The piece has been updated, 8 p.m.
I don’t normally spend a lot of time in this column explaining why I decide to write about what I write about. For the most part, I think it’s fairly self-evident. I write about huge blockbusters such as “Game of Thrones” or “Thor: Ragnarok,” because I know large numbers of people will watch them, and I want to engage those big audiences on the issues that show up in these works. I write about things I genuinely love, like “The Deuce,” or the forthcoming “I, Tonya,” because I want to encourage you to love them, too, and to reward the people who engage with them. And I write about our big cultural controversies when I can find a way to say something new about them that will hopefully push our conversation in a new, and potentially more productive, direction.
But I’m making a seemingly counter-intuitive decision, and I wanted to explain it to all of you in advance. For the foreseeable future, I won’t be going to advance screenings of Disney movies, including films from its subsidiaries Lucasfilm and Marvel, and I won’t be writing about those movies before everyone else can see them in theaters. This pains me, as someone who is extremely excited to see “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” and Marvel’s “Black Panther,” which is directed by Ryan Coogler, one of my favorite directors currently working. But as long as Disney is blocking the critics from the Los Angeles Times from press screenings, I can’t in good conscience attend similar showings or write reviews in advance (the Los Angeles Times news broke after I had been to a press screening of “Thor: Ragnarok,” which is why I reviewed it).
Some back story on this decision: The Los Angeles Times recently published a long investigation into Disney’s deals with Anaheim, reporting that the company has leveraged many valuable concessions from the California city, in part through political spending, that local politicians are beginning to question. Disney has argued that the series is “biased and inaccurate … wholly driven by a political agenda,” though the company does not appear to have requested specific factual corrections from the paper. As a result, it has decided to block the Times’ critics from press screenings, which are typically open to a wide variety of outlets, which means that the Times’ critics will buy their tickets just like regular moviegoers and then write their reviews under greater time pressure. They’ve also blocked some Los Angeles Times staffers from Disney’s press websites.
Is this the end-all, be-all of journalistic crises? Probably not. It’s not as if Disney can prevent critics at the Times, or any other human being, from buying a ticket to its movies, taking notes and writing up what they’ve seen. Phones may be increasingly verboten in movie theaters (as they should be), but pen and paper are still perfectly legitimate things to use while a film is playing.
The bigger issue is that the later a critic’s review of a movie goes up, the harder it can be for that review to land a coveted spot among the Google search results that guarantee a solid chunk of traffic to a piece. There’s a reason that all of your favorite critics rush to, say, get “Game of Thrones” reviews up as soon as possible after an episode ends, even if that means fast-forwarding to the end of the episode in HBO Go and writing that up (this is not something I personally do, but I’m aware that some outlets do it). The spike of readers from Google can help sustain our jobs. For movies, the race is less intense, but there’s still a real advantage to being able to post a review once an embargo lifts, or, as was the case for the Los Angeles Times, to include a film in a holiday-season wrap-up. These aren’t things that it’s possible to do without access to an advance screening.
I speak only for myself here and not for The Post’s chief film critic, Ann Hornaday, or anyone else at The Post, and The Post has not taken a decision to participate in any boycott. As a critic-at-large operating out of the opinion section, I have an amount of leeway in deciding what to cover and when I cover it. And what feels best to me is to show solidarity with the critics at the Los Angeles Times and to see movies under the same conditions that they do. Until the Times’ critics are treated like everyone else and welcomed back to press screenings, I’ll write about Disney movies, including “Star Wars” and Marvel movies, after their premieres — generally that will mean writing about them on the Monday after their release to a general audience.
I like a lot of movies that come out of the Disney corporate behemoth, even as I find the Marvel formula wearing a little thin and worry that the new “Star Wars” movies have yet to completely crack either the formula of the original or to discover their own special sauce. But I like journalistic independence from corporate influence more. This is a fine price for me to pay for it.