There’s one in every crowd of film critics. The one critic who doesn’t simply march to the beat of a different drummer; he has his own original soundtrack. That’s Armond White, film critic for a website you don’t read named the New York Press. White has carefully crafted a reputation as the skunk at the garden parties. If the vast majority is going one way on a film, he tacks in an opposite direction and when he goes after a particular movie that irks his sensibilities he doesn’t stop pummeling it until he’s licking the blood off his knuckles.
The do-it-yourself aspects of the Internet made anyone with a laptop a critic whether they had the knack for it or not. That really annoyed the professional critics who found themselves suddenly increasingly irrelevant. So if being smart isn’t working anymore, how about just being incredibly nasty in temperament? This is White’s house special.
The vast majority of critics have practically guaranteed Precious as a stone cold lock for Oscar nominations, White disagrees mightily. In his review White guts the film saying, “Not since The Birth of A Nation” has a mainstream movie demeaned the idea of black American life as much as Precious.”
That’s not simply a pan, but White was equally unsparing of director Lee Daniels and executive producers Oprah Winfrey and Tyler Perry.
Shame on Tyler Perry and Oprah Winfrey for signing on as air-quote executive producers of Precious. After this post-hip-hop freak show wowed Sundance last January, it now slouches toward Oscar ratification thanks to its powerful friends.Winfrey and Perry had no hand in the actual production of Precious, yet the movie must have touched some sore spot in their demagogue psyches. They’ve piggybacked their reps as black success stories hoping to camouflage Precious’ con job—even though it’s more scandalous than their own upliftment trade.
Winfrey, Perry and Daniels make an unholy triumvirate.They come together at some intersection of race exploitation and opportunism. These two media titans—plus one shrewd pathology pimp—use Precious to rework Booker T. Washington’s early 20th-century manifesto Up From Slavery into extreme drama for the new millennium.
I used to believe it was easy to write a negative review until I had to actually sit through bad movies when I was a stringer for Columbus Dispatch film critic Frank Gabrenya. That’s when I realized the time wasted on bad movies, bad books or bad music makes them not much fun to trash.
Armond White is the sort of haughty, pompous and self-important critic the Internet has made pretty much irrelevant. Of course he’s entitled to slam any film he thinks is a waste of time and celluloid, but his Precious review is nothing more than a full-blown rant against African-American celebrities he finds annoying. The movie itself is irrelevant. It’s just the punching bag White pastes pictures of Oprah and Tyler on to swing at.
How seriously can anyone take White when no sooner has he compared Precious unfavorably to The Birth of A Nation, D.W. Griffith’s notoriously racist Valentine card to the Ku Klux Klan and Black politicans lording it over White citizens (Griffith would have been the guest of honor at tax day tea parties rallies against Barack Obama) than he follows it up with this jaw-dropping paragraph.
The hype for Precious indicates a culture-wide willingness to accept particular ethnic stereotypes as a way of maintaining status quo film values. Excellent recent films with black themes—Next Day Air, Cadillac Records, Meet Dave, Norbit, Little Man, Akeelah and the Bee, First Sunday, The Ladykillers, Marci X, Palindromes, Mr. 3000, even back to the great Beloved (also produced by Oprah)—have been ignored by the mainstream media and serious film culture while this carnival of black degradation gets celebrated. It’s a strange combination of liberal guilt and condescension.
That’s right, folks. White is saying when it comes to making a contribution to cinema and uplifting the race, Precious can’t hold Meet Dave, Little Man and Norbit’s collective jock straps.
I haven’t seen Precious yet, so I can’t offer an opinion whether it deserves the hammering White gives it or it’s a bona fide masterpiece. However, the ugly way White goes about eviscerating it only makes me more sympathetic, not less, to this unconventional underdog of a movie.
There’s a line between coherent criticism of a failed film and just ripping into as so to draw attention to your review. White waits until the last paragraph to cross it where he drop kicks lead actress Gabourey Sidibe dubbing her a “hippopotamus.” That goes beyond harsh. That is just cruel.
It’s possible White is really drinking the haterade and truly finds Precious to be a totally repugnant movie. But it’s hard to take seriously his disgust when he hails a piece of excrement like Norbit as an “excellent film.” How is Eddie Murphy swaddled in layers of latex as an grossly offensive and vulgar bastardization of Black women less offensive than comparing an overweight teenager unfavorably to the third-largest land mammal?
I mean, Norbit? Seriously? How can White write a sentence like that with a straight face?
There’s something vaguely admirable about holding a contrary opinion in the face of nearly unanimous praise. Precious may prove not to live up to its hype. Great. White will have the satisfaction of saying he was right when everybody else was wrong. But his sledgehammer rhetoric and praise for trash come off as a grab for attention.
Armond White is playing a hustle to get some attention for a review that would otherwise go largely unnoticed. I regret to the extent that I have assisted him in this endeavor. On the other hand, I’m providing a public service by exposing White’s tirade as the mean-spirited mugging it is.