Critic Carla Renata wrote: "WHEN THEY SEE is excruciatingly hard to watch, but necessary. Hard to watch because it is yet another instance in which people of color in this country are continually victimized, polarized and disrespected....The cast is beyond stellar, but two performances permeated my mind well after the credits rolled -- Niecy Nash as Delores Wise and Jharrel Jerome as Korey Wise."
Follow Carla Renata on Twitter @ TheCurvyCritic. Here's a trailer for WHEN THEY SEE US.
On Saturday, June 1st, Ava DuVernay is back on TCM in her current co-host spot with Ben Mankiewicz as they present "The Essentials." This weekend's pick from Ava is the 1961 classic WEST SIDE STORY. See Ava present it on TCM at 8p ET on Saturday.
DuVernay mentioned that she's attended events to see talented white women like Cate Blanchett who got way more opportunities than extremely talented women of color. I know what she means. Rita Moreno is an example. Ms. Moreno won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for WEST SIDE STORY and then didn't have any Hollywood work for the next seven years. She turned to TV for steady employment and income. So did other women of color who got one Oscar nomination. Women such as Cicely Tyson, Diahann Carroll, Angela Bassett, Rosie Perez, Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Taraji P. Henson, Gabourey Sidibe and Jennifer Hudson all have one Oscar nomination to their credits (so far). They too turned to TV for employment after that nomination because there were no Hollywood script offers. Viola Davis needed to turn to prime time TV after she got her historic second Oscar nomination. When Viola Davis received her third Oscar nomination, for FENCES, that made her the most Oscar-nominated Black actress in all Hollywood history.
Compare that to the rich Jennifer Lawrence, a talented white actress in her 20s, who has won a Best Actress Oscar and has a total of four Oscar nominations to her credit. She gets opportunities that actresses of color do not.
What Ava DuVernay said also applies to people of color in the film criticism and entertainment reporter business. It applies to female film critics.
A recent study sponsored by the CENTER FOR THE STUDY OF WOMEN IN TELEVISION AND FILM found that "men comprise 66% and women 34% of film reviewers working for print, broadcast and online outlets in the U.S."
This aggravates me because, as a Black man, I know how that exclusion feels. It's high time we call people out on it. I started my professional broadcast TV career as a weekly film critic and entertainment contributor on Milwaukee's ABC affiliate in 1980. I did that for four years until I got a job offer from New York City. I reviewed movies on-camera on the ABC affiliate and I also did print reviews for local publications. In New York City, from 1987 to 1990, I was a daily veejay on VH1 and had my own weeknight celebrity talk show. In the 1990s, I accepted offers from local NYC morning news programs to be a regular contributor. I always felt an invisible wall go up when I wanted to do film reviews. Keep in mind that, from my youth in Los Angeles to my many years in New York, I never saw a person of color on national TV as a weekly film critic. Never.
From 1993 to 2006, I consistently got these questions from white broadcast producers and executives when I sought to do film reviews:
a) Do you know anything about movies?
b) Have you ever done any entertainment pieces?
None of them had ever looked at my demo reel or read my resume/bio before asking me those questions. Here's a short look at some of my work before the year 2000 when I got an entertainment editor spot on an ABC News network production.
In my New York years, I saw and met many men and women of color who were film critics and they expressed the same frustrations. Film criticism, especially on TV news programs and syndicated shows, seemed to be the exclusive province of white males regardless of their experience and knowledge. TV producers and executives knew that we Black critics existed and they knew we were available for hiring but they only tapped us to come on TV and talk for these occasions:
a) Black History Month
b) When a Black celebrity died or got jail time
c) To discuss diversity issues.
I did a pilot for a film review/interview show back in 2012. I was booked and auditions were held for my Black cohost. A top PBS station was interested in seeing our pilot. I auditioned with a Black woman who not only reviewed film but taught film at Vassar. She was absolutely fabulous. I wanted her as my cohost. However, the TV exec who wanted to see our project said that we had to have a male duo. I fought him on that point. I said, "Name how many Black women you've ever seen on TV as film critics." We tried to make a racial breakthrough in film criticism on TV with that pilot, but then we crashed into a wall of sexism.
Our pilot project did not get picked up.
In the late 90s, I had a local nighttime cable talk show in New York. One episode was devoted to film talk. I told my producer that I wanted race and gender diversity in my group of film critics. And I got it. It can be done. Here's an example.
People of color and women of all colors need to find the names of those who do the hiring. Find the names of those producers or executives who hire and book film critics/entertainment reporters to be on the air. Ask them why their hires and why their bookings are so, if you will, segregated.
I will close by high recommending a radio show that champions race and gender diversity every Friday. The NPR-related station is KPCC out of Southern California. It's a news/talk station that has a weekday show called AIRTALK with a terrific host named Larry Mantle. The last hour of every Friday show is called FilmWeek. This hour starts at 11:00am PST. It is one hour of lively knowledgeable, non-snarky film reviews and discussions with noted male, female, Caucasian, Black, Latino, Asian-American film critics. It is thrilling to hear and it is proof of what I wrote earlier -- it can be done.
FilmWeek usually airs live on Fridays at 11am California time. Due to special programming, it will air at Noon only on Friday, May 31st.
You can find AIRTALK with FilmWeek hosted by Larry Mantle on the KPCC website. Just go here: