An Open Letter to a White Male Film Critic

*In response to this post via First Showing: An Open Letter About the Harmfulness of Embargoes at Film Festivals

It’s hard being a white male film critic. Your skin color and gender have become a mark of privilege, even though you, obviously, have none. I mean, what do you really have, when you’re a white male film critic accredited to attend multiple international film festivals? A badge? A seat in screenings that most people cannot even hope to get into? A massive platform that provides you with a bevy of followers who will sycophantically parrot your every word, reinforcing your opinion as objective truth? What does that matter? You’ve been…embargoed.

Embargoes are the mark of oppression in today’s society. Yes, we’re in the midst of #MeToo, where women have pushed back against patriarchal oppression, sexual harassment and assault, and the fear that they feel every day walking down the street. Yes, Latinx, black, Asian, disabled, and LGBTQ+ critics are severely underrepresented in every major outlet, often stopped at the level of freelance and unable to hold staff jobs, because then they might replace the straight white male critics whose positions as film critics are, let’s face it, their self-proclaimed birthright. And, yes, for those non-white-male critics who do get to go to film festivals, who do hold staff jobs, who might even get to go to Venice and Berlinale and Cannes and TIFF (often on their own dollar), well, they get to face harassment from male critics who are known sexual abusers (many still employed by major outlets), the sneering of those with a higher grade of press badge, the grins and the comments that they’re actually not objective because of their skin color, their gender, their sexual identity, or their ability. Because, as we all know, white masculinity is the default, the one true objective identity. The rest of us are, well, biased. Right?

How can any of those problems possibly measure up to you, White Male Film Critic, who have been so unfairly, so cruelly informed that, no, you cannot post your Joker reaction to Twitter before everyone else?

“But, Lauren!” you say, “Isn’t everyone in the critical community affected by the unfairness of embargoes? He was just standing up for what’s right!”

Yes, it’s true – even I, lowly female writer that I am, have been affected by the oppression of the embargo, told that I could not publish reviews or even social media reactions in advance of a premiere or a time. But let us consider what an embargo truly does. Embargoes do not silence or censor reactions—they merely establish the time and date when they can be published. Some embargoes are determined by festivals, others by individual studios’ PR firms. Embargoes have been around since film criticism began, and so has critical annoyance with them. And they can be annoying, there’s no doubt.

But embargoes also go a ways in democratizing critical reactions. There’s no “first!!” declaration on social media, no rush to get out the tweet, the post, or the review, to be the first to post a reaction to the latest anticipated film. All outlets and critics, from the largest to the smallest, must adhere to them. They can even enable critics to take time in crafting response, to avoid rushing through a post, to avoid hyperbole, and foster nuance.

In breaking an embargo, a critic – any critic – declares that they don’t need to follow the rules. That their opinion is, in effect, more important than any other opinion. That they do not adhere to the rules that govern others, because they are special, different, unique, objective. There’s nothing more white and male than believing that you’re not governed by the same laws as everyone else, now, is there?

So, White Male Film Critic, I do understand why you’re so worried that your opinion might become just one of a multitude; that your voice, so unique and special, might be drowned beneath the weight of those less objective, less intelligent, less like you. You’re worried that you might lose your privilege.

To you, there’s nothing more frightening than that.

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