Actresses playing the race card against film critics set a dangerous precedent.
Hollywood starlets have found a new target.
For months following Harvey Weinstein’s outing as an alleged sexual predator, actresses savaged their own industry. They lashed out at the gender imbalance behind the scenes. They decried the lack of representation on screen. They demanded more power, more opportunities and more choices.
And they had a compelling point.
Now, a new line of attack is starting to emerge. This one, though, is dubious on the surface and wildly unfair below it.
Playing the Race Card
It’s not fair that so many white male critics review movies, they claim. The attacks came following a study by USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative that revealed the critics who reviewed last year’s 100 most successful films were 80 percent men and 82 percent white.
Several actresses recently attacked the scourge of “white male critics” while promoting their new projects or simply addressing the state of film culture.
Brie Larson blasted that group for daring to dislike “A Wrinkle in Time,” the Disney flop starring Oprah Winfrey, Mindy Kaling and Reese Witherspoon.
“I don’t need a 40-year-old white dude to tell me what didn’t work about A Wrinkle in Time,” Larson, accepting the Crystal Award for Excellence in Film, said. “It wasn’t made for him! I want to know what it meant to women of color, biracial women, to teen women of color, to teens that are biracial.”
“Am I saying I hate white dudes? No, I am not,” she added. “What I am saying is if you make a movie that is a love letter to women of color, there is an insanely low chance a woman of color will have a chance to see your movie, and review your movie.”
Let’s start with the obvious. Most critics panned “A Wrinkle in Time,” and some of them happened to be women. So right away Larson’s argument is silly and defensive. Only she wasn’t the only actress filing that charge regarding a female-centric movie.
Kaling’s other 2018 release, “Ocean’s 8,” also earned middling reviews. RottenTomatoes.com gave the film a 68 percent “fresh” score, but the consensus found the film pleasant yet underwhelming.
The stars of that film seized on that film critic study, allowing them to defend their film against critics who found fault with it.
Blanchett said it’s an issue that’s been on her radar for some time.
“I always knew that but I think now people are pointing it out,” Cate Blanchett told Yahoo Movies at the Ocean’s 8 junket. “When you start pointing that stuff out you realise there’s a certain gaze that looks at women.”
Co-star Kaling went further. The star of “The Mindy Project” suggested male critics did Meryl Streep a disservice throughout her career.
“She made movies for women but they are reviewed by men who don’t necessarily value it or don’t look at it in the same point of view as a woman doing it, but it seems just unfair.
Here are some RottenTomatoes.com scores for Streep’s best films.
- Silkwood – 75 percent
- The Post – 87 percent
- The Deer Hunter – 94 percent
- The Hours – 80 percent
Streep also owns three Oscars, so it’s clear white male critics have done little to damage her career.
Kaling kept going, though.
“Although if I had to base my career on what white men wanted I would be very unsuccessful, so there is obviously an audience out there who want to watch things like [Ocean’s 8], what I work on, what Sarah works on.”
She’s right on that last part. Audiences have made “Ocean’s 8” a hit. Chances are, a bevy of white male consumers lined up to see it, too, regardless of the gender or color of its stars. It’s similar to the massive box office receipts for the “Fast and Furious” franchise, which sports a diverse array of stars.
Kaling tries to backpedal mid-rant on this point.
“And the thing about so much of what this movie is, I think white men, critics would enjoy it, would enjoy my work, ” she continued, “but often I think there is a critic who will damn it in a way because they don’t understand it, because they come at it at a different point of view, and they’re so powerful, Rotten Tomatoes.”
How would a white male critic miss the point of “Ocean’s 8?” Do they not understand the basics of a heist movie? Are they unaware that a beautifully dressed woman might turn heads or feel good about themselves?
For what it’s worth, The New York Post’s female critic found “Ocean’s 8” underwhelming, too.
The Culture War Continues
Blaming white male critics for the “meh” reaction to “Ocean’s 8” doesn’t pass the smell test.
While the 2016 flop “Ghostbusters” reboot peddled itself as an antidote to hate and misogyny, “Ocean’s 8” avoided all those trappings. The film itself is free of culture war detritus, too.
Progressives are pushing the culture to a dangerous point, and the actress’ comments are part of that push. The new thinking suggests we need women to direct female-centric movies. It’s not just because they’re “due” and they haven’t had access to gigs like this before. It’s also for artistic reasons. Only a woman can process and deliver films like “Wonder Woman,” they argue.
It’s surprising Kaling and co. allowed Gary Ross, who is white and male, to direct “Ocean’s 8” in the first place.
In literature, authors are being attacked for telling stories outside their cultural experiences. See how all of this is beyond silly and teetering on creatively damaging? How did S.E. Hinton, a woman, capture male teen angst in “The Outsiders” in the first place?
Left unsaid by Kaling and co.? The vast majority of film critics are liberal. That wasn’t a huge issue in the past. More recently, critics have been embracing their progressive bona fides in their reviews. It’s why Christian films are often attacked as propaganda. Michael Moore movies? Truth to power!
How many films have been slammed in recent years for not being woke enough? Just ask Amy Schumer, whose 2017 comedy “Snatched” got pummeled for that very reason. So did her follow-up film, “I Feel Pretty.”
So … where is the ideological diversity in film criticism? Conservative outlets offer a small salvation. Think Breitbart News (John Nolte), National Review (Kyle Smith) and Washington Free Beacon (Sonny Bunch).
How many right leaning critics work at TheWrap.com? Deadline.com? The Hollywood Reporter? Variety? Even the New York Post, which leans right, employs Sara Stewart. Her left-leaning reviews are obviously for all to see.
Larson, Kaling and Blanchett didn’t say a syllable about that lack of diversity.
Today’s liberal critics often bend over backward to praise movies with strong female representation. Richard Roeper admitted this when he said his peers graded “Ghostbusters” on a curve for that very reason. Media outlets like The Washington Post played palace guard to that film prior to its opening. If you didn’t like the film’s first trailer, for example, you were sexist.
This wasn’t just a random blog opinion. This was the paper where Democracy Dies in Darkness.
Today’s woke critic is ready, willing and eager to praise a movie like “Moonlight” which touches on a young gay black male and his coming of age saga. That movie earned a whopping 98 percent “fresh” rating for today’s critic community, the same community that’s too white by these actress’ standards.
There’s another factor in play here.
Media outlets no longer clamor to hire film critics of any color. Many newspapers have let their existing critics go in favor of wire reviews. That trend won’t be reversing itself any time soon.
To be a film critic today means getting hired by one of a dwindling number of Hollywood outlets or striking out on one’s one. (Editor’s Note: That’s what this critic did starting in 2007)
Fire up a blog. Write and write and write. Get noticed. No one is stopping the next critic of color from doing just that.
Is it hard? Oh, absolutely, and the odds are stacked very high against them. It still can be done. And, voila, a new voice has entered the arena.
Results, Not Excuses
Finally, there’s something sad about an actor or actress attacking critics of any kind. When a critic enters a theater there’s always a hope the next 90-plus minutes will be special. Sure, they’ve read all the buzz, a few early reviews and even the industry news tied to the project.
Ultimately, no critic wants to endure a bad movie on purpose. He or she would rather be delighted in some special way. It’s the reason they took the gig in the first place.
There’s almost always a reason a film gets a negative review. Chances are, the finished product has issues. “Ocean’s 8” suffers from a pedestrian script and lack of visual panache. “A Wrinkle in Time” is confusing at times.
That’s not a critic’s fault, no matter the skin color in question.