Normally, I couldn’t give a rat’s ass about celebrity news. However, since I do write about movies, I had to pass comment on the following story, because it’s highlighted a growing problem that’s only gotten worse over time–the nauseating downward trajectory that is now media criticism and entertainment journalism.
What happened is that a hack for The Daily Beast, Kyndall Cunningham, had the very simple, straightforward task of reviewing the movie, Till (2022). The film, in case you don’t know, is about the horrific slaying of Emmett Till, a young boy who was lynched by a racist mob at the peak of the Jim Crow South. At some point in the review–and for no reason that can be explained, Cunningham decided to post a snide crack about Whoopi Goldberg, claiming that she was distracted by the actress in a fat suit. This assertion, that Goldberg was wearing a fat suit, was patently false.
The reviewer tried to be cute and bury the snide crack under a pile of ten-dollar words and pseudo-intellectual word salad. However, the comment didn’t escape Goldberg, who mentioned it on The View and called Cunningham out:
The reason why it’s so obvious this “distracting in a fat suit” comment was a crack is that this was posted as a statement of fact, when neither Goldberg, a press agent nor the studio behind Till had ever said she was wearing one for the movie.
To explain further, whenever an actor will star in a movie role that requires their physical appearance to be dramatically changed–sometimes to the point of unrecognizability–it’s customary for the actor themselves or the studios to alert the public in advance so everyone knows why they look so different all of a sudden. For example, a press release may explain that an actor wore prosthetic makeup, pumped up at the gym, went on a liquid fast to shed half their body weight or was digitally altered in post-processing. The whole point of announcing all of this beforehand is simple– to prevent actors from becoming tabloid fodder when their film is eventually released. (Example: “Actor so-and-so looks so frail! Is it cancer?” Or: “Actress such-and-such looks 20 years younger in her latest movie! What’s her secret? We ask our resident celebrity plastic surgeon to weigh in!”)
In the case of the movie, Till, there were no press releases whatsoever about Goldberg doing anything to alter her appearance, nor would it even make sense for her to do that, since the real-life person she was portraying is relatively obscure. Also, there was nothing so dramatic about her appearance in the movie to make someone assume she had done something to herself.
Given that no one said anything about Goldberg putting on a fat suit, and given that Goldberg in the movie looks like…well, herself in the movie…we know that this “fat suit” comment was whipped out of thin air as a cowardly, underhanded cheap shot by an emotionally and intellectually stunted individual who has no business writing about anything, let alone movies.
Keep in mind that I don’t say this lightly. Not having read the review beforehand, I was prepared to give Kyndall Cunningham the benefit of the doubt when I heard about all this, because there’ve been too many moments on The View that’ve had me second-guessing Goldberg whenever she goes off-script. For all I knew, maybe she was taking things out of context or there was no mention of fat suits at all in the review but for whatever reason, she just assumed that it said she was wearing one. Who knew?
But nope, I eventually read the piece (thanks, Internet Archive!), and it spoke for itself. Instead of finding the possibility of a review that was misconstrued, I saw instead a rambling rush job by an amateur writer whose writing skills were barely above English Composition 101. The fat suit comment was pretty brazen, too, and to such an extent that it almost comes across as if done on a dare.
Because the author is pretty damned guilty on all accounts, the public tongue lashing that Goldberg doled out was completely justified. However, passive-aggressive cattiness alone by a bimbo with a pretentious “Entertainment Reporter” byline isn’t the only reason why this hack writer–as well as The Daily Beast–should’ve been put on blast. The biggest reason for me, personally, is that journalism–especially when it comes to media analysis–used to adhere to a golden standard. With the internet, that standard has become almost nonexistent. In a cultural climate where yellow journalism and clickbait is now the norm for everything ranging from politics to human interest stories, movie criticism and analysis has become the last bastion of professional writing and journalistic integrity.
However, with each passing year, this bastion has also been slowly but surely getting chipped away by amateurs, culture warrior trolls and useful idiots of disinfo, many of them graduates from BuzzFeed, Reddit, Tumblr or over glorified blogs like The Mary Sue. The reason is that mainstream media collectively decided a few years ago that film criticism is an amateur’s medium that anybody can write for, provided that their writing ability is just a shade better than the average Tik Toker and they can throw in some “movie critic” buzzwords fetched off Google or Wikipedia. Apparently, The Daily Beast is now one of those publications that thinks that “anyone” should be able to write about a movie, and in so doing, has become a willing accomplice to the deterioration of media criticism.
Another reason why The Daily Beast should be put on blast is that the subject of the movie, Till, is about a very dark, serious and important chapter in American history. Publications should do a better job of vetting writers who have the maturity and intelligence to not be “distracted” by the appearances of actors in movies like this–or at least have enough self-discipline to not mention it in passing.
The last reason why Daily Beast should be blasted is that Kyndall Cunningham cannot write or think above an eighth-grade level, yet she was given a movie writing assignment far above her intellect or writing ability. Picking someone like this for an assignment about a serious film is offensive to entertainment writers, media critics and movie lovers alike, because it sends the message that people who enjoy movies don’t deserve better writing, and that film criticism and analysis was never really an artform or a discipline.
Also, it sends the message that The Daily Beast didn’t care enough about the target audience for Till or its subject matter to get a decent enough writer to treat it with the respect it deserved. Read the review and you’ll see for yourself what I mean. The amateurish tone of the review would’ve been forgiven had the editors at The Daily Beast made some attempt to proofread it, but editorial standards were so lax that the article was allowed to get published in spite of a slew of grammatical, punctuation and spelling errors. This goes to show how little The Daily Beast cared for this movie or the audience it was meant for.
Case in point–the mark of a good writer is knowing how to punctuate sentences for clarity:
She even downplays what should be the most theatrical part of the film, the trial, to a degree, with the exception of Mamie’s moving testimony.
Holy run-on sentence, Batman! What the hell does this even mean? Does she mean that director Chinonye Chukwu took a more subtle approach in her depiction of the trial for Emmett Till’s murderers, as opposed to a more theatrical approach? The word, “subtle” should not only be in any film critic’s bible but an active part of any 12-year old’s vocabulary. Has Kyndall Cunningham never heard of this word?
Also, the usage of “should”, coupled with “theatrical”, implies that Cunningham felt that the dramatization of the Emmett Till trial should’ve been over the top with plenty of scenery chewing and histrionics, since the word, “theatrical”, is a pejorative meaning “melodramatic”. From Merriam-Webster’s section, “Choose the Right Synonym for Theatrical”:
Cunningham could’ve also taken a few seconds to actually think this particular sentence out, as it’s both muddled in its imprecise language and lack of proper punctuation. If only there was a job called “an editor” to look over a writer’s work and fix mistakes like this before committing it to print. (Hmm…)
Lack of proper punctuation and muddledness is not even the worst part of the review. A good writer should know who to name for a particular piece, as well as how to spell their names:
It’s easy to imagine a more conventional biopic zooming out of these heartfelt interactions and capturing the frenzy surrounding Emmett’s trial. An Aaron Sorkin- or Steven Speilberg (sic)-directed version of this story…
Though Aaron Sorkin has directed movies, he’s known mostly as an award-winning screenwriter. Perhaps this writer Wikipedia-researched movies involving injustice and trials, and Sorkin’s name popped up because he shot The Trial of the Chicago Seven (2020) and wrote the screenplay for A Few Good Men (1992). In any event, biopics were never his wheelhouse as a director (his only one is Being the Ricardos), so why even bring him up?
Biopics are most definitely in Steven Spielberg’s wheelhouse, but his name is spelled “Spielberg.” Not Speilberg (sic).
Also, calling a movie “Spielberg-directed” is redundant. You don’t need to indicate something is “-directed” if the person you’re naming is well known for being a… wait for it… director. You wouldn’t say “Whoopi Goldberg-acted”, right? Because she’s… wait for it… an actress.
Moving right along, another mark of a decent writer is knowing how to pick the right words to talk about something serious, so as not to come across as insensitive, flippant or shallow:
Despite Chukwu’s thoughtful direction, interesting camera techniques, and the film’s Oscar-worthy performances, it’s hard to find any real entertainment value in re-enacting this story.
You wouldn’t use a term like “entertainment value” in a review for a movie like Till, because we tend to use this phrase for things that are supposed to be fun and lighthearted, like video games or amusement parks. Perhaps the author meant to say that the movie was lacking engagement or wasn’t compelling enough to sit through, which is a more tasteful way of saying that as serious as the movie was, there was nothing about it to hook the viewer. Perhaps. I don’t know. When writing is this sloppy and unfocused, it’s hard to gauge the thoughts of the person behind it.
Back to The Daily Beast. We know their media writers suck, but a lot of the blame lies with their editors, if we could even call them that. In fact, the publication is such a complete joke in terms of any editorial standard that when it was called out by Whoopi Goldberg, the editors didn’t even bother writing a retraction that sounded remotely professional. From the looks of it, they may have even gotten the same incompetent writer to add the retraction, since it sounds like a 10-year-old wrote it:
Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to reflect that Whoopi Goldberg says she was not wearing a fat suit.
Wow–the editor referred to the Till review as a “story.” Is the person who issued this retraction so lazy that they couldn’t be bothered differentiating between a “story” and a “review”? Kyndall Cunningham’s article wasn’t a story, was it? It was a film review. Big difference there.
Or, hell, maybe it was a story, come to think of it. Maybe the usage of “story” instead of “review” was a Freudian slip giving the game away–that maybe no one actually saw the movie and the review was akin to a sixth grader faking his book report using Cliffs Notes, and then padding the rest of his assignment with tons of blah blah blah to make it look like he really gave the book some thought. (The tremendous amount of padding in Cunningham’s poor excuse for a movie review suggests as much.)
In any event, with this all out of the way, you’re probably wondering what’s behind me getting worked up over this. Well, I’ll tell you. With journalistic and writing standards being run into the ground these days, film criticism and media analysis is all we have left of decent writing. If we lose these two artforms to the dogs, professional writing will be officially dead, and there will be no turning back.
Another reason why I’m up in arms has to do with something more egregious than bad writing. There has been a growing trend of movie criticism and analysis getting hijacked and used for cynical reasons, sometimes to spread hatred, sometimes out of contempt for the subject matter, sometimes out of personal pettiness and sometimes as an expression of fanboy evangelism. Call it cynical bullshit, culture war agitprop or flat-out propaganda, but this type of writing can best be described as “bad faith” reviewing.
Too many bad faith reviews in the vein of Kyndall Cunningham have been making their way into the mainstream, whether we’re talking about this piece of agitprop trash from The Guardian spewing anti-American propaganda invoking movie Idiocracy (2006), this deranged Medium writer using Saturday Night Fever (1977) to scream about Baby Boomers or this Canadian “professor” taking the movie, Predator (1987), to teach American blacks that a movie they may have loved their entire lives was really racist.
Let me show you how bad the situation has gotten. As I was writing the first draft of this rant, another bad faith reviewer of poor writing ability made headlines trashing Martin Scorsese as a self-indulgent director who squandered his talent. The article was such puerile, infantile nonsense that director Guillermo del Toro came out to challenge the hack publicly.
Clearly, shitty, bad faith reviewing has reached critical mass. But why? It isn’t just because there’s now a clear lack of talent or personal integrity in media criticism and journalism. It’s also because we’re now in an age of cultural warfare. Media criticism–which includes the movie and TV review–has become its latest tool. Sometimes the tool is used like a blunt axe against the back of the skull, like when the king of Professional Troll Reviews, Armond White, shamelessly seized the Disney film, Cruella (2021), to attack “feminist psychosis”. Sometimes it’s more subtle, like in the case of The Daily Beast nabbing the worst movie reviewer it could possibly get for a film about a serious moment in American history.
Because things have spiraled so out of control, bad faith movie criticism and analysis needs to be called out and anyone indulging in it named and shamed for the hacks that they are. So, a million kudos to Whoopi Goldberg, Guillermo del Toro and others for speaking out–and Kyndall Cunningham, please quit your day job to pursue your true calling… as a vapid social media influencer hawking Kylie Jenner cosmetics on Tik Tok.
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