David Edelstein became the film critic seen regularly on the CBS SUNDAY MORING show...
In 1993, I was an in-studio film critic on the WNBC live weekend morning news show. I did three weekends as a film critic, starting with a review of PHILADELPHIA. I was flattered because the show's news anchor complimented my writing on the air. However, the news director pulled me from that spot and replaced me with film critic Pia Lindstrom (daughter of actress Ingrid Bergman). Pia liked my work and had no idea why she was assigned to do weekend duty, but I felt that race was the subtext for the switch. Years later, after I'd quit that job, I was contacted by Al Roker to meet regarding a possible weekend film review/interview show. I'd be a member of a trio. The other two coming to meet were veteran critic Jeffrey Lyons and the wonder Alison Bailes. We met. Weeks passed and I didn't get a follow-up, so I figured the project Al was producing didn't get a greenlight. Then one Saturday, I turned on the TV and there was the show -- with Jeffrey Lyons, Alison Bailes and the third member was Jeffrey's son, Ben Lyons.
I felt some resistance in 2000 when ABC News needed a film critic for a new weekday show on Lifetime TV. The resistance, I discovered, was because it was assumed I didn't know anything about films. The execs had never bothered to view my demo reel. I pushed and I got the job.
This lack of a level playing field in film criticism and commentary effects the news being highlighted or ignored. Here's a short piece I posted months before Oscar nominations came out. I talk about Viola Davis and opportunities for actresses of color in relation to the Oscars:
Recently, HBO repeated its documentary SPIELBERG. I watched it again. It's good. However, my one complaint about this 2017 doc from executive producer Susan Lacy (who gave us the wonderful AMERICAN MASTERS shows on PBS) is that there are six film critics and one film historian seen in SPIELBERG...and they're all white. Not one black male or female film critic or historian provides commentary -- and THE COLOR PURPLE gets a sizable segment in Lacy's documentary.
We need to take on a "Time's Up" attitude and call out our experiences and anger over this inequality. There must be diversity in the arts ... and in the conversation about the arts. If we're not getting equal opportunities, we need to make that known. I did not seek to become a famous film critic like a Roger Ebert but I did hope that my being seen as a film critic locally or nationally would help open the door for other talent of color who could do it even better. I get so outdone that well-paid white guys in newspapers and on TV are the ones telling me why I need to see 12 YEARS A SLAVE, THE HELP, THE BUTLER, HUSTLE & FLOW, DO THE RIGHT THING and THE COLOR PURPLE. I grew up in South Central L.A. I've sat at bus stops waiting for a bus in Compton. Do you think David Edelstein, Rex Reed or Chris Connelly have? Then why can't I be on TV or quoted in a magazine with a review of STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON?
Wesley Morris is a slim, handsome African American journalist in her early 40s. He now writes for The New York Times. In 2012, when he wrote for The Boston Globe, he won the Pulitzer Prize for film criticism. African American journalist Hilton Als writes for The New York magazine. He won the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for theater and film criticism. I've seen Rex Reed on CBS telling viewers that he hated GET OUT. I've never seen those two black gentlemen giving soundbites about films on a news show and neither one of them gives a comment in SPIELBERG.
We've gone from the years of Siskel & Ebert to the modern days of Rotten Tomatoes. The lack of diversity still exists. Last year, when Tiffany Haddish accepted an award from the New York Film Critics for her performance in GIRLS TRIP, she mentioned that the only critics she'd ever seen on TV when she was growing up were Siskel & Ebert. So she wasn't aware that black and Latino critics exist. There's still equality work to be done. The results of that USC study were not news to me.
That's how I feel. And that's why I greatly appreciate L.A. radio station KPCC 89.3 and its daytime host, Larry Mantle. Every Friday, Larry hosts a hour of movie reviews during his AirTalk weekday show. That movie hour is called "FilmWeek" and Larry constantly presents race and gender diversity in his panels of guest critics. He books excellent film journalists such as Justin Chang of The Los Angeles Times, Tim Cogshell and Claudia Puig, head of the L.A. Film Critics Association. Larry Mantle's "FilmWeek" gives the kind of diversity in film reviews and commentary that network TV news has overlooked for decades. Stream his show or hear it on the website. Here's the link: scpr.org. Follow Larry's show on Twitter -- @ AirTalk.
Here's a demo reel that TV producers got when I pitched myself to cover film entertainment.