Update – 2:15 p.m. CT: Disney has ended its blacklisting of the Los Angeles Times amid mounting pressure.
Disney might be nigh untouchable, and it might be the owner of pretty much everything you love in pop culture, but not even the Mouse House is immune to the kind of strong-arming pressure that’s become all too commonplace since, oh, around January 20th or so in the United States.
Like most global conglomerates, Disney has its own share of dealings, and in September, the Los Angeles Times ran an extensive investigation into Disney’s sweetheart deals with the city of Anaheim, CA, where Disneyland resides. Their research alleges that Disneyland, and by proxy the company, has been vacuuming untold millions in subsidies, grants, and exemptions from Anaheim that would benefit the town and instead serve as further profit for one of the most lucrative corporations in the world. The piece goes on to detail Disney’s history of political influence over the city, and the recent pushback from some local officials against what many see as an escalating series of unreasonable benefits for Disney at the expense of the greater population.
In response, Disney barred the publication’s critics from attending advance screenings of its upcoming films, presumably including the upcoming Coco and Star Wars: The Last Jedi. The Times made this news public on November 3rd, attaching the following note to its annual winter film preview:
“The annual Holiday Movie Sneaks section published by the Los Angeles Times typically includes features on movies from all major studios, reflecting the diversity of films Hollywood offers during the holidays, one of the busiest box-office periods of the year. This year, Walt Disney Co. studios declined to offer The Times advance screenings, citing what it called unfair coverage of its business ties with Anaheim. The Times will continue to review and cover Disney movies and programs when they are available to the public.”
Needless to say, the greater critical community has not received this news well, news that suggests an open effort by Disney to suppress criticism of its business practices by openly punishing outlets running investigative journalism against it. Yesterday, The A.V. Club announced that it will be voluntarily joining the Times in not attending or covering any advance screenings of Disney films until the ban is lifted. Update: The New York Times is also participating in the boycott.
In addition to many journalists showing their support for the ban, filmmaker Ava DuVernay also voiced her solidarity with the boycotts on Twitter, a strong statement given that her next film A Wrinkle in Time is a Disney production, currently slated for release next year.
As of this morning, four national film critics organizations have joined in the protests against Disney’s handling of the Times situation by taking the further step of refusing to consider any of Disney’s 2017 film releases for eligibility in their year-end awards voting. A statement was issued by the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, the New York Film Critics Circle, the Boston Society of Film Critics, and the National Society of Film Critics denouncing the studio’s decision.
You can read the full joint statement below. Particularly in a time where the market for arts criticism is changing and coming under increasing fire from all manner of market demands, this sort of open and outright bullying cannot be tolerated politely by outlets looking to deliver fair, thoughtful, and objective criticism in all areas of journalism, whether critical or investigative.
A STATEMENT FROM THE LOS ANGELES FILM CRITICS ASSOCIATION,
THE NEW YORK FILM CRITICS CIRCLE, THE BOSTON SOCIETY OF FILM CRITICS AND THE NATIONAL SOCIETY OF FILM CRITICS
Nov. 7, 2017 — The members of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, the New York Film Critics Circle, the Boston Society of Film Critics and the National Society of Film Critics jointly denounce the Walt Disney Company’s media blackout of the Los Angeles Times. Furthermore, all four critics’ organizations have voted to disqualify Disney’s films from year-end awards consideration until said blackout is publicly rescinded.
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 New York Film Critics Circle will vote on its annual awards Thursday, Nov. 30; the Los Angeles Film Critics Association will vote Sunday, Dec. 3; the Boston Society of Film Critics will vote Sunday, Dec. 10; and the National Society of Film Critics will vote Saturday, Jan. 6.