Why Hollywood needs to embrace conservatism

After a second weekend of wide-scale release in the U.S., Warner Bros./Time Warner's "American Sniper" movie has topped the $200 million domestic release mark. This number is stunning in and of itself in a time when many other movies have struggled to find an audience; but that number also puts it on pace to become the all-time biggest domestic R-rated movie of all time. The current record holder for that: "The Passion of the Christ."

Taking the liberty to point out what may be obvious, what the two movies share is a large, loyal and enthusiastic audience. Whether you want to label the audience "Christian," "patriotic" or my preferred choice- "conservative," the strength of Sniper and Passion should be sending a strong business message about this audience to Hollywood.

Bradley Cooper in "American Sniper"
Source: American Sniper
Bradley Cooper in "American Sniper"

To say that Hollywood is liberal is much like saying that fire is hot or water is wet. That political ideology that is pervasive throughout much of the entertainment industry, coupled with the current deep divisions in the country, has left Hollywood to distance itself from conservatism. This is evident in the way that conservative talent is treated in the industry. The bias against conservatives is so strong that there is an underground society of meaningful size called "Friends of Abe" where conservative entertainers gather to network and support each other and be open about their beliefs and ideologies. According to several friends of mine who are a part of this group, no pictures are allowed in the events, for fear that the members would be punished professionally (with fewer work opportunities) if it were known that they were a part of this group.

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In addition to shunning conservative talent, the studios have been slow to greenlight movies that are based around conservative themes. And while I am neither Christian nor conservative (although, being a fiscally-conservative Independent that leans close to Libertarian, I am often grouped in with the latter), it seems very apparent that there is a strong business case to be made to embrace the conservative audience.

If the strength of the conservative market wasn't apparent enough from the runaway box-office successes of "American Sniper" and "Passion of the Christ," take Mark Burnett and Roma Downey's 2013 TV mini-series, "The Bible," which surpassed 13 million views in its first airing and has been viewed more than 100 million times cumulatively. Or look at the strength of A&E's "Duck Dynasty" series, which was not only a runaway success, but engendered the intense support of the conservative community even when one of its stars, Phil Robertson, came under fire for a number of controversial comments.

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While much of the programming decisions in entertainment come out of the East and West Coasts (in particular, New York City, Washington D.C. and the greater Los Angeles area), those geographic areas (or at least the decision makers and individuals with the microphones in those arenas) aren't representative of what is going on in much of the rest of the country. The conservative community is pervasive across the United States. Moreover, the conservative community has all of the hallmarks of what Hollywood could ever want in a fan base. They are loyal, rabid consumers of content — whether news or entertainment — and other products and services which align with their core community values.

If Hollywood wants to see financial success and do what's in the best interests of its shareholders, it should put its politics aside and put more focus on the tremendous business opportunity that lies in the conservative market. It's called show business, after all.

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Commentary by Carol Roth, a "recovering" investment banker (corporate finance), entrepreneur/small-business owner, investor and author of "The Entrepreneur Equation." Follow her on Twitter @CarolJSRoth.