Alyssa Rosenberg, critic-at-large with The Washington Post, announced yesterday that she will no longer be attending advance screenings for any Disney film, including those from Lucasfilm or Marvel. Outlets such as The A.V. Club and Flavorwire are also refusing to attend press screenings for Disney movies. Today, in a joint press release, four major critics associations (Los Angeles Film Critics Association, the New York Film Critics Circle, the Boston Society of Film Critics, and the National Society of Film Critics) formally denounced Disney and have voted to disqualify their films from year-end awards consideration.
These boycotts won’t be lifted until Disney ceases the media blackout it has placed against the Los Angeles Times, which includes barring their film critics from attending advance press screenings of Disney films.
Yup, you heard me — The Mouse House has directed their corporate Death Star at the Rebels (er, media), who are banding together to fight back!
But how did we get to this ridiculous, insider-y Hollywood standoff? It all started on September 24th, 2017, when the L.A. Times published an investigative article regarding The Happiest Place on Earth.
As you can imagine, Disney has extensive business ties with the city of Anaheim, CA — home to Disneyland. In addition to the tourism boost, Disney’s theme parks are also a major source of employment for locals. But the question being increasingly asked is whether the area residents are receiving enough benefits from their corporate overlords to justify the subsidies and other financial considerations received by Disney from the city.
To illustrate this, the Times piece opens with the story of the massive 10,241-space parking garage outside of the theme park:
The cash pours in too: Each vehicle pays $ 20 to park at the Mickey & Friends facility, $ 35 for a preferred space close to the escalators and elevators.
Even if the parking garage fills just half its spaces, it would still generate more than $ 35 million in annual revenue and easily hundreds of millions of dollars over the life of the structure.
That money all goes to Walt Disney Co. The city of Anaheim, which owns the garage and spent $ 108.2 million to build it, charges the company just $ 1 a year for the lease.
More than 20 years after Anaheim agreed to pay for the parking facility as part of Disneyland Resort’s expansion, it has become a symbol of the city’s complicated and increasingly tense relationship with its biggest and most powerful corporate citizen.
The whole two-part investigation is fascinating, and it doesn’t stop in Anaheim: The hundreds of millions of dollars in incentives that Disney receives for its various ventures around the world outpace those received by other media conglomerates. Without a doubt the Mouse House is a savvy dealmaker. And to be fair, the relationship between Disney and Anaheim is a complex one, built in layers over many decades. There is no easy answer, but the piece pulls no punches when it comes to questioning whether Disney is getting more than it’s giving. Naturally, Disney didn’t like that — so they decided to retaliate against the L.A. Times, starting with the press screenings for Thor: Ragnarok.
In a note to readers on November 3rd, the L.A. Times explained that Disney films wouldn’t be a part of their annual Holiday Movie Sneaks section:
This year, Walt Disney Co. studios declined to offer The Times advance screenings, citing what it called unfair coverage of its business ties with Anaheim. The Times will continue to review and cover Disney movies and programs when they are available to the public.
Disney explained their stance in a statement, picked up by The Hollywood Reporter:
We regularly work with news organizations around the world that we don’t always agree with, but in this instance the L.A. Times showed a complete disregard for basic journalistic standards. Despite our sharing numerous indisputable facts with the reporter, several editors, and the publisher over many months, the Times moved forward with a biased and inaccurate series, wholly driven by a political agenda — so much so that the Orange County Register referred to the report as ‘a hit piece’ with a ‘seemingly predetermined narrative.’ We’ve had a long relationship with the L.A. Times, and we hope they will adhere to balanced reporting in the future.
It should be noted, however, that if there were inaccuracies in the investigative piece, Disney doesn’t seem to have asked the Times to correct them.
So — Disney retaliates against the L.A. Times for unfavorable news coverage by barring them from free, advance press screenings of films? Why should anyone give a shit about this? Look — around here, we have a soft spot for Overlords of any kind, but we have an even bigger soft spot for the freedom of the press. Rather than engaging in public dialogue with the Times to explain their disagreement, Disney chose to punish them. And yes, losing access to advance screenings IS, in fact, a punishment. If other outlets have an advantage and can get their reviews up sooner, they will reap all those hot, sexy page views, while the L.A. Times will have to wait to review the film until their critics can attend screenings on opening night, just like the rest of us. And to add insult to injury, the critic will have to PAY for a ticket, i.e. give Disney cash to see the film.
Could they just throw in the towel and refuse the review ANY film from Disney? Perhaps. But again, journalistic integrity matters (even in entertainment), and not reviewing Disney movies will cut a large portion of the box office landscape out of their reporting. This year Disney still has Pixar’s Coco and Lucasfilm’s Star Wars: The Last Jedi to release. And next year?
That’s without taking into consideration any of Disney’s television offerings or other businesses. This is why the recent moves by critics at other outlets to stand in solidarity with the L.A. Times matters. No corporation, or politician for that matter, should be able to suppress stories or interfere with a free press. And while this may seem like small potatoes in the grand scheme of things, the fact that Disney controls SO GODDAMN MUCH and is bothering to play this dirty, about fucking press screenings, should be a huge red flag.
Here at Pajiba, we mostly write our reviews after paying for opening night tickets. Sure, some of our writers live in cities where press screenings are a thing. I, on the other hand, live up a fucking mountain and frequently review films in an empty theater at 1pm on Friday. Instead, we’re going to take a different kind of stand. Today, we’re announcing the disqualification of ANY actor who performs in a Disney property from making it into the finals of next year’s Pajiba 10. That’s right — kiss your Evans and Hemsworths goodbye! Hell, even Lin-Manuel Miranda will be on the chopping block, because he just HAD to join that Mary Poppins reboot. So if you love smart sexiness, you’d better hope Disney ceases its blackout against the L.A. Times. Otherwise the Pajiba 10 will be the Pajiba 2: Ruth Negga and John Cho.
Wait a minute… maybe we should rethink this…