The top of 2014 isn’t looking good for contrarian movie critic Armond White. On January 13, members of the New York Film Critics Circle took disciplinary action for a “heckling incident” that took place at the organization’s 2013 awards ceremony. The group voted to expel White, who is currently the editor for CityArts. Owen Gleiberman, a member of the circle, wrote in an article for Entertainment Weekly that he found the decision to be a “sad moment”, “pathetic” and that “Armond brought it on himself.” The decision is a result of White’s overly loud heckling of British filmmaker Steve McQueen at the NYFCC’s annual awards show. McQueen was receiving a “best director” award for his film “12 Years a Slave“. While White denies ever heckling McQueen, A reporter with Variety was witness to the event and reportedly heard White call McQueen an “embarrassing doorman and garbageman” as well as “F*ck you, kiss my ass!”
This controversy concerning Armond White isn’t anything new and in fact, he’s managed to build his reputation as a “critic” by being a loud voice in New York media. A transplant from Detroit, Michigan, White entered journalism after receiving a Master of Fine Arts degree from Columbia University. His first job in the field was as Arts Editor for The City Sun and went on to be a writer for the New York Press until the publication’s demise in 2011. White has referred to himself in the past as a “pedigreed film scholar” and spoke of his work as a film critic: “I write what a film deserves.” White has also been quoted as saying that “most films are dismissable” and many readers and writers who are familiar with his work see White’s approach in dealing with all these “dismissable” films as positioning himself opposite of the popular consensus. Some of his past reviews have garnered him a sort of anti-fan-base, which is largely a result of his consistent attacks against many of the films adapted from Marvel and DC superheros.
White’s hatred for “12 Years a Slave” is clear in his review of the film, which one reader of White’s publication describes as a “rant” rather than a thoughtful critical analysis. White goes as far as he could get away with in his rant, even resorting to titling the article “Dud of the Week”. The article itself has one zinger after another: “12 Years of Slave is such a repugnant experience”, “I wish I never saw it”, “12 Years a Slave belongs to the torture porn genre” and the article goes on. White solidifies his blind resentment toward the film when he strays off with the following remark: “Brad Pitt, one of the film’s producers, appears in a small role as a helpful pacifist—as if to save face with his real-life multicultural adopted family. But Pitt’s good intentions (his character promises “There will be a reckoning”) contradict McQueen, Ridley and Gates’ self-serving motives.”
I reached out to other film critics, movie reviewers and scholars about what their thoughts are on this story and what they believe film criticism is and should be. While most chose to remain anonymous, the consensus is that White seems to be using his voice and his job as a mechanism for venting his own personal resentments. “There is clearly much more going on here than his distaste for a movie” says one writer, “it’s just a movie and every critic knows that”. Shawn Lealos, the editor for Renegade Cinema, is a member of the Oklahoma Film Critics Circle and had this to say about the story: “film criticism should be critiquing a movie based on [A] it’s ability to succeed as a form of entertainment and [B] it’s quality when compared to other movies in its genre.” Lealos went on to say, “I don’t think film criticism should be a place where film snobs look down on everything, a film critic has to know how to read a movie, both thematically as well as artistically, and understand its place in film history.”
The New York Film Critics Circle was formed in 1935 and is comprised of film critics who write for prominent New York based publications and internet sites. They regard their annual awards as a “harbinger of the Oscar nominations”. You can learn more by visiting their website: www.nyfcc.com.