A Disturbing Trend: An Essay

A Disturbing Trend

All people have a right to have an opinion. Some opinions may be good. Some opinions may be bad. There are all sorts of opinions out there. Now… Some may be asking why I’m bringing up opinions (and possibly when I’ll stop saying the word opinion so much). Well, during the past year there were two instances in which films were heavily criticized in a negative manner. The two films I’m discussing are Django Unchained and Zero Dark Thirty (I know these are generally praised films and Oscar nominees but there were detractors).

Director Spike Lee spoke out against the Quentin Tarantino directed Django Unchained, tagging the film as being disrespectful. In the case of Zero Dark Thirty, there were plenty of claims that the film supports the use of torture. Both of these critiques of the films are comments with which under normal circumstances I would have no issues. I can certainly see how many would come to consider Zero Dark Thirty a pro torture film. However, there is a vital exception in regards to the trend I have found, in all honesty, quite disturbing. The critics making the comments in these films had not actually seen the movies of which they were making said comments.

Typically this writer would welcome differing points of view on films. I would love to hear a valid argument about The Godfather being a bad movie or Transformers 2 being a brilliant cinematic experience, no matter how much I may vehemently disagree with those arguments. Without first seeing a film before bringing forth judgement, I would consider irresponsible. It’s one thing to not be interested in seeing a film because of its content or not thinking a film will be good due to a trailer, but to comment on what the film is about and what kind of message a film is attempting to portray without having even watched the movie is outrageous to say the least, and it’s becoming much too common.

Spike Lee’s criticism is admittedly more defensible than those that went after Zero Dark Thirty before viewing the film because he did admit that he could not speak to the quality of the film because he was not going to see it. He was not going to see the film, however, because he viewed it as “disrespectful to my ancestors”. The second part of this quote is what is a little confusing because it would be difficult to conclude that a film is disrespectful without seeing the film first. This is where the comments lose some credibility.

Lee has made some great films with poignant moments and themes and he is absolutely entitled to have these feelings about how race and slavery is treated. I’m not necessarily saying Lee’s comments are wrong, but I am saying I would like to see more people being more responsible with their comments with respect to films.

While it is much more understandable to hear premature criticism of subjects that deal with more sensitive material like race, this writer feels that there is no excuse for the criticism that came in for Zero Dark Thirty. Of course there was plenty of chatter about the presentation of torture in the film (still something I feel is getting much more flak than deserved). However it was almost insulting to one’s intelligence to find articles written describing the film as unacceptably supporting the use of torture, even with the authors of those articles not having viewed one second of the film before tearing into it.

The aim here is not to point out individuals who have committed such acts of criticism. I’m sure if I thought about it I could find an example of a film that I criticized in an inappropriate manner before viewing. It is also important to keep in mind that criticism doesn’t necessarily apply to the film being great or terrible. There are plenty of ways to form expectations, whether you view trailers of upcoming films or read “buzz” such as casting confirmations or production news. The aim here is more of a suggestion, or wish if you will, that writers be more responsible with film criticism. I would encourage all writers to see a film before writing anything in depth about it. Even if the writing is about how others are reacting to the film, it would be a much more beneficial and credible piece of writing.

With so many forms of social media and the ability for just about everybody to share their thoughts on their own blog in today’s world, it’s understandable that many will try to get some sort of opinion about a hot topic published as quickly as possible. In regards to film, this writer feels that this is a dangerous trend because films can be very important and can have a great impact on the lives of others. So when a film is negatively, or even positively, criticized for having a message or a political strategy before even being viewed by the person reviewing it, there can be an adverse effect and the intent of the film can become muddled and ruined.

So to remind all you writers and film critics out there, while it’s wonderful to have opinions and be able to communicate those opinions, when you criticize and theorize about a certain film’s intentions and themes without having seen the film, but rather hearing what others have said about the work and then sharing what you think about all the hearsay, you’re not really sharing an informed opinion. You’re sharing a guess. And these guesses are about films that real human beings put their blood, sweat, and tears into. Those people, at the very least, deserve to have their film viewed before being told what they support and what they are trying to say.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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I'm Kevin Licht, a graduate from the University of Missouri with a bachelor's degree in English and a minor emphasis in Film Studies. When I'm not working I watch and write

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  1. AnnaLar

    This is a very important article and I heartily agree. This is surely becoming a trend and it is essential that we start to criticise those critics.

  2. Jordan

    I didn’t even know people reviewed films without having seen them! That is stupid!!

  3. That Sam

    Basically, yes to everything… and Spike Lee… Why would Mr Lee throw out this statement without even watching the movie (which is IMO best movie of the year)? Dumb and unnecessary.

  4. Getter Trumsi

    Great writing and I also read about Lee’s comment as something ridiculous. Firstly, as I wrote in my review of Django Unchained on my blog, I didn’t find the violence an issue at all while some attack Tarantino for the extensive usage of it. What I find ironic is that while Tarantino shows the violence, those stupid blockbuster action movies with monsters and stuff most likely kill off more people than Tarantino has during his entire career. The fact that one director has balls to show it and blockbusters avoid showing almost any casualties while bombs are going off and the world is ending, doesn’t make Tarantino’s movies more violent.

    • Kevin Licht

      I agree with the depiction of violence. Michael Bay is often guilty of getting away with mass amounts of people getting killed with no flak. Transformers II (which I argue is the worst film of all time whenever it comes up in conversation) is a perfect example of this. And don’t even get me started on Pearl Harbor.

  5. Kevin Licht

    Thanks for the comments! I was afraid this article was going to be a little misunderstood. The funny thing is that these reactions probably would have been felt by someone who actually did see the films. I could have absolutely understood Spike Lee seeing Django as disrespectful if he had seen the film.

  6. J. Bryan Jones

    I didn’t think Zero Dark Thirty was pro-torture. In fact, I don’t think it said anything at all -and that’s the problem I really had with it. Felt kind of pointless to me.

  7. Fantastic article.

  8. frankie

    I tend to believe that critics establish a form of identity when they share their criticism with us and this is something that I value… which brings into question, the difference between critics that value the art that they are criticizing by actually experiencing it and critics that don’t. But then again, those can not essentially be critics, can they?

  9. Kudus to you for writing this and to this site for featuring it! Thank you.

  10. David Tatlow

    I liked this article a lot. I like that we occasionally see things like this on here. It reminds me of the excellent article Taylor put together a little while back on The Big Bang Theory, as it asks questions of the nature of being a viewer and the subjectivity therein.
    I think a controversy that really bugged me a little while back was the one surrounding The Killer Inside Me. Certainly it was a shocking film, but the violence portrayed in the film went on to heavily influence reviews. I found that many were giving the film negative reviews solely because of the violence, and even noticed a bothersome trend of people boycotting the film because they’d made up their minds that any film that was dogged by such criticisms could not be a good film.

    I thought The Killer Inside Me was very good, and yes the violence was excessive, but it did not sour the fact that Casey Affleck was fantastic, and that the film itself was a brilliantly noirish mood piece that did not fail to entertain me. Sure, violent movies are not for everyone, but using shocking scenes taken out of context for a personal agenda is where I draw the line. Teh Guardian newspaper in this country was flooded with articles damning the film without having seen it. I hope this ugly trend disappears in time, but I imagine it won’t.

    Misunderstandings and ignorance are also to blame in some quarters, and it’s rife in all kinds of media. There was an uproar in the UK around 10 years ago with a show named Brass Eye, which is a brilliantly insane satire show. Check this out:
    pay close attention to the the section entitled “Paedophilia Special” (the final paragraph in particular), and the disgusting hypocrisy of the press’ reaction.

  11. Jordan David

    Challenge accepted!

  12. Mattias Loránd

    I applaud you for the message in this article, and I applaud this site for featuring it. Most of the big publishing sites normally stay away from controversial articles and I’m pleased that this is not one of them. Great job!

  13. Alex Withers

    Poignant article and very true, I feel. Having heard that many critics (due to time constraints) watch only the beginnings and endings of films with some randomly chosen material in between is something that disturbs me. Perhaps this explains much of the buzz around films which would be expected to divide opinion, but are somehow unanimously praised or scorned. At the risk of controversy and the wrath of genre fans pre-determining their own opinions, I point to Joss Whedon’s latest two films as an example. I also get the feelings that critics frequently copy each others’ opinions and ‘jump on the bandwagon’, so to speak. Do you find this to be something you’ve come across before?

  14. The important lesson here is that context can be very important.

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