It’s no secret nowadays that Hollywood stars and directors slant left. But Hollywood wasn’t always so woke. Years ago, actors would star in movies celebrating America. So how did we get here?
Christian Toto has the answer.
Toto is founder of the conservative entertainment site HollywoodInToto.com as well as author of the new book “Virtue Bombs: How Hollywood Got Woke and Lost Its Soul.”
He says Hollywood is just another casualty in the left’s dominance of American culture.
“It’s the same way the culture went woke and lost its soul,” Toto explains. “A few studio executives make a few decisions, a few actors realize if they share some woke virtue signaling on social media, they’ll get more attention, more positive press. And it goes from there.”
Toto joins “The Daily Signal Podcast” to tell the story of Hollywood’s turn to the left and what conservatives are doing to push back.
We also cover these stories:
- Russian President Vladimir Putin says America has ignored Russia’s concerns over the West’s position on Ukraine.
- Senate Democrats release legislation to amend the law governing the counting of Electoral College votes.
- Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin says National Guard troops are required to get a COVID-19 vaccine.
Listen to the podcast below:
Douglas Blair: My guest today is Christian Toto, founder of the conservative entertainment site HollywoodInToto.com, as well as author of the new book “Virtue Bombs: How Hollywood Got Woke and Lost Its Soul,” available now wherever books are sold. Christian, welcome to the show.
Christian Toto: Oh, thanks for having me. Appreciate it.
Blair: Excellent. Let’s start with the obvious question posed by the book: How did Hollywood get woke and lose its soul?
Toto: Well, you know, it’s funny, it’s the same way the culture went woke and lost its soul, in certain regards. It’s happened slowly, and then it’s quick. It’s really fascinating how things kind of get speed. But you know, a few studio executives make a few decisions, a few actors realize if they share some woke virtue signaling on social media, they’ll get more attention, more positive press, and it goes from there.
So, was there a single moment? No, for sure, but I think it compares to the culture at large.
Blair: So this is something that’s not separate from American culture, it’s just a sort of microcosm of it in a different area?
Toto: Oh, absolutely. I mean, you could look at what’s happening on college campuses a few years ago and thinking, “Well, you know, it’s just college campuses. All the things, the crazy stories we hear, the free speech suppression, it’s not going to bleed into our life, into the culture,” and then it does.
So what happens in Hollywood also has an impact on the culture at large. It’s inescapable and I think more conservatives have to realize that.
Blair: Do we see this as a sort of self-reinforcing mechanism where the academia is woke and the wider culture at large is woke, therefore, Hollywood sees this as what sells and gets more woke, and then people view this on TV and it just sort of creates a cycle?
Toto: It is a cycle, but the one component that’s not quite solid is the fact that it sells.
As a matter of fact, there’s the “get woke, go broke” philosophy, which comes in handy, because there are a lot of different projects that seem like they’re “can’t miss” blockbusters, TV shows that might draw a lot of attention and then they fail.
And it happens quite a bit, from the “Charlie’s Angels” reboot to “The Terminator” sequel, to shows like “Party of Five.” It happens again and again.
So I think that’s the missing piece in this puzzle, and yet Hollywood, which is show business, isn’t always interested or alarmed when these things don’t work out financially, and that’s the curious point.
Blair: And why is that?
Toto: You know, I think they don’t connect the dots, to a certain extent. I think there are corporations and companies that will lose significant money when they go woke, when they start doing the virtue signaling dance.
And I think the people in Hollywood exist in a bubble of sorts, where they don’t read right-of-center news sources. They don’t read my site, they don’t listen to what I have to say. And so, not that I’m so important, as one person, but there’s half the country that is not exactly in line, in lockstep with this thinking. And they’re not aware that they seem to block that information out, and I think they do it to their financial peril at some point soon.
Blair: Do we see the wokeness as being worse now than in previous years?
Toto: Yeah. You know, I think the George Floyd situation really kind of doused kerosene on the culture at large. And I think that impacted Hollywood as well, because you had blackface episodes across the culture in the past and yet after Floyd’s death and the protests and the riots, all of a sudden they were yanked down with no debate, with no argument. And the people who made those shows, like Tina Fey, did so without hesitation.
So I think that was a turning point. And I think that has slowed down, to a certain degree, for sure since then, but we’re still in the thick of it.
You know, we’re seeing it with the Joe Rogan situation. There was a reality show star who got removed from her show because she had some anti-[Black Lives Matter] comments, which you would think would be just freedom of speech and nothing terribly offensive, but there are certain groups you cannot critique at this point and BLM is one of them.
Blair: So why don’t we move on to your book? Let’s talk about what the goal of the book is and what point are you trying to get across to readers?
Toto: Well, I think we can look at certain situations in the culture and kind of maybe roll our eyes or laugh. You know, an actress, a big actress rejects a role because it’s not woke enough. She should step aside and a person with that similar background should take the role. Or we can maybe laugh when Emma Watson apologizes for being woke, but not woke enough when the BLM situation rose up, and she didn’t have the right social media messaging.
That seems silly and not really super important, but what we need and why the book exists is that you have to kind of connect all these dots. You’ve got to put this all together in one package and say, “These aren’t isolated incidents.” This is a through-line in Hollywood that bleeds into the culture, that is significant, that is profound, that is really squelching free expression.
And I think that’s my biggest beef as a fan of Hollywood, as someone who steered my career to cover Hollywood professionally, is that I want the greatest stories out there. I want actors to be able to tell their tales, to share their stories. I want it to be, anyone who’s got a great script, to be able to make that script. And what the woke ideology does is it sort of short circuits a lot of that, where you have to tell certain stories, you have to share certain perspectives. You can’t disallow or disobey certain rules. And that does not yield a superior product. It’s just the opposite.
Blair: Let’s take another sample case of wokeness in Hollywood, because there’s something that you mentioned to me that really struck me, is that we hear these stories and we laugh, right? If Emma Watson goes up and says, “I’m not woke enough, I didn’t do the right prostration dance on Twitter,” we all laugh and say that’s ridiculous. But there were certain cases where these incidents of wokeness versus what seems to be rational thought go awry.
So let’s take the example of Dave Chappelle. It seemed like even though there were quite a few normal, angry Twitter people kind of par for the course who wanted him gone, there were a fair amount of people who were also supporting him and saying that he had the right to say these things. Does that indicate to you that this is something that’s kind of becoming less popular?
Toto: You know, I don’t think it’s ever been very popular. It’s always been a minority, a small minority of people who are outraged, offended, aghast, eager to make change as they see it. I think that the culture, for some reason, gives them extra voice, extra power, extra influence. And people are afraid of the Twitter mob. It’s corporations afraid of a stinging op-ed. And yet, the people who are on Dave Chappelle’s side, for example, they don’t have that clout. They don’t have that power.
If you look at the numbers on Netflix, I guarantee “The Closer,” his last special, probably did huge numbers on that service, certainly justifying its existence. And maybe the people who were aghast at the situation were tiny in numbers.
You look at the protests at Netflix headquarters. It wasn’t a massive wave of people, but they were given more clout within our society. And that’s a problem. And I think it’s something that we need to realize, need to address and say, “Hey, wake up.”
This isn’t a massive populist movement. It’s small, it’s angry, it’s inconsistent. It’s about power and not freedom. And it’s not about making society a better place, by the way, because the woke mob will regularly aggressively look the other way, if the target in question is someone they agree with.
And case in point is Alec Baldwin, Bette Midler, Jimmy Kimmel, they all should have been canceled aggressively, but they weren’t because they were proponents of the left and they did the left’s bidding, and the people in their woke mob didn’t want them gone. And they’re not.
Blair: Now, conservatives have been talking about this for decades. I mean, I can remember back when I was a kid, this sort of trend toward Hollywood going woke. Why does it seem like conservatives have failed to capitalize on what, as we’ve discussed, is very unpopular with the general population?
Toto: “I don’t know” is the short answer. I know that conservatives have done a terrible job of meeting pop culture halfway, of creating art on their own terms, of dissecting why popular culture is so important.
So, there have been few voices like Andrew Klavan, who wrote the foreword to my book, who have been doing the Paul Revere and yelling and screaming and waving their hands and saying, “Wake up, wake up!” The great late Andrew Breitbart certainly did that.
Politics is downstream of culture, but people on the right, for whatever reason, have been ignorant of this issue. And thankfully, I think my fellow conservatives are waking up. They are realizing what’s happening. They are understanding how much has been lost.
And you see The Daily Wire getting into the entertainment business. You see The Federalist creating its first documentary. You see people like Christopher Rufo not just being an activist, but making short films that showcase what’s going on in the culture.
And there are a lot of comedians who are not even right of center, but just free thinkers who are engaging in the culture and making very funny content that addresses the issues in play. So there is a movement here that we need to encourage, if only just for free speech.
Often, conservatives will rally around folks like Joe Rogan who are not conservative. They’re probably liberal or left of center. You know, Ricky Gervais is a hero to many conservatives. He’s a liberal who hates Donald Trump, but he speaks for free speech, he defends comedy, and that is super important in the culture right now.
And I think that’s why left, right, middle, it doesn’t matter. You’ve got to go for free speech. You’ve got to go for free expression. You’ve got to attack this woke culture because it is devastating, it is toxic, and it’s making us a worse society.
Blair: You’ve mentioned a couple of different responses to woke Hollywood, including comedians who stand up for free speech, a la Ricky Gervais, Bill Maher is one that I tend to watch as well. The Daily Wire, who has begun investing resources into building up conservative studios, productions like “Run Hide Fight,” which are explicitly conservative pieces of media. Is that the best way to handle this, we basically just support sort of conservative productions, or do we kind of generally, across the board, say that we should be more focused on free speech?
Toto: Well, I think both, and we should absolutely focus on free speech. What we should do is, when possible, when feasible, support people who are being unfairly canceled.
And that’s why the Gina Carano story, which is a whole chapter in my book, is so important because she was unfairly canceled, period, full stop, by a company that’s playing footsie with China. And you know what’s happening in China. So, the fact that Daily Wire swooped in, gave her a movie that she could star in and produce is significant.
So that’s kind of a two birds [with] one stone situation. You’re supporting someone unfairly canceled and you’re letting her blossom and bloom and do stories that wouldn’t maybe fit within normal Hollywood.
But yeah, I think it’s up to us as conservatives and free thinkers. Center-left people, we love you, too. You’ve got to support these kinds of projects because if they don’t get support, if they wither and die, then they’ll fade away.
Conservative, the people who are kind of pulling the purse strings seem very reticent to support right-of-center art. And yet, liberals will just throw buckets full of money at projects that will probably fail. But you know what? That project that fails, that movie that fails will live on and on. It’ll be on cable, it’ll be on streaming services, and there’ll be so many stories written about it that it’ll basically puncture the culture, whether it succeeds or fails. And I think people on the left realize that.
They’re making a “J6” movie with some pretty heavy hitters in Hollywood about the Capitol riots. Now, do you think that’s going to be fair and balanced? Do you think that’s going to be a journalistic approach to the situation? Of course not, but the mainstream media will adore it. They will promote it. They will share it. They will critique it without the usual truth sensors in place and it’ll get so much attention that even if it fails, it hasn’t failed.
Blair: Let’s take a quick look and sort of see how are these productions doing. What did The Daily Wire do with “Run Hide Fight”? How did that do at the box office?
Toto: Well, it didn’t have a box office release. It was released behind their paywall, which is both good and bad. It’s good because it is another asset they have, they can draw subscribers.
I am a contributor to The Daily Wire. I’m not a full-time employee, so I have a little bit of insight and I also want to be transparent about my connections there, but it seems like that did well.
The producer of that film was very happy with the response, but it also is not playing in theaters. So if you do want to influence the culture, there is a bit of a disconnect there.
So, listen, I think The Daily Wire is doing a good thing and I would say that with or without my connection to them. But you also want to have that kind of content available to the masses.
And also, what The Daily Wire is doing is not overtly political. That “Run Hide Fight” movie was not a treatise on any sort of political movement or ideology—there were moments here and there, you could certainly say.
And their next few projects, one is a thriller called “Shut In,” another is “Terror on the Prairie,” an Indie Western. These are not hardcore propaganda machines. These are stories. And again, they may have elements that lean to the right, but they’re not trying to really make it as aggressively one-sided like a late-night monologue, which is comically one-sided.
Blair: Now, what movies and shows do you think best encapsulate what conservatives should look for in entertainment as a model to produce good content that can resonate with multiple Americans?
Toto: Well, two films come to mind. One was “Richard Jewell,” which is probably about 2 years old now. It’s a story about the security guard at the Atlanta Olympics, and he was allegedly involved with the bombing there. He was innocent and the way that the press and the FBI targeted him, maligned him, it was the perfect movie for our times.
And yet, conservatives stayed home and the movie was an absolute flop, even though it had stars, it had Clint Eastwood behind the camera, and it was excellent. And I think that’s a really clear example of people on the right failing to support projects that they need and that they want to see more of in theory.
But I also point to “No Safe Spaces,” a documentary from two years ago, and that was a wonderful film. It wasn’t overly political. It really did show the free speech suppression on college campuses in a thoughtful, powerful way. It was beautifully packaged.
And I think it could have reached a lot of people. I think people on the far left are too far gone at this point. They would reject it, but I think that would’ve kind of reached the masses. It did fairly well, for a documentary of its size and scope, but again, that was one that should have been a breakout hit, and it wasn’t.
Blair: Let’s move on to your website, HollywoodInToto.com. It bills itself as the right take in entertainment. What are you hoping to achieve with the site?
Toto: Well, I’ve been a film critic for over 20 years now, and if you look around at my colleagues, most of them are left of center. Some of them are aggressively so. And what you see in their reportage is that it is reflected in their reviews. It seems to be happening more and more.
And if I went to Mother Jones and they had a film review, and the film reviewer was very left of center and it really impacted his or her review, I don’t really have a problem with that. Your audience is very left of center and you’re speaking to them. That’s perfectly fine. The same way [that] National Review has the great Kyle Smith, who reviews from a conservative perspective.
But I think across the landscape, you have many, many critics who act as if they’re reviewing for Mother Jones when, in actuality, they have a mainstream audience, and I think that’s doing a disservice.
So I basically offer myself as a right-of-center critic for the half of the country that is mostly ignored. And I try to do so from a fair perspective. And if there’s a movie with a heavy, progressive theme, I don’t want to say it’s bad because of that reason, I want to say it’s bad because the dialogue is stilted or the story doesn’t flow, you know? So I try to be as fair as possible, but I’m also transparent in who I am and how I view the world.
Blair: Has there been a positive response to the website? Have people reached out to you and said, “This is exactly what I was looking for”?
Toto: Yeah. You know, I get a lot of people on the right who are grateful for it. And you know, I also get a lot of respect from Hollywood. I get to interview a lot of actors and directors and filmmakers. I’m able to access product. They have not banned me or censored me.
And I try to treat the site, which is my home base, as a very fair outlet. I’m trying to be journalistically sound. If I make a mistake, I’ll go correct it. I link out aggressively to other sources when I’m making my arguments.
You know, a lot of what’s on the site are op-eds and a lot of what’s happening now is, I’m speaking out for free speech and I would like to think that that would be an issue where a left-leaning reader of my site would say, “Yeah, I agree with that,” or at least, “I appreciate that argument.” Not always the case, but that’s what I’m trying to do right now, and I really think it’s important.
And what I’ve noticed is that the media, in general, and too many artists, and this is just shocking to me, are not in favor of free speech as we see it today. You know, Sacha Baron Cohen, of “Borat” fame, wants to censor Facebook. Many, many celebrities were cheering when Donald Trump was removed from Twitter and Facebook. That’s just wrong.
It’s just wrong, and I’m just shocked to see it, but it is the state of people on the left. And I embrace people who happen to be liberal and who don’t have that worldview, like the Ricky Gervais’s of the world. God bless them.
Blair: Something you just said reminded me of a story from a couple years ago with director Mark Duplass, who went and met with Ben Shapiro, obviously of Daily Wire fame as well, and he basically was saying that Ben Shapiro wasn’t such a bad guy. They had a conversation. They didn’t agree on much, but that he’s genuine and that he’s a nice guy.
And the response to this tweet that he put out after meeting Ben Shapiro was incredible. It was something along the lines of like he had just talked with some horrible dictator in some Third World country. Like, this was that level of problem, and he had to walk back and apologize.
It’s so interesting to me that you’ve mentioned that there have been actors in Hollywood that have talked to you about how they appreciate your site, and from a right-leaning perspective. Do we see that happening more and more and this Duplass incident was sort of an outlier, or was this sort of, they’re realizing that they need to stop doing that because otherwise they’re going to lose this massive part of their audience?
Toto: No, I think that response would be maybe tenfold if his tweet went out today. I was very sad to see that.
I’ve met Mark Duplass. I think he’s a very talented, interesting guy. I think he was acting out of fear and I get it to a certain degree, because unless you’re a major movie star, you really are dependent on your peers, on the people who work on the production side of things, the casting directors, the studios, you need them to like you and to be amenable to your vision. And if he goes out and he says, “Ben Shapiro isn’t a monster. He seems like a decent guy who I just disagree with,” then he’s putting some of his future projects in jeopardy. That’s really where it stands today.
I have talked to people who will hide their credits if they’re attached to a right-leaning project. I’ve talked to actors who will say, “Please don’t out me as a conservative.” That’s where we are. There’s a modern blacklist. I notice there’s very big differences between the one in the ’50s and the one right now, but they are kissing cousins at times, and it really does exist. That fear is out there. It is real. It is getting worse.
And we need people like Mark to say, “Hey, you know what? You can critique me all you want, but this guy’s a human being. I met him. He seems like a nice fellow and we can agree to disagree.” And you know, the more people people do that, the more this problem will go away, but it takes a lot of courage and courage is in short supply in Hollywood.
Blair: Now, there was a time when Hollywood was pro-America. There’s this fascinating exhibit at the National Archives here in Washington, D.C., that shows an ad where Jimmy Stewart of “It’s a Wonderful Life” fame encourages Americans to buy war bonds during World War II, which, it feels like that could never happen today. Like, it feels like that would never be a thing, that a Hollywood star would go out and say, “Support America.” Would we ever be able to get back to a point like that?
Toto: I don’t know. I don’t think so, but I don’t know.
It’s interesting that I’m reading a book right now about China and Hollywood. It’s fascinating because China is all about messaging and propaganda and building up the country and making sure that China looks impeccable on the silver screen. It is their main focus that you’re obsessed with it.
And yet, during the Iraq War—and you could disagree with the Iraq War, and certainly in retrospect, I think most people may disagree with that situation—but what did Hollywood do in response? They put out movie, after movie, after movie that was critical of either the Bush policy, the war itself, or even American soldiers. And it’s certainly an anti-Jimmy Stewart-like response.
And again, that is their right. This is a creative industry. They are allowed to do that. I would never say that they shouldn’t do that. But the response is fascinating.
Blair: Before we go, I want to ask two more questions. The first one is, we’ve discussed that there is a severe lack of conservative voices at the table in Hollywood, but why is it important that we be there? Why is it important that these voices should be present at the table?
Toto: Well, because you’re basically getting one side of the culture from Hollywood. I mentioned that “J6” movie. Sundance Film Festival just had multiple movies that were pro-abortion.
You know, Sundance is always speaking about diversity, diversity, diversity. They want more women, more people of color to share their stories, and good for them. … I think everyone who wants to tell their story should be able to tell it.
But the culture at large is sending one message that, even from the comedy perspective, that [Joe] Biden is a good president, that he’s doing the right thing, that anyone on the GOP side is evil and wrong and corrupt.
If you’re right of center, how could you not admit that that’s a significant problem and that your voice isn’t being heard and that this is swaying hearts and minds?
And again, I don’t root for propaganda. I’d rather have stories that have maybe kind of more subtle messaging, but we are, as conservatives, just almost out of the conversation and we’re basically forced not to even join the conversation.
Look what’s happening to Joe Rogan right now. He expressed views that were just contrary to the groupthink, and look at the attacks. The attacks will continue, they will not stop, and he’s not a monster. And he’s probably far more accurate than is CNN. And yet CNN is allowed to exist and thrive, and no one says they should be off the air, but plenty of people would love Joe Rogan to go away and never share another podcast.
Blair: And before we wrap-up, I wanted to give you the opportunity, is there anything else about your book or your website that you would like our listeners to know?
Toto: Yeah, you know, I mean, this is a selfish request, but if my book fails, it’s just another sign that people on the right aren’t supporting art and free speech and things like that. And again, totally self-serving, but I would love for my book to fail and yet conservatives would run out and support every right-leaning project, make indie crowdfunding campaigns successful.
We’ve got to take steps to empower people on our side to be part of the cultural conversation. It’s really, really important. And the same goes for my website. You know, half the country doesn’t have film reporters and entertainment journalists who speak to them, and I speak to them. I reach out to them. I don’t trash them. I don’t insult them.
And honestly, my site, I look at Variety and The Hollywood Reporter, and Deadline and The Wrap, they are in favor of cancel culture. They are in favor of less voices, not more voices. I’m the opposite. And I think people should support that perspective, along with people at The Daily Wire and other sources who are doing good things and promoting free speech.
I don’t see any conservative saying, “You have to cancel this voice and Alec Baldwin should never make a movie again and Bette Midler should be sent to the gulag.” No. They should do what they do and say what they say, and let’s have an argument. Let’s have a debate. I think that’s really important and we need more outlets that are pushing that perspective.
Blair: That was Christian Toto, founder of conservative entertainment site HollywoodInToto.com, as well as author of the new book “Virtue Bombs: How Hollywood Got Woke and Lost Its Soul,” available now wherever books are sold.
Christian, I had a great time with this conversation. Thank you so much.
Toto: Thanks, I appreciate it.
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