Backlot Bitch: Oh Boy, Girl Problems in Film Criticism
Over the weekend, I came across an almost unbelievable post by tweeter, critic, and blogger extraordinaire Roger Ebert from one of his Far-Flung Correspondents. The critic, Michael Calleri, was writing from Buffalo, New York, but he might as well have been talking about another place in the world where women aren't allowed to leave the kitchen or have ideas. Because those actions would have too many potential verbs. I'm not sure that the publisher discussed in his essay would even approve of women in pants.
Long story short, his publisher at the Niagara Falls Reporter, Frank Parlato, gave him a strongly worded explanation after a string of unposted reviews: Calleri needed to drop writing about movies that portray, as Parlato phrased it, "the male as lesser in courage strength and power than the female. "
Oh, this gets better. Like not-capitalizing-in-the-newspaper-business better:
"snow white and the huntsman is trash. moral garbage. a lot of fuzzy feminist thinking and pandering to creepy hollywood mores produced by metrosexual imbeciles.
I don't want to publish reviews of films where women are alpha and men are beta. where women are heroes and villains and men are just lesser versions or shadows of females.
i believe in manliness.
not even on the web would i want to attach my name to snow white and the huntsman except to deconstruct its moral rot and its appeal to unmanly perfidious creeps.
with all the publications in the world who glorify what i find offensive, it should not be hard for you to publish your reviews with any number of these."
And while Parlato responded to Ebert's post, it really sounds like a "I'm sorry I got caught" response. To wit:
"I did not say that women should have less courage or strength than a man. I merely said I do not have an interest in publishing reviews of films that depict men as weaker, dumber, more cowardly or lower than women. In other words, no male bashing. And, consequently, no female bashing.
Violence, vulgarity, gender bashing, moronic sex acts on the screen, racial bashing, violent women, violent men, promiscuous men and women are the common fare of Hollywood fed not only to adults but to young people."
Riiiiggghhhtttt. But making that call is a form of censorship. Not covering a movie because it doesn't adhere to your world view renders you less of a critic. Your job is to sit through the good, the bad, and the ugly and turn in your thoughts. Some critics go entire reviews without mentioning cinematography, others revel in the technical details behind the art. To say "I won't see it because it offends me" means your voice isn't heard and your readers get no forewarning about how awful the next sequel of an overblown franchise is. And after sitting behind the ticket stand and selling $45 worth of tickets to a family of four, I take this recommending-movies job a tad more seriously.
But as many of us know, lone dipshits like this one don't exist in self-contained bubbles. Just as he forced this critic to walk off his paper, narrow-minded leadership has the power to keep women out. In the last study by the Alliance of Women Film Journalists , a staggering 47 percent of major newspapers had no female film staff writers, freelancers, or contributors. Men write 70 precent of all movie reviews in print. No one has checked if the disparity facing journalists of color applies to film critics as well, but I'd put my money on "yes." This also mirrors the piss-poor numbers of female directors (11 percent), male directors of color (13 percent), and female directors of color (4 percent). It's an industrywide problem that needs an awful lot of work.
So keep that in mind next time there's a self-righteous Rush Limbaugh-esque rant out there about scary strong women demoralizing their country. It's our home too, and we're breaking out of the kitchen to reclaim it.
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