The Utah Film Critics Association announced their annual awards today. Frankly, I wasn't going to report on it, less because I don't care about what critics in Utah think but because enough with the awards already. But then my friend Scott Renshaw, a critic for the Salt Lake City Weekly, pointed me to this:
And that, I thought, was worth writing about.
If you haven't been following the awards season -- and God bless you if you haven't -- Alfonso Cuaron's Gravity has finished a narrow second with many critics' organizations, or in the case of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, tied for first with Spike Jonze's Her. Apparently, Utah's is the first to hand Gravity an outright win.
Why is that? I have no idea. Apart from Renshaw and the Salt Lake Tribune's Sean Means, I don't think I know any members of the UFCA, and I certainly wasn't in the room when they were voting. But Ryan Adams, who posted the results on Awards Daily, seems to have a pretty good idea.
"Fun fact:" he wrote. "Utah's population is 2% black."
That, as far as I can tell, is true. And though I don't know most of the members of the UFCA, let's assume that they, like virtually every critical body in the country, are largely white and male. Is this a problem? Absolutely. Does it have anything to do with them preferring Gravity to 12 Years a Slave?
I have no idea. And Ryan Adams (no relation) gave no reason to suspect he does either, although the obvious implication is that it does. Insofar as I can tell, Awards Daily is not in the habit of providing regional demographics with every awards announcement.
.@SamuelAAdams Defensive white people freak me out, but nonetheless, I did not write that but I did delete the line.
— Sasha Stone (@AwardsDaily) December 20, 2013
As Stone later made clear, the "defensive white person" in this scenario is me. (Click through for more back and forth between Stone and myself if you have time you desperately need to waste.)
I am white, to be sure, and defensive often enough -- my therapist and I are working on it -- but since I wasn't attacked, there's nothing for me to defend, except perhaps the honor of a group of critics who committed the cardinal sin of handing 12 Years a Slave four second-place finishes and voting Chiwetel Ejiofor Best Actor.
I think 12 Years a Slave, which I ranked second on my Indiewire poll ballot, is a great movie, and Gravity is, well, not. But many of my respected colleagues love Gravity, and a few of them have serious issues with 12 Years a Slave. I don't think Gravity is one of the best movies of this or any year, but it's a defensible choice, and one that can easily be attributed to reasons other than the race of the people who voted. Yes, Utah is an overwhelmingly white state. But I know that Renshaw, for one, grew up in California. Life, and journalism, being what they are, I'd bet a significant percentage of the UFCA's members hail from out of state as well. Even they didn't, there's no reason to assume every resident of the state is auditioning for an day-player part on Big Love.
Look, tempers get short and angles get slim this late in the year -- I get that. But slipping in snide observations without bothering to make an argument perpetuates the worst stereotypes about coastal elitism. People's opinions about art differ for an infinite range of reasons, and in the case of a simple ballot, there's no way to know what those reasons are. Without actual information to the contrary, it seems only fair to give the UFCA the same respect on would afford to any other critics organization.
That second-place screenplay finish for The Way Way Back, on the other hand -- WTF was that about?