president is going to move forward on doing the things that American elected him to do," Democratic political consultant Rick Taylor tells The Hollywood Reporter. "He recognizes that his agenda hasn't fully been fulfilled yet. By the end of his second term, he will have made good on all his promises. This is like an Academy Award for everyone in Hollywood."
In the wake of the Citizens United Supreme Court decision, which allowed for the rise of super PACs, many expected Obama to be crushed by an avalanche of Republican money. But he competed in part due to Hollywood fundraising and the publicity generated by star supporters like George Clooney (who auctioned tickets to a dinner at his house). In October alone, the industry raised $13 million from four Obama fundraisers, including a Nokia Theatre concert featuring Katy Perry and Stevie Wonder and a high-roller dinner co-hosted by Jeffrey Katzenberg, who helped raise nearly $9 million for the pro-Obama super PAC Priorities USA.
In the end, Hollywood played a huge role on the campaign trail. Look for the industry to continue that effort after Inauguration Day — after donors get their invites to the ball, of course.