Brie Larson is facing pushback and criticism in the wake of standing up for female critics and critics of color. Responding to a recently released USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative report that declared 63.9 percent of contemporary film criticism is written by white men, the Academy Award-winning actress used her awards speech at Wednesday night’s Crystal + Lucy Awards to address the lack of diversity in film criticism.
Indie Wire covered the event, and drew ire on Twitter for this tweet about Larson’s remarks.
Brie Larson wants more female and underrepresented film critics: "I do not need a 70-year-old white dude to tell me what didn’t work for him about #AWrinkleInTime." https://t.co/z0ZF5ljGxN pic.twitter.com/sPoi5ArfvT— IndieWire (@IndieWire) June 14, 2018
Here’s some of the replies under the Indiewire tweet.
Shame to see that Brie Larson is racist, sexist, and ageist— Tanner LaFond (@tannerlafond) June 14, 2018
So what she's saying basically is any movie that is mostly female or black, must get a great review?— Michael Frank (@MichaelFrank29) June 14, 2018
"I do not need a 70-year-old black woman to tell me what didn't work for her about Whiplash"— Tanner LaFond (@tannerlafond) June 14, 2018
Do you see how dumb that sounds?
What a dumb feminist cunt 😂😂😂😂— MD QasQas (@MD87QasQas) June 14, 2018
First off, Larson did say that. But context matters and is often lost on Twitter. In the linked Indie Wire article, Larson is quoted as saying:
“Am I saying I hate white dudes? No, I’m not … [but if] you make the 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 [Audiences] are not allowed enough chances to read public discourse on these films by the people that the films were made for. I do not need a 70-year-old white dude to tell me what didn’t work for him about [A] Wrinkle in Time. It wasn’t made for him. I want to know what it meant to women of color, to biracial women, to teen women of color, to teens that are biracial.”
She went on to note how the Sundance Institute and the Toronto Film Festival are aiming for more inclusion in their press access, noting, “It really sucks that reviews matter. Good reviews out of festivals give small, independent films a fighting chance to be bought and seen, good reviews help films gross money, good reviews slingshot films into awards contenders, a good review can change your life — it changed mine.”
Essentially, she’s saying that the problem is not that white men get to weigh in on films that aren’t necessarily intended for them, but rather that white men have the privilege of dominating the conversation about film even when it’s a film not intended for them. It’s a frustration that’s understandable because of the influence critics can have on a film and filmmaker’s success, particularly on the career of burgeoning talent coming out of the film festival circuit. However, some critics felt her comment suggested women and critics of color would be easier on movies like A Wrinkle In Time, and took umbrage.
Of course we need more variance among demographics in film criticism, but the notion that that's because they'll go softer on movies made by women or nonwhite directors seems… kind of insulting? https://t.co/owvSIy8fKy— Charles Bramesco (@intothecrevasse) June 14, 2018
Happy to introduce you to my 24-year-old daughter. She'll tell you at length. https://t.co/CUPDsNHN8m— Stephen Whitty (@StephenWhitty) June 14, 2018
Personally, I think there are flaws in Larson’s statement. By painting the picture of a “70-year-old white dude,” she conjures an image of an unwoke, old fool who could not possibly connect to the struggle of an insecure girl of color. That’s unfair and ageist at the very least. And citing the USC study is likewise problematic because the study in itself is flawed.
The USC report looked at 20,000 movie reviews of last year’s 100 top-grossing movies and discovered 63.9 percent were written by white men. As a professional critic, I can tell you anecdotally this feels about right based on who I most often see at press screenings and junkets. However, the method of determining gender and race and even who counts as a critic in this report is deeply flawed. USC looked at Rotten Tomatoes to find their reviews and critics, which discounts a slew of professional critics whose sites don’t post to Rotten Tomatoes. How many critics were not included? We don’t know.
On Twitter, Buzzfeed’s Alison Willmore pointed out that the researchers determined gender and race by evaluating names and photographs of critics. Essentially, does this person look white? Does this name sound male? This shockingly subjective process means that critics of color might have their heritage whitewashed by this study. And gender non-conforming or non-binary critics may similarly have been prescribed to a group to which they would not self-identify. So, it’s hard to take much faith in these numbers. However, few within the community disagree that there is a lack of diversity in film criticism. But how to achieve it is far more complicated than an awards speech can address.
The grim reality is that film criticism is easier to get into than ever, but may be harder than ever to make a living off of. The internet has enhanced access and flooded the market, meaning jobs reviewing movies pay far less than they did even ten years ago. Film festivals might strive to include more of the “underrepresented critics”—as the studies dub writers of color—but that doesn’t address the issue of cost. Many critics must pay to travel to festivals, and hope to make their money back on reviews and interviews. And this is just one example of the obstacles critics face.
Basically, the proposals Larson offers are good ideas that could help. But calling for film festivals and Rotten Tomatoes to reach out to women and writers of color won’t fix the imbalance. Suggesting that older white, male critics give over their platform to younger WOC won’t either. But I won’t condemn Larson for using her privilege and her moment under a literal spotlight to speak out for voices too often cast to the fringe. Her response was imperfect. There can be no perfect response to an issue so complicated. But the conversation sparked might manage some progress.