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Disney Lifts LA Times Ban Amid Backlash

Journalists, critics groups, and Ava DuVernay herself stood behind the free press. They won.
By  · Published on November 8th, 2017

Journalists, critics groups, and Ava DuVernay herself stood behind the free press. They won.

Last week, the Los Angeles Times announced that the Walt Disney Company had revoked the publication’s access to advanced screenings of any of Disney’s holiday releases. The company accused the paper of “unfair coverage” about politically driven business ties between Disney parks and the city of Anaheim, calling the Times‘ series of reports “biased and inaccurate.” However, the fallout from the Times ban significantly picked up momentum this week, with the film industry rallying together to lend their support to the publication. Variety now reports that Disney has lifted the ban completely.

Publications such as The A.V. ClubFlavorwire, and The New York Times boycotted advanced screenings until the ban on the Los Angeles Times was lifted. Individual critics, namely Alyssa Rosenberg and Ty Burr, proclaimed to be doing the same. Rosenberg published a piece explaining her decision to boycott advanced screenings of Disney films for the foreseeable future in the wake of the ban. In her article, she detailed economic and moral imperatives as primary reasons, noting that journalists are kept in demand if they can review a film fast enough for the general public to drive traffic towards any publication (hence, the importance of access to advanced screenings). She wrote, “as long as Disney is blocking the critics from the Los Angeles Times from press screenings, I can’t in good conscience attend similar showings or write reviews in advance.”

These decisions from journalists were just the tip of the iceberg. Standing in solidarity with them was the highly influential filmmaker Ava DuVernay, who directed Disney’s adaptation of “A Wrinkle in Time” due out next year. In retweeting Rosenberg’s article and asserting her support, DuVernay rightly sent a powerful message to Disney despite her own ties to the corporation:

Five film critics groups also disqualified Disney from year-end awards eligibility. The Los Angeles Film Critics Association, the New York Film Critics Circle, the Boston Society of Film Critics, and the National Society of Film Critics announced that they would not be considering any Disney releases in their upcoming awards season until the Los Angeles Times blackout was “publicly rescinded.” The Toronto Film Critics Association later joined in the boycott separately.

In a joint statement, LAFCA President Claudia Puig, NYFCC Chair Eric Kohn, NSFC Executive Director Liz Weis, and BSFC President Tom Meek expressed their distaste for Disney’s decision to exercise its power and influence to silence a publication as opposed to engage in an open dialogue:

“Disney’s actions, which include an indefinite ban on any interaction with The Times, are antithetical to the principles of a free press and set a dangerous precedent in a time of already heightened hostility toward journalists.”

The Television Critics Association also spoke out against the ban: “The Television Critics Association understands that screeners and coverage opportunities are a privilege and not a right. But we condemn any circumstance in which a company takes punitive action against journalists for doing their jobs.”

The Walt Disney Company has since released a statement confirming that the Los Angeles Times blackout is officially over. A spokesperson for Disney clarified on Tuesday afternoon, “We’ve had productive discussions with the newly installed leadership at The Los Angeles Times regarding our specific concerns, and as a result, we’ve agreed to restore access to advance screenings for their film critics.”

Of course, critics weren’t banned from screenings, period. As Rosenberg even stated in her article in the first place, “It’s not as if Disney can prevent critics at the Times, or any other human being, from buying a ticket to its movies, taking notes and writing up what they’ve seen.” But while that’s true, public opinion definitely matters. Many praised DuVernay’s decision to call Disney out. And while people may see Disney films without the urging of awards buzz, seeing these movies nominated for various categories basically every awards season has become somewhat of an expectation. Even more so in the current volatile reshuffling of Hollywood, definitive actions and criticisms against giant corporations like Disney rightly prove to be greatly effective.

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Sheryl Oh often finds herself fascinated (and let's be real, a little obsessed) with actors and their onscreen accomplishments, developing Film School Rejects' Filmographies column as a passion project. She's not very good at Twitter but find her at @sherhorowitz anyway. (She/Her)