Hollywood often wades into politics, but the industry has proven especially active amid a recent backlash from corporate America over racial justice and voting rights.
Last month, a movie production boycott of Georgia's restrictive voting law stirred controversy, and two weeks later the Academy Awards featured mention of the guilty verdict for former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin at the outset of the ceremony.
In a new interview, movie producer and Tribeca Enterprises CEO Jane Rosenthal — who co-founded and oversees the influential Tribeca Film Festival — emphasized the importance of Hollywood's political advocacy, saying the industry can "absolutely" weigh in on pressing topics.
In fact, the U.S. mismanagement of the COVID-19 pandemic showed the potentially dire consequences of policy decisions, and reinforced the urgency of Hollywood's role in the national conversation, she said.
"If we have one lesson from all of this — from what's happened in our government, what's happened with COVID — it's that we better be paying attention," Rosenthal says. "We need to pay attention to who we're electing, who's speaking for us."
"If people in the movie industry can make statements about it, then absolutely, because people tend to listen and then follow," she adds.
Hollywood, often a source of fundraising for liberal political candidates and causes, remains a flashpoint in the nation's culture wars and an ongoing target of former President Donald Trump.
After the Oscars ceremony last month, Trump called the event "politically correct and boring."
The remarks aligned with xenophobic comments Trump made after the previous ceremony last February, in which he criticized the choice of Best Picture award winner "Parasite."
“So many great movies…” he said at a rally that month, “the winner is from South Korea!”
President Joe Biden's campaign last year counted major donations from Hollywood, including millions collected by prominent industry figures, who functioned as bundlers for the campaign. That list includes producer Jeffrey Katzenberg and his wife Marilyn Katzenberg, who gave $1.4 million; as well as Netflix (NFLX) CEO Reed Hastings and his wife Patty Ann Quillin, who also gave $1.4 million, the New York Times reported.
More recently, Hollywood has directed its attention to legislation introduced in Republican-controlled state legislatures nationwide that would restrict voting and limit bathroom access for transgender people, among other laws.
In March, hundreds of women in the entertainment industry signed a public letter condemning a wave of such anti-transgender measures. Notable signers include actress and director Regina King, actress Halle Berry, and singer Selena Gomez.
The activism comes at a precarious moment for the movie industry, which suffered a downturn during the COVID-19 pandemic, as movie theater closures devastated ticket sales and production came to a standstill.
Domestic box office revenue fell 80% in 2020, compared to the year prior, according to Comscore data reported by Variety. Global box office revenue took a similar hit, falling 71% compared to 2019, Variety found.
Speaking to Yahoo Finance, Rosenthal faulted the government for mishandling the U.S. response to the pandemic, and said the policy failure demonstrated the personal consequences of political decisions.
"It's not just going to affect just your taxes or a stop sign on your street corner," she adds. "It's also your health — it's your children."