While the film was removed despite having at one time reached No. 1 on Amazon’s documentary charts, the world’s largest online retailer proceeded to make free streams of less-popular documentaries, including a favorable one on Anita Hill, the former Thomas colleague who nearly wrecked his Supreme Court authorization.
That was concerning Michael Pack, writer-director of “Created Equal” and a documentary filmmaker for decades. But it was no shock to him and the small but expanding cadre of other traditional documentarians, who say they suffer barriers because of their politics and are beginning to fight back against the long odds of “cancel culture.” Black conservative scholar Shelby Steele saw Amazon originally refuse to carry his documentary “What Killed Michael Brown?” last year because it asked the liberal narrative about the 2014 shooting in Ferguson, Mo., that helped cause the Black Lives Matter movement. Amazon, which softened after a public complaint, did not respond to a request for comment.
Justin Folk, director of “No Safe Spaces,” which centers college-based attacks on free speech and highlights famous liberals including Dr. Cornel West and Van Jones, along with conservatives such as Dennis Prager, Dave Rubin and Ben Shapiro, said he had a hard time finding a traditional publisher for his documentary because Hollywood saw the film as conservative.
“Despite having big names in our film, a big audience, and a very relevant topic, we were mostly ignored,” said Folk, who said his film, which eventually grossed $1.3 million, was rejected by the prestigious Telluride Film Festival. “In one case, a major distributor actually admitted to us that they think our film is a winner but they can’t get behind it because Dennis Prager is in it.”
Conservative filmmakers faced little distinction in the past because there were so few of them. That started to change in 2012 when conservative commentator Dinesh D’Souza’s “2016: Obama’s America” became the second-highest-grossing political documentary of all time ($33 million).
Since then it has been a golden age for documentaries. Streaming services such as Amazon, Netflix, and Hulu have generated major distribution channels, matching content with massive, algorithmically targeted audiences. This has led to critical growth in filmmaking.
Documentaries that in the past might never have been broadcasted—since their economic viability would be tied to packing movie houses—can thrive today, especially lately with people more homebound due to the coronavirus pandemic.