Brie Larson announces Sundace Institute and Toronto Film Festival Initiatives for Underrepresented Press
Brie Larson closed Women in Film’s Crystal+Lucy Awards on Wednesday night as the final honoree to take the stage inside the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills, and she didn’t drop the mic — she broke major news about two of the industry’s most prominent film festivals.
THR — “I’m so grateful to be up here to receive this award so I can not thank my family and my team and instead talk about something that’s really important to me,” she explained in opening her speech, which came just after 9 p.m. “I’d like to bring to light an aspect of our industry that has risen to the surface in the last week. This issue has a solution that each one of us in this room can participate in.”
Larson, accepting the Crystal Award for Excellence in Film, then referenced news that broke two days earlier when USC’s Annenberg Inclusivity Initiative released a report that analyzed the gender and race/ethnicity of the critics behind every Rotten Tomatoes review of 2017’s 100 highest-grossing movies. The report titled “Critic’s Choice?” found that out of 19,559 reviews, 77.8 percent were written by men and 82 percent were written by white critics. White men wrote 63.9 percent of reviews, compared with 4.1 percent penned by women of color. More reviews were also written by white women (18.1 percent) than by men of color (13.8 percent).
“This is a huge disconnect from the U.S. population of 30 percent white men, 30 percent white women, 20 percent men of color and 20 percent women of color,” Larson explained. “Why does that matter? Why am I up here talking about statistics when I could be up here talking about my publicist? [Lindsay Galin of Rogers & Cowan] who I love and thank you so much for bringing [presenter Jessi] up here and making this super emotional while I stand up here and rattle off percentages of people.”
Larson then made a point that she swung home three separate times: “Am I saying that I hate white dudes? No, I’m not.”
Instead, what Larson was working toward is a larger point about having the right reviewers screen films that matter to specific demographics, an issue that has been gaining traction as the conversation about inclusion and diversity continues to get louder in all parts of the industry, including newsrooms that cover the entertainment industry.
“What I am saying is that if you make a movie that is a love letter to women of color, there is an insanely low chance a woman of color will have the chance to see your movie and review your movie,” she said to rousing applause in the room, which was filled to capacity and had already listened to speeches from honorees including ABC’s Channing Dungey and actress Alexandra Shipp. “We need to be conscious of our bias and make sure that everyone is in the room.”
Getting to the news of the evening, Larson delivered a personal lead-up explaining why this issue — one that she tweeted about on June 11 — matters so much to her.
“It really sucks that reviews matter, but reviews matter,” she said. “Good reviews out of festivals give small independent films a fighting chance to be bought and seen. Good reviews help films gross money. Good reviews slingshot films into awards contenders. A good review can change your life. It changed mine.”
Larson was referring to the 2015 film Room, which screened at both the Toronto and Telluride Film Festivals, which have become go-to launching pads for serious awards contenders. It worked for Larson. Her performance in the Lenny Abrahamson-directed film debuted to rave reviews and she went on to win an Oscar, Golden Globe, Film Independent Spirit Award and dozens of critics group prizes. ”
“I do not need a 40-year-old white dude to tell me what didn’t work for him out of a Wrinkle in Time. It wasn’t made for him. I want to know what that film meant to women of color, to biracial women, to teen women of color, to teens that are biracial. These are just facts these are not my emotions,” she continued. “I want to know what my work means to the world, not a narrow view.”
On that note, Larson announced that both the Toronto and Sundance Film Festivals have committed to bolstering its credentialing ranks to include 20 percent of underrepresented critics in Park City and Toronto at the next installments of each festival. TIFF is scheduled for September while Sundance will happen again in January in Utah.
Festivals aside, Larson is hoping that more outlets do the same.
“The bottom line is that each of the top 100 films in a year added nine critics that are three underrepresented males, three white females, three underrepresented females and the average critic pool would match the U.S. population in just five years,” she said, before offering her breakdown of potential solutions.
“First, female and underrepresented critics can’t review what they don’t see and many are denied accreditation and access to press screenings. If you are in this room, or if you know someone who is a gate keeper, please make sure these invites and credentials find their way to more underrepresented journalists and critics, many of whom are freelancers,” she detailed. “Artists, agents, publicists and marketing execs, you can do your part by commiting to an inclusive press plan and junket strategy on your end. This includes asking for a wider array of magazine photographers in addition to writers. Disney has been a brilliant partner on this on Captain Marvel.”
“Second: Feed the pipeline,” continued Larson, who also noted the inclusive press line that greeted the guests at Women in Film’s annual event. (And it should be noted that Larson walked the walk before heading inside for the dinner program and she stopped for every outlet on the carpet and spoke to journalists of color.) “I know you’re thinking, ‘Brie, we’d love to have a balanced pool but there’s not enough underrepresented critics to make this realistic.’ I’m super happy to tell you that 41 percent of Bachelor’s degrees in journalism and communication go to white women and 22 percent to women of color, so the talent is there, the access and opportunity is not.”
To find talent, Larson also announced “an opt-in tool” that will launch late summer that is designed to allow studios and artist representatives to more easily find and contact entertainment journalists and critics from underrepresented groups. It’s unclear which organization is behind the tool.
“I hope this is just the start. Let’s sponsor more opportunities like this for journalists and critics moving forward,” she said in closing. “Thank you very much for listening to my verbal power point presentation, and I hope you have a very wonderful rest of your evening.”