One day, probably five years ago, I decided to start an experiment. I go to the movies pretty often, so I started to pay attention to notice the people around me in the theater. I wanted to see how many people like the same movies I like, how old these people were, what ethnicity they were. And I was shocked at what I concluded. Most of the time, I share a theater with middle-aged white men. They are the people I run into most at the movies. Mind you, I tend to like superhero movies, crime/suspense movies, science fiction movies, and romcoms (romantic comedies, they are my favorite), so that probably would be considered normal. But it still surprises me that on several occasions, it has been me… and several other middle aged-white men.
I decided to look at reviews of movies I liked. The one thing I kept running into was that none of the critics I found looked like me. All of the reviews I saw were written by white men. Occasionally, I would run across a woman writing but that too was rare. I didn’t get it. Is their opinion the only one anybody cares about? I knew that was not true. Because I cared.
You see, when I decide to see a film, I don’t care whether it’s a “black” film, a “white” film or a “whatever color” film-- or whatever label people choose to put on it. I care about the story. That’s it. This, in my opinion, would make me a better person to give a review of a film. Most of the time, the critics I see (mainly white) will see a “black” film and they will let some of their biases seep through the whole review. And think it’s okay to stereotype the film as “urban” or “street” because they feel like they can’t connect with the story. I think minority film critics are able to connect to the real heart of a story better, because most of the time, they are not biased. They already know they won’t see a minority in the film so they can pay attention to the story.
Trying to break into film criticism is a large task, because of all the reasons above. There has been no color for so long; it’s hard to change the mindset. But I don’t think that should stop efforts for more diversity. If anything, it should make it more necessary. But as we have seen from the uproar these past few weeks about this year's Oscar nominations, we have a long way to go.
Here is a prime example of how long of a way we have to go. I get approached from various online publications to write reviews. I welcome them, and am so appreciative to get approached. On more than one occasion, online publications with a lack of color in their writers have approached me to review a film with a majority black cast. Mind you, just because the film's cast is predominantly black does not mean that I will want to see it. But I saw the films for them and reviewed them. On every occasion, my review never got published. Why? As a writer, you know I am thinking my writing is horrible, that I am the worst writer in the world, that I should have just said no to them (life of a writer). But I decided to submit the reviews to other publications, with a little more color in their writers. They got published. Now what, you may ask, was the difference? The reviews I wrote weren’t glowing, but they weren’t bad either, because the films were good films. I went back to check the “no color” publications to see if the reviews that got picked over mine were good. They were all scathing reviews of the same black films. Not one good review. Even though, all these films had gotten glorious reviews everywhere else. I was speechless for probably a week, meaning I couldn’t write anything for that whole week. But when I got back to writing, my mission was clearer.