Remember the days where you could just watch a movie and decide whether you liked it or hated it? Well, those days could be over because political battles over certain films now threaten the idea of free speech if your opinion is chosen not to be accepted. Films or more especially film reviews have now become weaponized and politicized to such an absurd degree; it’s becoming clearer why theater attendance is at a two-decade low, It is turning off the general public. But a new fight over the film Black Panther, a film that is still two weeks away from release and only a few critics have seen is raising an issue that should concern critics and audiences alike.
If you look at how we got to this point, the common theme here involves two companies; Disney and Rotten Tomatoes. Now I have been railing against both Disney and Rotten Tomatoes for years now. Disney for its growing control over the film industry and Rotten Tomatoes for its flawed rating system that most people STILL don’t understand how it works. But why are both in the spotlight right now? Because people have taken issue with the audience score (aka the fans) of the last couple of Disney films to be released, Star Wars: The Last Jedi and the soon to be released Marvel’s Black Panther film. I’ve covered issues with The Last Jedi on multiple articles but in a nutshell, critics loved it and audiences hated it. When the film was first released, people claimed that a Reddit user was downgrading the audience score in an attempt to discredit bad reviews for the film. However, after Rotten Tomatoes clarified their ratings were legitimate, the polarization of the film became a bigger story than the film itself.
Which brings us to Black Panther, news broke yesterday about online campaign to tank the audience score at Rotten Tomatoes. A group of DC film fans apparently started A Facebook event titled “Give Black Panther a Rotten Audience Score on Rotten Tomatoes” in which they planned on giving bad reviews to upcoming Disney Marvel films as revenge for bad reviews against Warner Bros DC movies. This same group was also blamed for attempting to dump the score for The Last Jedi as well. The Facebook event has since been taken down unclear whether by Facebook or the group itself, but it had 2,000 people ‘attending’ the event before it’s takedown.
So why does this matter? First, you have many people who want to believe that the negative reaction to The Last Jedi was the work of sexist Reddit users even though this idea was already debunked by Rotten Tomatoes themselves. So a group that claims to do the same with Black Panther is validation for them that the audience score cannot be trusted thus preemptively discrediting negative reviews of the film. As one of Disney’s strongest critics, the idea of attacking a film to defend another movie studio is a stupid one and something you would expect from irrational fans of comic books. Whether I agree with some of their points or not, it’s nonsensical. But where I took exception was Rotten Tomatoes response to this story where they said:
“While we respect our fans’ diverse opinions, we do not condone hate speech. Our team of security, network and social experts continue to closely monitor our platforms and any users who engage in such activities will be blocked from our site and their comments removed as quickly as possible.”
Now hold on a second, Hate Speech? What does this story have to do with hate speech? The Facebook group themselves claim their reason for attacking Disney was revenge for another studio and they claimed to have done this against other Disney priorities. So where does hate speech play a role in this? It’s because Black Panther is a black superhero movie. Does Rotten Tomatoes believe criticism of the film is racism thus ‘hate speech’ such as Last Jedi defenders claimed the criticism of that movie was sexist? At what point do we separate a film from the film’s target audience? Just because you pander to a specific audience doesn’t make you above criticism and rational thought. This is where all critics both amateur and professional should be concerned. We are getting dangerously close to the point where certain films are becoming no-go zones for thought if the popular belief is the film represents a certain political agenda. If the Last Jedi is considered a Feminist film, are people not allowed to call it out? Let’s even take a Warner Bros film, for example, there are people upset that Wonder Woman didn’t get an Oscar nomination last week because the main star and director were both females. Now the film itself is decent, but no one near an academy award winning film. Sadly as more films are becoming entrenched in identity politics, the polarization of these films is only going to get worse.
If Rotten Tomatoes are claiming they will start removing comments that they believe to be ‘hate speech’ which is a vague term companies like Youtube, Facebook, and Twitter have used to silence opinion, then what does that mean for the future of film reviews? Hollywood as an industry has no problem politicizing their opinions into their movies, but the question now becomes how protected against views they don’t approve of will they go? We can all agree attacking a film before you have seen it is a dumb move, but the answer to solving this problem will only further divide an already divisive industry.