Four of the U.S.’ most influential film critics groups say they will bar Disney movies from consideration for year-end awards in protest of Disney’s blacklist of the Los Angeles Times. The New York Film Critics Circle, the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, the Boston Film Critics Association, and the National Society of Film Critics announced the move in a joint statement this morning, a response to Disney’s press blackout of the L.A.Times over critical reporting of the media conglomerate’s relationship with the city of Anaheim, Calif.
The statement reads, in part:
On Nov. 3, The Times published a statement that its writers and editors had been blocked from attending advance screenings of Disney films, in response to The Times’ news coverage of Disney’s business arrangements with the City of Anaheim. Disney’s actions, which include an indefinite ban on any interaction with The Times, are antithetical to the principles of a free press and set a dangerous precedent in a time of already heightened hostility toward journalists.
It is admittedly extraordinary for a critics’ group, let alone four critics’ groups, to take any action that might penalize film artists for decisions beyond their control. But Disney brought forth this action when it chose to punish The Times’ journalists rather than express its disagreement with a business story via ongoing public discussion. Disney’s response should gravely concern all who believe in the importance of a free press, artists included.
The L.A. Times announced on Friday that its review of Thor: Ragnarok had been delayed by Disney’s decision to bar the paper’s critics from advance screenings of the film. Disney has challenged none of the fact in the Times’ articles about Disney and Anaheim—which fans of the Streisand Effect can read here and here—but said in a statement that the articles showed “a disregard for basic journalistic standards” in their alleged lack of balance. In response, Disney has told the Times’ critics they will not be allowed to see Coco and Star Wars: The Last Jedi before they open in theaters, will have no access to interviews with anyone connected with the movies, and it has even restricted Times employees’ access to the press sites that provide still images, press releases, and the like.
Yesterday, the A.V. Club, the Boston Globe’s Ty Burr, and the Washington Post’s Alyssa Rosenberg announced they would not be attending advance screenings of Disney movies or writing about them before release until the blackout was lifted, and Flavorwire said it would refuse to cover Disney movies in any way. (Update: the New York Times says its critics will also not attend preview screenings of Disney movies until the blackout is lifted.) But this morning’s announcement represents the most concerted response so far. The NYFCC is typically the first major critics’ group to announce its awards, and the NSFC is usually the last, meaning that the studio’s releases will be frozen out of both the beginning and the end of the year-end trophy derby. (I am a member of the NSFC, and took part in in the vote on the Disney ban.) It’s only fair to point out that, with the possible exception of Coco, Disney’s 2017 releases, which include the Beauty and the Beast remake and the latest installments in the Cars, Pirates of the Caribbean, and Guardians of the Galaxy franchises, aren’t thought to be serious contenders for any major awards, so the ban is likely largely symbolic. But considering that the joint statement between the four groups is without recent, and possibly any, precedent, it’s at the least a significant symbol. And they’re in good company, with a director of one of Disney’s biggest 2018 releases, A Wrinkle in Time, publicly signaling that she’s on their side.