'Steve Jobs' and 'Hateful Eight' Hurt by GOP Backlash, Says Conservative Film Reviewer (Q&A)

Courtesy of Universal Pictures
Seth Rogen in 'Steve Jobs'

The box-office performance of 'Steve Jobs' was damaged by Seth Rogen slamming Ben Carson, claims John Nolte, who warns that Quentin Tarantino's anti-police-brutality message could spell similar doom for his upcoming Western.

When The Hollywood Reporter and the Los Angeles Times analyzed the underperformance of Steve Jobs, there was no mention of star Seth Rogen’s “F— you @RealBenCarson” tweet — an omission that offended John Nolte, film reviewer and editor at large at Breitbart, a conservative news outlet. Nolte has been making the case for years that the political discourse of actors matters to box office (a theory apparently validated by a THR poll). Nolte criticized THR for ignoring Rogen’s tweet, and the reviewer now is getting his say on the matter, while also weighing in on a boycott effort against The Hateful Eight over anti-police-brutality remarks made by director Quentin Tarantino.

Is there any evidence that conservatives shunned Steve Jobs over Rogen’s tweet?
Hollywood is the only business I know of that doesn’t worry about what the face of their product says. If Mr. Whipple or Ronald McDonald said Christians are Nazis, and people who oppose gay marriage are evil, and f— Ben Carson, the people in those industries would worry about selling less toilet paper and hamburgers. But in Hollywood, Mr. Whipple — in this case, Seth Rogen — can attack 50 percent of the customers, and it’s believed it doesn’t affect the bottom line.

So then, how much did Rogen’s tweet cost at the box office?
I don’t know. But it’s just anti-science to think it didn’t hurt the movie. I have more evidence than the box-office experts have when it comes to theories about what hurt the movie. What they believe was already baked into the prediction. I’m talking about an event that happened between their predictions and the flop. It’s ridiculous that these experts aren’t saying, "Gee, everyone predicted it would do this much, but it only did this much. Everyone knew about the platform release and that Steve Jobs was oversaturated and about this and about that, and then it bombed, so what happened between the prediction and the bomb?" But nobody is asking that. I'll tell you what happened: Seth Rogen told one of the most popular men in the country to f— off. That's relevant.

Wasn't Aaron Sorkin’s involvement enough to discourage conservatives?
Not if you look at his box-office record, especially of late. From what I saw, the only partisan, customer-insulting event around Steve Jobs was Rogen's ugly tweet. Too often, conservatives have paid good money to be insulted. There are too many alternatives now. Hollywood no longer has a monopoly on escapism. Video games and alternative media and DVD collections actually empower conservatives — empowers them not to hate Hollywood, but to hate Hollywood back.

Any other reason you were irritated that THR and the L.A. Times didn’t mention Rogen’s tweet?
Because they're part of the system where the correct-thinking stars are protected. The idea that Rogen hurt the box office would be a demerit against him, and there would be a backlash against THR. There’s this mindset in Hollywood where they don’t want to believe they need to stop their stars from saying these vicious, partisan things. That would be a big cultural change in Hollywood, so there’s this denial.

A backlash against THR? How?
If you guys say that Rogen hurt the movie, his people would come at you hard. You’d be stepping off the thought plantation. There are things you can say in Hollywood and things you can’t.

What can and can’t you say in Hollywood?
You can say that Tom Cruise jumping on a couch hurt the box office, but you can’t say that Seth Rogen insulting 50 percent of his customers with a nasty political tweet hurt the box office.

But I wrote a story suggesting that Happy Feet Two might have been hurt by politics, and there wasn’t backlash. Isn't that the same thing?
A lot of movies are hurt by politics, and Hollywood is aware of that, like all the anti-war flops, but to go after a star and say, "You opened your big mouth and cost us money," that’s something you never see.

Do you think Rogen’s tweet did any permanent damage to his popularity?
No. He’s not like George Clooney, who just keeps doing it. People tend to forget. They move on with their lives.

Did it occur to Seth Rogen that he may be insulting some of his fans with that tweet?
It’s the Pauline Kael thing — "Nobody I know voted for Nixon." People in Hollywood are smart, but they're bubble-dumb. They're never challenged, and they don't know anyone who disagrees with them, and so they saw Carson as this black apostate and figured everyone feels the same way. Rogen thought, everyone in Hollywood will love his tweet because it's so ballsy. Of course, doing something everyone loves isn't ballsy at all, but that's another topic. What he didn't think — because he's bubble-dumb — is that there’s a whole world out there, and Ben Carson is more popular than Hillary Clinton, and he's been a folk hero in the black community for 20 years. Rogen is a provincial. He doesn't understand the rest of the world.

How about Quentin Tarantino? Should the studio worry about the Hateful Eight boycott?
He's also bubble-dumb. He thought Black Lives Matter was cool and mainstream. He doesn't know that, in the rest of the country, it's considered a fringe group. To accuse these cops of murder is just nasty. He's lucky the Hateful Eight release is two months away; that's a long time in politics.

So if a studio marketing executive asked you how to win back the conservative fans that their stars lost, what advice would you give them?
I would never tell anyone to violate their conscience, but a sincere apology is good. I don’t ever want to blackmail people into apologizing — that’s a part of our culture, and I hate it. But conservatives want to like these people. Look at how we glom onto stars who share our values or just don’t insult us. Look at Denzel Washington. Everyone saw him hug Barack Obama, but conservatives love the guy because he’s never called them a Nazi. I don’t care what your politics are, just don’t call me a Nazi. If Rogen or Tarantino said, "Listen, I went too far, and I shouldn’t have said it," it might hurt their reputation in the industry, and they’re much more concerned about their reputation in Hollywood than in the real world.

Besides Steve Jobs, give me an example of a title hurt by the politics of its star.
Tomorrowland. Clooney is in it. He's a polarizing figure. He's a movie star in Hollywood, but not bankable in the rest of the country. Then, the news comes out that it's a global-warming film, so it didn't even get off the ground.

Critics reading this will say that you think free speech shouldn’t apply to movie stars.
No. That's absurd. Thank you for asking that question. I am all in favor of people saying what they believe. I like knowing George Clooney doesn't like me. I like knowing that he made fun of Charlton Heston when he had Alzheimer's. I like it when people reveal themselves. These idiots can say anything they want. I encourage it.

Then why are you advising studios to rein in their stars when it comes to them talking about politics?
I'm not. I'm just reporting what’s happening.

A lot of liberals think conservatives are silly for taking into account the politics of the stars before buying a ticket to a movie.
I love movies. I even love Jane Fonda. In real life, she's a horrible person, though she probably grew up a bit since Vietnam. But she's so talented that I don't think about that when I see her in a movie. I wish I felt that way about everyone, but, frankly, George Clooney isn't that talented.

So are you pro-boycott or anti-boycott when it comes to films and politics?
It’s not about boycotts. I’m an extremist regarding free speech. I love it. All conservatives are saying is that they don’t want to go to the movies to be insulted, knowing Hollywood is going to shove its values down their throats and take cheap shots at their faith, their country and their political beliefs. We just don’t want to pay to be offended, not stop people from making a living. Liberals are the boycotters. Liberals are the ones who make sure that guys who oppose same-sex marriage can’t have a show on HGTV. Liberals are the ones who petition colleges to make sure conservatives can’t speak there. Liberals are the ones who chased the Mozilla CEO out because he believed in traditional marriage in 2008, the same year Barack Obama did.

So should actors spout off about politics or not?
Here’s my point. A lot of stars in the golden age were lefties, and conservatives today love them and their movies — we love John Garfield, Orson Welles, Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall. The difference is, they were classy and didn’t insult us. They weren’t, "You’re stupid, you’re a Nazi, you’re a racist, you’re a hater."

Have you heard of liberals not seeing a movie because of the politics of its actors?
I have heard a lot of nasty things said about Jon Voight, but there’s not enough examples out there. I heard Clooney make fun of Heston for Alzheimer's, and Heston never insulted anyone. He was pro-Reagan, pro-gun. He never said liberals are Stalinists or anything like that. There’s a difference, don’t you think?

Email: Paul.Bond@THR.com