Conservatives disrupt Hollywood, making progress.

Angel, an independent studio, is at the forefront of an important trend in American entertainment. Conservatives, who decry Hollywood for becoming not a dream factory but a “wokeness” factory, are writing and producing their own films and series, catering to viewers who do not share the left’s views on gender, race and political correctness. Call them “conservative Hollywood”, or the “alt-write”.

Their biggest hit is “Sound of Freedom”, an action thriller from Angel, which will begin streaming on Amazon Prime Video on December 26th. It raked in $184m in ticket sales in American cinemas, outgrossing the latest instalments in the “Indiana Jones” and “Mission: Impossible” franchises. (It also outperformed abroad, where it grossed $63m.)

“Sound of Freedom” is “Dirty Harry” for the Donald Trump era. The plot appeals to Republican viewers: an American lawman sees evil, tries to defeat it and comes up against a heartless government bureaucracy, so he takes the law into his own hands and saves the day. The film fictionalises the life of Tim Ballard, a controversial campaigner against sex trafficking. In the film, he is portrayed as a righteous federal agent, who catches paedophiles sharing child pornography online. Bent on saving more children, Mr Ballard is told by his supervisor he cannot go on a dangerous rescue mission to South America. He hands in his badge and sets off anyway.

Among the film’s fans is Mr Trump, who has said, “This is a very important film and very important movie, and it’s a very important documentary all wrapped up in one.” Ahead of the election in 2024, Mr Trump wants to show support for combating sex trafficking, which many evangelical voters care about and some conspiracy theorists exaggerate in ridiculous ways.

Other firms heard the fireworks of “Sound of Freedom” and showed up for the party, including the Daily Wire, a media outlet founded by Ben Shapiro, a conservative pundit, and Jeremy Boreing, a film-maker. (“It’s time to blow up the Death Star that is the left-wing monopoly on entertainment,” Mr Shapiro has proclaimed.) The Daily Wire’s films and series come out on DailyWire+, its streaming platform, which claims 1m subscribers. (Its first original film came out in 2022.)

The latest is “Lady Ballers”, a comedy directed by Mr Boreing. It follows lousy male basketball players who become transgender to compete in a women’s league and enthusiastically lampoons the liberal orthodoxy around gender identity. Unsurprisingly, it has not scored well with liberal viewers. One progressive commentator dubbed it “‘Mrs Doubtfire’, but evil”.

“Lady Ballers” might not sound like a Hollywood film, but it looks like one. Slicker production has increased the appeal of conservative studios’ offerings, and streaming has helped them reach more viewers. This represents a dramatic shift. 

For decades, conservatives’ attempts to compete with mainstream Hollywood films were dismal. “Left Behind”, an apocalyptic film trilogy from 2000-05 reimagining the Book of Revelation, is a good example: an aspiring thriller franchise, instead the films resemble amateur, rejected submissions from film-school applicants. (They were released straight to video.)

Today’s “alt-write” offerings fall into three categories. The first, most predictably, involves woke-bashing. “Lady Ballers” is the prototype: it takes a hot-button issue and satirises it. The result boosts Republican politicians’ talking points. (“Lady Ballers” features a cameo from Ted Cruz, a Republican senator from Texas.) Daily Wire recently announced a new adult animated comedy series, “Mr Birchum”, about a teacher who “attempts to navigate a world he doesn’t understand or approve of”. The voice cast includes Roseanne Barr, a Trump-supporting comedian, and Megyn Kelly, a former Fox News anchor.

The second category is religious, or “faith-based”, content. Neal Harmon, the boss of Angel, says his studio wants to tell stories that “amplify light”. For example, “The Shift”, Angel’s newest film, is inspired by the biblical story of Job. One of its biggest successes is “The Chosen”, a series based on Jesus’s life, which has been streamed more than 500m times. The firm is currently fundraising for an animated movie about David.

Counterintuitively, the third category of content eschews politics altogether. Take, for example, Amanda Milius, a former State Department official under Mr Trump, who shot to fame with a documentary on the Trump-Russia dossier. Among her current array of projects is a biopic of John McAfee, a larger-than-life computer programmer. “It’s a bunch of hookers and cocaine on a yacht. I can’t really pitch that to conservative America,” she quips.

Ms Milius is adamant art must trump partisanship: “If you’re going to be on the right and you’re going to say, ‘Oh, Hollywood is overtaken by the left,’ don’t make the same mistakes, and don’t lead with your ideology…lead with the story and lead with the aesthetics,” she says.

Others are doing the same. Daily Wire’s non-political films include a Western, “Terror on the Prairie”; a thriller, “Shut In”; and a quirky comedy, “The Hyperions”. In October the studio launched Bentkey, a platform for kids, with the mission of depoliticising children’s entertainment.

But even in “depoliticised” films, politics are palpable. Bentkey launched amid a row over Disney’s remake of the cartoon “Snow White” from 1937. The lead actress, Rachel Zegler, has promised a modern take: “It’s no longer 1937,” so Snow White is “not going to be saved by the prince, and she’s not going to be dreaming about true love”. In response, Bentkey is making a version of “Snow White”, which claims to be a more faithful remake and “a tale of timeless truth”. (It comes out next year.)

Mr Boreing is clear-eyed about the wider market for Daily Wire productions, even ostensibly non-political ones. “I think the idea that you can make ‘mainstream content’ and draw people left and right to view right now is a bit naive,” he admits. America has split into two tribes—liberal and conservative—who consume different products, different news sources and, increasingly, different entertainment.

Does that mean that conservative films will be relegated to audiences of true believers? The broad success of “The Chosen” suggests not. Streaming, whether through studios’ own platforms or through popular ones like Netflix, will give films and tv series a wide reach in America.

And there is a potential for reaching global audiences, too. Once again, “Sound of Freedom” is a harbinger. The film performed well in South America, where it tapped into a network of conservative movers and shakers. In Brazil, the sons of Jair Bolsonaro, the former president and an ally of Mr Trump, went to the premiere. In El Salvador, Nayib Bukele, the president, encouraged Salvadoreans to see the film.

Europe could also become an important market for American conservative content. Across the continent politicians on the right are ascendant, and battles from America’s culture wars have spread there, too. In France, le wokisme is a major topic of discussion. Only last month, Europe 1, a leading radio station, ran an editorial slamming Disney for embracing the “woke revolution”, which it hotly described as “a deconstruction of our childhood dreams”. It sounded a lot like Mr Boreing’s sales pitch for Bentkey.

Clarification (December 15th 2023): This article has been updated to reflect the fact that the Daily Wire was partying before the fireworks of “Sound of Freedom” started.

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Conservative independent studio Angel is leading a trend in American entertainment, producing films and series that cater to viewers who do not share left-wing views. Their biggest hit, “Sound of Freedom,” an action thriller based on the life of Tim Ballard, a campaigner against sex trafficking, outgrossed major franchises like “Indiana Jones” and “Mission: Impossible.” Other conservative studios like Daily Wire are also entering the market, producing content that satirizes woke culture or focuses on religious themes. While some films eschew politics altogether, politics are still present even in depoliticized films. Streaming platforms have helped conservative studios reach a wider audience, and there is potential for global success, as seen with the popularity of “Sound of Freedom” in South America. European markets, where right-wing politics are on the rise and battles from America’s culture wars have spread, could also become important for conservative content.

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