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Monday, February 15, 2016

Karen Stevens: What It's Really Like to Be a WoC Film Critic (Blog Series)

I've never been to a press junket, film screening or a red carpet event where I looked around and thought to myself: "Wow, this place is full of WoC film critics." In my experience, I've never encountered an abundance of black film critics at a film event (outside of covering things like NAACP Image Awards and black film festivals). I always tried to reach out and connect with other WoC critics/reporters, even if it was as simple as giving them the "nod" or a smile, saying "Hi," or swapping business cards. It's nice to be acknowledged, because when you're a black woman covering a red carpet event, sometimes you can be overlooked.

Something that also must be noted is the lack of WOC publicists in the film scene. Usually there is a vast majority of white publicists at most screenings and red carpet events that I go to. The connection between publicists and film critics/bloggers is an important one that doesn't get talked about that often. Publicists are the ones setting up interviews for their clients (actors, filmmakers, etc.) sending you the press releases about new films and TV shows, and giving you the info for all the press days and private screenings. Whenever I connect with a WoC publicist, they tended to be more inclined to help me out with scheduling interviews and screenings, and honestly, I felt more valued as a professional in their eyes.

Saptosa Foster and Shanté Bacon of 135th St Agency are two of my favorite WoC publicists. I remember meeting Saptosa at a Disneyland press junket for Disney's Tangled. I had interacted with her online via email and all throughout our correspondence I was impressed by her skill and level of expertise.

When talking about WoC film critics getting more visibility and opportunities, it's important to talk about WoC publicists getting more opportunities too. I'm not sure what the numbers are in regards to WoC publicists running PR campaigns for major studio films, but if it's anything like the rest of Hollywood in regards to diversity it might not be too good. That's something worth looking into. How many WoC publicists are getting steady marketing and publicity gigs in Hollywood?

The struggle for visibility and opportunity goes well beyond actors and filmmakers in the #OscarsSoWhite movement. It effects film critics, publicists, photographers and so many "behind-the-scenes" type people. When you're a WoC in any of these fields, you have work extra hard to get your foot in the door, and even then you're often still not seen as an "equal" or a true peer.

I've been to "mainstream" film events where the white reporters don't recognize PoC talent like you do as a WoC film critic. A PoC actor can walk the red carpet and you can sense the questions on the white reporters' faces: "Who is this?" Whereas, a WoC critic is often familiar with these actors. One of my favorite moments from the Golden Globes this year was the bit with Eva Longoria and America Ferrera. Their commentary was funny because it's true. A WoC film critic knows the difference between Eva Mendes and Eva Longoria, and Rosario Dawson. Why? Because we're out there trying to watch as many movies of theirs as we can. We're familiar with their projects beyond the "mainstream" shows or movies most people associate them with. WoC critics have been following the careers of the Taraji P. Henson and Michael B. Jordan long before they were "popular." Randall Park from ABC's Fresh Off The Boat isn't new to me. I remember Park from indie flicks like The People I Slept With. I know these kind of things because as a WoC blogger I make the effort to find out who these talented PoC actors are in supporting roles. I see their potential even when they're cast in "stereotypical" roles with limited screen time in major films. That's part of what WoC film critics bring to the table. We see the potential and artistry of PoC actors and filmmakers. We do the extra research, and we're willing to do the interviews with upcoming PoC talents that white media outlets, and white critics just don't see. I mean, they see them obviously, but they don't really see them, notice them, follow PoC actors, filmmakers, cinematographers the same way that WoC critics do. Their art matters to us, right from the start.

Karen Stevens
Do I like it when white publicists only push "black content" on me? No, I find that limiting. I do my best to champion PoC filmmakers and actors when they have a film or performance that flies under-the radar, but that doesn't mean I don't want to screen or interview white actors and filmmakers. I consider myself a film fan first, and like every other movie critic, I'm looking for the kind of film that moves me, and speaks about the human condition in a fresh and exciting way. We're all looking for new movies to fall in love with. As a WoC film critic I want the industry (and general public) to see the beauty, and value, of PoC stories on the big screen. PoC filmmakers can craft stories just as universal, and poignant, as white filmmakers. The same goes for all POC filmmakers.

Karen Stevens runs - loves French New Wave, and believes that filmmakers
like Ava DuVernay are ushering in a new wave of black artistry called "Subtle Core." Follow her on Twitter @reelartsy.

For more information on this blog series, click here.


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