Tuesday, January 8, 2013

On Film Critics and Color/TV

The countdown to Hollywood Prom Night starts early Thursday morning.  The Oscar nominations will be announced on January 10th.  I predict that CBS, NBC and ABC will each assemble a few movie critics and/or entertainment contributors to handicap what actors and films will be in the Oscars race before the networks go live to the pre-dawn announcements.  I'll be curious to see how diverse each group of those handicappers is.  The group of movie critics on national TV, from the days of each network morning news show having an in-house critic to the iconic syndicated film review team of Gene Siskel & Roger Ebert, has pretty much been a white boys' club.
On movie channels like AMC when it really was American Movie Classics showing commercial-free classic films, a black host was usually a known celebrity -- like Whoopi Goldberg.  In recent articles, The Los Angeles Times has quoted black film critics addressing the controversy over violence and extreme use of the N-word in Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained.  As I blogged in my December 2012 entry, "Django Unchained:  Did You See It?," the first half-dozen critical raves I read for the film all came from Caucasian critics.  When the N-word business raised the ire of some black folks on social media, such as Twitter and Facebook, then eventually black film critics were contacted to weigh in on the situation.  That's fine.  But why weren't major outlets contacting those same critics to weigh on movies like The Dark Knight Rises, Prometheus, Magic Mike, The Master, Lincoln, Bernie, Argo and Moonrise Kingdom?   Did Gene Shalit, Joel Siegel and Leonard Maltin only review films about white folks?  No.  David Edelstein told us on National Public Radio and on CBS Sunday Morning why we needed to see Terrence Howard as a pimp in 2005's Hustle & Flow.  On NPR, Edelstein said that this "new" actor was "...like a young Samuel L. Jackson."  (Howard was more a middle-aged Terrence Howard.  He had a key supporting role opposite Richard Dreyfuss as a rhythm-challenged student in 1995 Mr. Holland's Opus.  In a 1992 television biopic, Howard played Jackie Jackson of pop music's famed Jackson Family.  In a 2000 TV biopic, he played young Muhammad Ali.  In a 2001 TV biopic about Dr. Martin Luther King, he played fellow Civil Rights Movement leader Ralph Abernathy.  In 2000, Howard had a top role in the summertime crime comedy box office champ, Big Momma's House.  Minority audiences have long been familiar with Terrence Howard.)  It's time for ethnic flavor in the field of film critics and movie hosts.  The art of film commentary will benefit from the diversity.

For your consideration, here are some talents who can add color to the TV field of critics and contributors.  There's Wesley Morris, columnist for The Boston Globe and last year's winner of the Pulitizer Prize for Film Criticism.  This month, he leaves the Globe after a successful 10-year run to write for Grantland.  I wish him continued success.
Omar Moore is known in the Bay Area.  He's a member of the San Francisco Film Critics Circle.  He did film segments nationally on PBS thanks to support from Roger Ebert.  
The Friday "Film Week" noon hour of movie reviews on KPCC Radio's AirTalk out of Southern California does what TV should be doing.  It always presents a racially and sexually diverse forum of film critics. Men and women.  That's where I first heard frequent guest Tim Cogshell, one of the movie journalists quoted the Los Angeles Times piece about Django Unchained.  He should've been quoted last summer for his reasons why Paul Thomas Anderson's The Master ultimately didn't work.  Excellent viewpoints.
There are two gentlemen I had the great honor to share on-camera time with last year.  Film critic Gene Seymour wrote for Newsday and did reviews on New York's WPIX TV/Channel 11.  Gene is a contributor to The Washington Post and CNN.
Late night host and movie critic Mike Sargent talks films on New York City's WBAI Radio.
Elvis Mitchell, film critic formerly of The New York Times, has interviewed filmmakers such as Quentin Tarantino for specials on TCM (Turner Classic Movies).
In 1993, I saw Wayne Wang's The Joy Luck Club, based on the best-selling Amy Tan novel, when I was on vacation in San Francisco.  Half the appreciative audience was black.  I was eager to see 1999's American Beauty because it was getting so much buzz from black friends of mine who saw it in festival screenings and previews.  These were friends in the 30s-60 age category.  If I was on national TV doing reviews at that time, I would've mentioned that fact for Hollywood studios to hear.  Rarely was I the only black person in the audience watching a classic at New York City's Film Forum cinema or Lincoln Center.  On Good Morning America, a few minutes before the nominations were revealed, ABC News entertainment contributor Chris Connelly said that Javier Bardem was a longshot to get a Best Actor nomination for the 2010 Spanish film, Biutiful.  On Twitter, I predicted Bardem would be nominated.  I was right.  Media, by omitting us from the overall film talk picture, seems to imply that we black folks only spend money on things like Django Unchained and Tyler Perry movies, and that we never go to see foreign subtitled fare or classic films.  When I write "classic films," I mean those made before the 1980s.  Many in black and white.  For example, the original 1932 Scarface directed by Howard Hawks and starring Paul Muni versus the 1983 Brian De Palma remake starring Al Pacino.  If you asked viewers in the 30s-60 age category to name three black film critics they've seen regularly on national TV, many could name only two.  And these would be the two:
Blaine and Antoine, the characters from the "Men on Film" comedy sketches on Fox's In Living Color.

In his Zero Dark Thirty review on CBS Sunday Morning over the weekend, David Edelstein closed by saying "You need to see this...You're part of this debate."  We, as minority broadcasters, need to be part of the debate on films like that...like The Hunger Games, Hope Springs, Skyfall and Les Misérables.  Not just on films like Django Unchained for obvious reasons.

I'm a hardcore film fan.  I've loved working as film reviewer on network and local television.  Ever since I was a kid growing up in Los Angeles, the day the Academy Award nominations are announced thrills me like a Christmas morning.  I have big hopes for January 10th, 2013.  I hope the Academy recognizes Jack Black for Bernie and graces Jean-Louis Trintignant, star of 1966's A Man and a Woman and 1969's Z, with a first Oscar nomination for his acclaimed performance in Amour.  Also, I hope to see more racial diversity amongst the guest Oscar handicappers on ABC's Good Morning America, NBC's Today and CBS This Morning.  It's time.


  1. Some new faces to look into, and a reminder that I had enjoyed Gene Seymour in the past.

    I'll also add that Latoya Peterson is someone I'd read (or watch) as far as film or TV criticism. For example, "Girls That Telvision Will Never Know" - http://www.racialicious.com/2012/04/19/girls-that-television-will-never-know/ She's worth reading whether you agree with her take - and to my mind that's what a critic's for.

  2. Thank you for making me aware of Ms. Peterson. And thanks very much for reading my piece.


Power of the Press Double Feature

It was early August in 1974.  A sunny, hot weekday in South Central Los Angeles.  I was home, on summer vacation, and stood in our living ro...