Monday, December 2, 2019

Black cultural critics and minefields after reviews of Queen & Slim

Although black cultural critics are quite pervasive these days, their works and opinions are rarely the story. Thus, it was notable over the weekend when many people on social media discussed black critics in the aftermath of some negative reviews of Queen & Slim.

Brooke Obie's review for Shadow and Act and Angelica Jade Bastién's review for Vulture spurred considerable conversation. Some people complained about black critics critiquing a film with a black writer, a black director, and lead black actors. Those complaints were really harsh, expressing concerns about racial solidarity.

One observer noted that “Even if what you say is true [critiques of Queen & Slim], it’s wrong for you to down another sister’s art publicly. It’s hard enough for Black women to make it in Hollywood without having Black saboteurs doing their dirty work."

Another observer referred to Bastien as a sellout (i.e. "Auntie Tom") based on her review. Those comments, and there were many along those lines, reflected some of the challenges that black cultural critics face when and if they offer unflattering appraisals of black art.

In response to some of the harsh backlash, Bastién tweeted that "being a black woman and a film critic is such a minefield sometimes." Obie wrote that "Spotlighting, critiquing, lifting up Black art and Black artists is what I do all day long for a living. It is a JOY. I am the happiest I've ever been! It's still an emotional minefield." The use of "minefield" by both critics is noteworthy.

For black cultural critics, one wrong step on a seemingly hidden trigger, and things can explode. There were many positive reviews of the film, but that was apparently less important than those two negative reviews, and growing critiques on social media. Novelist Kaitlyn Greenidge noted that "The reason these discussions about black art are so fraught is because of the very real economics of how its disseminated--the argument is always, you criticize this movie/book/show/play, another one won't ever get made."

Fears and worries among black folks that public criticism of black artistic production by black critics could jeopardize future black artistic productions were on full display, animating some of the exchanges. For some, black cultural critics should primarily affirm and advocate for black art and artists. But doesn't this setup create tremendous barriers for black critics?

"Too much pressure is put on black film critics to protect blk art and we have to release all that. There are films w/n the last 2 yrs I kept shut about bc I was afraid of losing connections or access," tweeted Valerie Complex. "Some of your blk favs have blocked blk critics who are critical of their work. While white critics get carte Blanche to say whatever. This is the pressure, this is the fear that comes with being a blk critic and it’s not fair," continued Complex.

The online conversation about what black critics should and shouldn't do was so pronounced that even Queen & Slim screenwriter Lena Waithe chimed in. "We haven’t overcome until we can have honest opinions about each other’s work in public," tweeted Waithe. "We don’t mind being a part of that shift. I’m sending love 2 every black critic whether you loved it or hated it. You have the right to write your ass off about it. And y’all have."

Just as some people had responded negatively to the reviews by Obie and Bastién, there were many who followed up with affirming support for the two critics. That's good. But I wonder how many of those minefields remain in place. The next time black cultural critics offer critiques of productions we're supposed to support, we'll see what happens.

A short checklist of black cultural critics


Jerry W. Ward, Jr. said...

The minefields have been there for a very long time, but the nature of minefields and the balls of confusion which bounce endlessly may be more visible in the first quarter of the 21st century. We are living in yet another paradigm shift, and I'll share my thinking about that with you and others after I finish rereading Antony Easthope's cogent arguments in

J. W. Ward, Jr.

Anonymous said...

I see both sides. However, when we: A)Critique our work without suggestions of how we would FIX the problems, and B)continue to do it on platforms WE DON'T OWN, that is a bigger issue. Criticism is SUPPOSED TO BE constructive.


Tony said...

I think it depends on what the history of art that the critic supports. Art is no different than politics. If credible civil rights activist criticize a certain idea of a movement. They'll get the leeway and respect. If its someone who relishes the ideals of white supremacy like Candace Owen's or caters to white folks like Don lemon. Then yeah, theyll get roasted. The problem with these critics is that their preferences is open for display on Twitter. Their ideals, their private opinions, their preferences, and their hypocrisy (we all have em) are there in the open. So when they criticize a certain black film with a serious narrative like queen and slim. If their history of who they are is on display. Black twitter will exploit it. If you love casablanca but want to criticize queen and slim because your value system as a critic lines up with the same value systems main stream white critics. The you'll get roasted. Its the value system thing. Maybe these critics are harsher on the black made movies like the white critics generally are and don't realize it. A lot of these supposed black writers have the same taste and value system as the white writers and are generally only open to the diverse column that they fit into. For example. Straight black male writer only fairly criticizes Straight black male movies. Same for queer females etc... And alot tend to devalue purely black movies meaning they want to have the access or acceptance of the white gaze. Black twitter, although ignorant at times, is nuanced enough to see all of these things. And if you are open enough to criticize anything publicly. Then you need to be able to handle the consequences of that. The writers don't have to be on Twitter. They don't have to post on Twitter looking for adulation. If you like the praise, then u can't complain about the critics. This is funny hearing them complain about critics being the fact that that's their job.