Wonder Woman & Arts Criticism

Mariana Feijó

Mariana Feijó

Last December, I was invited to the premiere of Wonder Woman 84, and due to the well-described pandemic time warp effect, I’ve only just got around to writing about it.

The screening was at the BFI IMAX in London, where I had never watched a movie before, which has a beautiful big, big screen, slightly rounded for dramatics, and that makes you feel like you’re inside the picture. When the first images popped up, I felt a little overwhelmed and tears rushed to my eyes. I think that was that tiny person inside me, who went 10 times to the cinema in January 2020, and then was told to stay home for a year (and counting!), realising how much she missed the big screen, and how afraid she is the pandemic will mean they’re a thing of the past.

The rest of the movie brought out some other emotions… mostly confusion. I’m a fairly easy audience, who’s grown to understand how many people and how much work goes into creating all that content we so love to complain about and who truly thinks suspension of disbelief is key to enjoying anything that isn’t a documentary… but oh boy, does WW84 challenge that! Next time I’m allowed on a plane, I hope my pilot is not just trying to be one with the air and the wind and actually knows how that beast of a machine works!

But hey, I’m late to the party, and all that could have been written about WW84 is searchable on google. Something else jumped out at me that day. We were a room of invitees, mostly critics for publications, radio, TV, etc. Over 100 people, of which just a small percentage were women or people of colour, and I can’t assume sexualities from the way people sit down on a chair to watch a movie, but I also question the distribution there. And it was also clear that I was among the younger group of people, and I’m 35! That’s almost middle age!

How can we value arts criticism, when the distribution of those invited in the room to do it, is not representative of the people we expect to consume the product?

I immediately wanted to rant about it in a public forum, but ‘pandemic time warp’ struck!

Then in January, a review of Promising Young Women in Variety, compared the level of attractiveness of the film’s producer and lead actress (Margot Robbie and Carey Mulligan), suggesting the role might have been more appropriately portrayed by the actor who, to the critic’s opinion, was the most attractive of the two. I’m not trying to say men have ownership of misogyny, and that other genders might not have made similar observations, but I guessed immediately that review had been written by a man!

That brought this subject to my brain again. And I remembered that before I started listening to the wonderful podcast, Black Men Can’t Jump [In Hollywood] both my awareness of the range of movies created by people of colour and the cultural importance those movies have, was very limited. And I consider myself a person who cares, has a rounded view of the world and has been reading film magazines since I was very young, yet still, I was missing a valuable perspective!

Also in January, a tweet by Jerry Saltz, senior art critic from New York Magazine, controversially stated “A good critic always puts more into writing about artwork than the artist put into making it.” and I want to make it clear here, as someone who dabbles in criticism and also (I like to think) creation of art, I wholly disagree with that. I don’t even know if I can say that these critics who are being given a platform and sometimes blurt out unthinkable things are not good critics. I know they’re doing it, surrounded by people who look like, and to some extent, think like them, and have never questioned it.

We (and I’m not sure if I’m including myself in that ‘we’ as my reach is very limited) need to think of ways of shaking out the critics perspectives pool, invite more people into the space, and find them paying jobs! We should also stop talking and writing articles about the problem and just DO SOMETHING! 

…Oh wait!

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