Critic Denounces Oppenheimer as a Return to “Macho Dad Movies” – JONATHAN TURLEY

There is widespread alarm among celebrities over Barbie being “snubbed” from nominations for the Best Director and Best Actress categories. Hillary Clinton joined in by lamenting the nomination of “Kenough” while suggesting that she knew how Margot Robbie and Greta Gerwig felt when you “win the box office but not take home the gold.”

Former Obama Director of Communications Jennifer Palmieri joined the irate crowd in declaring “It’s still so easy for Hollywood to overlook and discount artistic contributions of women – EVEN WHEN ITS THE POINT OF THE YEAR’S BIGGEST MOVIE!”

I did see “Oppenheimer” and I am indeed a Dad — as well as a history buff. I also had no interest in seeing “Barbie” though my wife and daughter loved the film.  That all may confirm the demographics for Chilton and critics. However, the Independent went further in the article titled “Does Oppenheimer’s award season domination herald a troubling return to Hollywood’s macho ‘dad movie’ days?”

Putting aside that Oppenheimer was hardly a physics-based version of True Grit or Die Hard, it was a film based on dramatic real events leading to the use of the first atomic bomb. As someone who primarily reads and enjoys historical accounts, it was a refreshing choice.

While acknowledging that the movie was “meaty, intelligent and wonderfully crafted,” Chilton declared that “[n]o matter how reductive this assertion may be – that Nolan’s film is simply “one for the boys” … [with its] bombs and the evils of war – and it’s easy to see why the film has been pigeonholed as a quintessential ‘dad movie.’”

Like many such woke objections, the criticism contains an overtly sexist bias. There are plenty of women who are interested in history and, yes, even “bombs and the evils of war.” Many did not exclusively go only to that movie. Many went to both and loved both — as did my wife.

What is most notable is how the objection is that Oppenheimer represents a regression from the “progress” made in moving away from “Dad movies.” We have been discussing how such social agendas have shaped films at companies like Disney and recently led to various shareholder fights. Disney, for example, has had a string of relative flops and has lost its position as the most profitable film company. Even the CEO Bob Iger admits that the companies political and social agenda has undermined profits.

Disney recently seemed to acknowledge that it is facing its own Bud Light moment. In its annual SEC report, Disney acknowledges that “we face risks relating to misalignment with public and consumer tastes and preferences for entertainment, travel and consumer products.”

Other companies have also faced disasters in moving away from a significant part of their markets. The most vivid example is BudLight and the comments of Alissa Heinerscheid, vice president of marketing for Bud Light, before the company went into a market dive.

Before the devastating boycott over the Mulvaney promotion, Heinerscheid was lionized by many for pledging to drop Bud Light’s “fratty reputation and embrace inclusivity.” Bud Light lost its top position among beers and, despite many insisting that the opposition would be short-lived, it has continued to suppress sales.

Other businesses have faced similar backlash. For example, Sports Illustrated has just laid off most of its staff and previously faced similar criticism.

For these companies, the business and legal question is whether social and political agendas undermine the fiduciary obligation of the boards to shareholders and investors.  Notably, Oppenheimer was a massive hit both financially and critically. Yet, the concern is that it is returning to the “bad old days” of movie making.

Chilton noted that “[t]he roster of significant male characters…is deep and illustrious” while objecting that female characters are less prominent and well developed. Yet, this is a movie on a historic secret program where the principle characters were almost exclusively male. That certainly reflected the times and the limited opportunities for many women in the field. However, there is a reason why the principal characters are largely male because they were playing male historical figures.

The Independent movie captures the debate that continues to rage across various industries. However, it is striking to see a major work of cinematic art subjected to such handwringing and angst. Of course, Oppenheimer admitted that he was never truly prepared for “the fact that the world is full of cruel and bitter things.” It appears that his eponymous movie is experiencing the same realization.




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