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Eliminating elitism in the world of film criticism

A24 / Focus Features
"Lady Bird" turned out to be a critic's darling. But was that top ranking justified or just part of film critic's herd mentality?
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OKLAHOMA CITY -- The world of film criticism is an odd one. I’ve always been asked what I thought about films growing up and if you can take something that isn’t hard and spin it into money, that’s the shortcut to success. I’ve been frequently told I “hate everything” because I don’t give everything a 5 out of 5 or get told I can’t critique because I’ve never made a film.

These are typically from people that don’t know right from left and see five films a year. It’s a job that delivers as much hate as praise to your work and it’s not for thin-skinned people that get wrapped up in the grotesque comment section. It’s also such an easy profession that people insist on making difficult at times over nothing.

There’s nothing more meta than criticism about criticism, but Sunday was a moment that signaled incredible shame on film criticism.

Elitism is starting to blind our judgment of critics and individuals are trying to turn criticism into blind inclusion from secluding anyone that doesn’t have a popular opinion.

A quick update on the world of film criticism is first needed: Rotten Tomatoes is one of the top three visited film websites (behind only IMDb and IGN) and has only rose in popularity throughout the years. In 2017 alone, its global rank on the Internet traffic website Alexa has climbed from around 650 to 400.

A website with that amount of visitors is naturally going to get thrown under the microscope regularly.

If you take pleasure in hugging the bottom end of a rock instead of knowing about popular websites, Rotten Tomatoes is an aggregation website for film and television reviews. If a movie or television season gets a certain high letter review from a critic, it gets marked as “fresh” and vice versa for “rotten.”

This can lead to some confusion — just because a film has a 95 percent fresh rating, doesn’t mean every critic thinks it’s a 95/100, it means 95 percent of critics thought it was at least above a B-.

RT’s ability to immediately show if a movie or television season is worth catching became popular for the same reason Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert’s “two thumbs up” shtick got big. It applies to mainstream audiences that find themselves needing to find a good movie for a night out and a quick look through the front page of RT will lead to a rapid conclusion on what’s worth watching.

No time for reading reviews, a simple “yes” or “no” from people they feel know more about film than them.

It’s easy to write about Rotten Tomatoes not being “real” film critiques. This is about film criticism in a crisis of confidence, which comes from people wanting easy to read and digestible criticism in which anything else gets thrown aside. A film like Justice League getting negative reviews will beget more negative reviews and people that say it’s good will immediately try to shaft critics for being too hard on it.

The tables will turn with negative critics not giving those that positively liked it the time of day.

With the popularity of full reviews reduced to a positive or negative word, comes a culture of criticism that won’t give the opposite party a worthy platform.

Fourth quarter darling Lady Bird received even more impossible-to- live-up- to buzz whenever it was reported that it was the best-reviewed film in Rotten Tomatoes’s history.

With 197 positive reviews, nothing was stopping this indie coming-of-age darling… except for one man.

Sunday was the day that titans fell and dreams were ultimately shattered when a film critic by name of Cole Smithey (the self-proclaimed “smartest film critic in the world”) gave a B- review of Lady Bird, which he counted as “rotten” on Rotten Tomatoes.

The Twitterverse (because where else are hard-hitting opinions on such minuscule things?) went up in flames as usual. There were no “maybe people have different opinions” responses. One person said they want to end the career of the critic because of it. They claim he’s being “edgy” by not liking it and while his review isn’t the most extensive on his few gripes of it, the man has a right to his opinion.

An NYC-based film critic Valerie Complex said, “someone’s taste in film or opinion shouldn’t be called into question over something you may or may not like.”

Lady Bird’s Rotten Tomatoes score is now at 99 percent instead of 100 percent.  And people are legitimately upset about that. A one percent drop. A verified account even called him an asshole for giving it a negative review when everyone else has already given it a positive. Group-think is still a thing, kids.

Why does critiquing film feel more like a one-sided fest instead of a conversation? I do not look for reviews that echo my thoughts, I look for reviews that counter my thoughts. My interest peaks if I love something and you constructively detail why you didn’t.

Candice Frederick, a freelance film and television writer also based out of New York City, says that film criticism is too often dominated by white elitism who aren’t used to and don’t want to hear other viewpoints. “It’s almost like an invasion of thought and they’re not here for it,” she said, “they just want to have conversations with people who think and look like them.”

You don’t expand as a person or as a writer if you don’t reach out of your comfort zone. The film critics I look up to and aspire to be more reflective of are all women. I agree with them at times and vehemently don’t other times. The times I don’t are the times I listen and learn most of all.

Don’t trust critics that put their elitist foot down to state they “only write about things they love because spreading hate is dumb.” Critiquing is your job. Find a balance. Stop trying to appear more professional or sophisticated, it’s just as bad as someone that writes a negative review of everything.

It’s hard to ask individuals who surround themselves with those that think and look like them to give other viewpoints a chance. That’s an on-going fight that will never end.

Just do your job as openly as possible. It’s not that hard. You get paid to write about film. Don’t take it so seriously. Biased one-sidedness is never worth listening to.

Do your part and think of all sides before putting all the stakes on yours.

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About the Author

Kevin Tudor

Born and raised in the mean streets of Yukon, Oklahoma, Kevin is currently majoring in...

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Red Dirt Report was launched July 4, 2007 as an independent news website covering all manner of news, culture, entertainment and lifestyle stories that affect and interest Oklahoma readers and readers outside of our state. Our mission is to educate, promote civic engagement and discourse on public policy, government and politics. Our experienced journalists provided balanced in-depth coverage of news stories that affect Oklahomans. Our opinion/editorial stories come from a wide range of political view points. We carry out our mission by reporting, writing, and posting news and information. read more

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