Hire Us, Pay Us, Support Us: On The Need For Diverse Critics

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I’ve been blogging about books and the various pop culture itches that need scratching pretty consistently for close to six and a half years. It’s a hobby, but one I’ve invested an incredible amount of time, energy and money into, all of which I have discussed extensively in the past. I don’t make any money off this, and during my period of continuing unemployment, it can often feel like a luxury rather than a hobby. I’ve never been paid to write a review or article in my life, even though my words can be found on professional publications such as The Skinny and the Independent. This is a disheartening reality of the industry – nobody wants to pay for it.

Jessica Chastain, the actress and long time supporter of women in film, tweeted today about the importance of women in film criticism:

Hey #nastywomen – If you love film and are good with a pen, how about becoming a critic? We need female critics to bring balance & diversity.

Her message is encouraging, if a touch naïve, and a follow-up tweet requested support and advice for women who wish to enter the field. It’s heartening to see people come together to offer a helping hand and kind ear, especially after the crusty wank sock of a year we’ve had. Of course, it’s all depressingly more complicated than that.

Today, Fusion announced massive lay-offs of their workforce, which will affect some top journalists. There’s very little money in the field for those who are fortunate to have regular freelance gigs or a much coveted full time position. Even the most famous and admired critics, like Matt Zoller Seitz of Vulture and RogerEbert.com, need to do more than one thing to keep the lights on. Culture and the arts remain the agreed upon expendable luxury during tough economic times. We see this when governments slash funding for education and access, thus exacerbating the problem, and when even the New York Times scraps its local arts coverage to save a few pennies. What should be seen as a crucial element of the human experience is (often understandably so) viewed as something we can do without.

Online reading habits have dramatically shaped the way we consume such coverage, and as a result many great critics and writers suffer: Why pay for a 2,000 word article on Andrea Arnold’s latest film when a 16 page slide-show of Marvel movies brings in 10 times the clicks? I don’t blame people for wanting to enjoy a good gif-fest of their geek favourites, but it’s disappointing that the issue becomes an either/or approach to cultural journalism.

The big voices in film, TV and other elements of cultural criticism tend to be overwhelmingly white and male. There are exceptions (Sonia Saraiya and Mo Ryan at Variety, Emily Nussbaum at the New Yorker, Angie Han at SlashFilm, Alissa Wilkinson and Aja Romano at Vox, Alison Willmore at Buzzfeed, etc), but studies show the people in charge tend to be more sympathetic towards voices that reflect their own. It’s a tough cycle to break out of, although with online activism and progressive attitudes evolving, we are seeing more accountability and growth on that front. We just saw Devin Faraci exposed as an abuser, one who found shelter amongst his peers despite years of bullying, so there’s much work to do in terms of making that space more hospitable for historically silenced voices.

And then we have the utterly soul crushing problem of the current climate. The apocalyptic election aside, the past few years have seen the beginnings of an attempted culture war erupt in so-called geek circles, and it’s the most marginalized voices that suffer: GamerGate attacking women in video games for daring to discuss misogyny in the medium; Sad Puppies launching a bloc to take over the Hugo Awards in order to shut out more inclusive and daring voices in the sci-fi and fantasy genres; A straight-up hate movement centred on the mere existence of a Ghostbusters film starring women. This is merely the tip of the iceberg. This doesn’t even cover #OscarsSoWhite and the racist backlash that movement received, or the continuing nonsense women face for criticizing over-sexualised comic book illustrations, or the tweet storm that seems to take over my mentions every time I question the whiteness of the Harry Potter spin-off.

Nothing less than a white nationalist hate movement has tried to hijack online critical and geek culture spaces in order to silence and abuse marginalised voices they deem to be a threat to their agenda. We’re attacked for simply pointing out these issues, and that’s without the comfort of being financially compensated for it. The opportunity to do so on a prominent platform would be greatly appreciated, but many of us can’t help but fear the inevitable backlash, and how that will end up affecting our daily lives. Sometimes the freelance rate just isn’t enough to balance out a comments section and Twitter reply storm calling you a corrupt feminazi cunt.

I hope marginalised voices feel empowered and passionate enough to spread their desperately needed voices and analyses of pop culture, and I hope there are editors eager to amplify those voices, but we need support structures in place. So here are my three simple rules for getting diverse voices out there: Hire us, pay us, and turn off the bloody comments sections for us.

Check out the great work of @FemaleCritics for more help and advice!

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Ceilidh is the co-editor in chief of Bibliodaze, the one who has no idea what she's doing. She talks YA at The Book Lantern and has been known to talk theatre for The Skinny & Female Arts.

1 COMMENT

  1. Watched the Fantastic Beasts trailer, and then saw something even whiter – the trailer for the new biopic about McDonald’s. No POC, not even in the background as extras. The FB trailer was still rather white, though.

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