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Armond White Reportedly Ousted From New York Film Critics Circle

Photo of Tambay A. Obenson By Tambay A. Obenson | Shadow and Act January 13, 2014 at 2:00PM

Armond White Reportedly Ousted From New York Film Critics Circle
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Armond White

UPDATE: This just in - according to The New York Times, the New York Film Critics Circle (NYFCC) has expelled Armond White from the organization after last week's NYFCC event, during which White was accused of heckling Steve McQueen after he took the stage to collect his Best Director honor - an accusation White has vehemently denied, by the way, as you can read in the official statement he released after news broke of the incident.

Per the The New York Times, their source for the story shared the following: “They were repeat offenders... Action had to be taken.

The "They" in that quote includes Lou Lumenick, who has been suspended for a year for "revealing the tallies of votes, which the circle said went against its bylaws."

Armond White wasn't as lucky however; his punishment was not a suspension, but an ousting - meaning, he's gone for good! Something tells me that this isn't the end of this narrative. I'll expect a response from White soon enough.

For those just joining us, feel free to catch up on all you missed below, starting with the most recent update (before today's).

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UPDATE: Armond White has released an official statement on this matter, to, in effect, clear his name. The Hollywood Reporter has the exclusive on the statement. Here's a snip of it:

The press has accustomed itself to treating me as a bete noir--so much so that eavesdroppers at the event continually misrepresent my behavior, even to the point of repeating such lies as distorting my cheer for Robert De Niro's The Good Shepherd into "heckling" and that I "made Annette Bening cry"--both false allegations. Among some Circle members and media folk, there is personal, petty interest in seeing me maligned. I guess the awards themselves don't matter. It's a shameless attempt to squelch the strongest voice that exists in contemporary criticism. Right now former NYFCC Chairman Joshua Rothkopf, acting Chairman Stephen Whitty, Karen Durbin, David Denby, Rex Reed, Dana Stevens and others have arranged a Communist-style special "Emergency Meeting" supposedly in the interest of legislating "decorum"--a meeting based entirely upon something that none of them actually heard and one that is really intended to purge me from the Circle. Only David Edelstein, with whom I've had past public disputes, showed the common courtesy to inquire if the rumors were true.

You can read the rest in full on their website HERE.

UPDATE: The plot thickens! Thank to our Indiewire colleague Thompson on Hollywood, Armond White has apparently addressed this issue, in an email, stating, when asked about his reported outburst: 

"Wrong question, John. I was not in a position or vicinity to yell at McQueen. It was talk among my tablemates. The Variety and Wire lines are outright misquotes and lies. You might want to ask why the gutter bloggers continue to misquote and distort the event and NYFCC history."

Thompson on Hollywood adds that White feels strongly that the comments he made (whatever they were) should have remained amongst colleagues at his table, and were apparently not to be shared publicly.

Too late unfortunately. 

The news of his heckling was first reported by Variety, followed by other mainstream industry websites, like Deadline, The Hollywood Reporter, etc. 

It's a bit confusing, because, first he says he didn't make the statements he is said to have made; but then he says that whatever he shared at his table, should've remained at his table, and wasn't meant for others to hear and share. So obviously he must have said something, right? At least that's how I'm reading it.

Also, the fact that the chair of the NYFCC felt compelled to apologize to Steve McQueen and Fox Searchlight in a formal letter (see below, my last update), suggests that the Chair obviously felt something was worth apologizing for.

Like I said, the plot thickens.

UPDATE: Courtesy of Deadline, an apology to Steve McQueen and promise of disciplinary action for Armond White, all in a letter penned by New York Film Critics Circle Awards (NYCC) chair Joshua Rothkopf

Read immediately below:

It truly was a wonderful night: We felt like we were in the presence of something truly historic, with Mr. Belafonte’s exquisite presentation and Mr. McQueen’s elegant words of acceptance.

Unfortunately, the moment was slightly marred, and I’d like to address that formally.

On behalf of the New York Film Critics Circle, I apologize sincerely for the crass bit of heckling Mr. McQueen encountered. I’m mortified to learn that this was from one of our own members. We are taking disciplinary action.

I’m especially pained that this occurred in your case. Rarely do we receive thank-you notes, as Steve sent us after the vote. Moreover, his speech showed a deep understanding of the history of our award winners: an honored group in which he stands as an equal.

Please forward our apology on to him.

Thank you, your talent and your team for making the night a special one,

Joshua Rothkopf, 2013 Chair, NYFCC

What kind of disciplinary action will be taken? I'm sure we'll know more about that soon enough. 

One thing that I did find interesting is that nowhere in Rothkopf's letter did he mention Armond White's name. I guess he didn't have to. I'm sure Fox Searchlight and McQueen know exactly who he's referring to.

So might this be the end of Armond White's NYFCC membership?

For those just joining us, read the original post that started all of this below, which was published at 9am this morning:

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Apparently, Armond White maybe thought that he was at a Steve McQueen "roast" last night, instead of the 79th annual New York Film Critics Circle Awards.

In short, McQueen took the stage to accept his Best Director award for 12 Years A Slave, presented by Harry Belafonte, when Armond White reportedly shouted from his table at the back of the room: “You’re an embarrassing doorman and garbage man. Fuck you. Kiss my ass” - this is according to Variety.

And when McQueen thanked the New York Film Critics Circle for the award, White reportedly hissed “pulease.

McQueen either didn't hear White, or, if he did, he just ignored him, because he apparently didn't acknowledge any of it, as he continued with his acceptance speech.

We highlighted White's disgust with 12 Years A Slave, in his review last October, as you might recall, in which he called it a "repugnant experience" he wished he'd never had. Maybe it shouldn't have been a surprise that White didn't care for the movie; after all, it won't be the first time that he's critically-obliterated a film that's seemingly universally-loved. It's humorously expected. And given the celebration that has been critical and audience reaction to 12 Years A Slave, a literary thrashing of the film by White was a near-certainty. And he certainly delivered in his review.

Here's a sample of some of the more incendiary lines from the review, which, by the way, was titled "Dud of the Week; 12 Years A Slave," prepping you for what's to come:

- Depicting slavery as a horror show, McQueen has made the most unpleasant American movie since William Friedkin’s1973 The Exorcist. That’s right, 12 Years a Slave belongs to the torture porn genre with HostelThe Human Centipede and the Saw franchise but it is being sold (and mistaken) as part of the recent spate of movies that pretend “a conversation about race.”

- This is not part of social or historical enlightenment – the too-knowing race-hustlers behind 12 Years a Slave, screenwriter John Ridley and historical advisor Henry Louis Gates, are not above profiting from the misfortunes of African-American history as part of their own career advancement.

- These tortures might satisfy the resentment some Black people feel about slave stories (“It makes me angry”), further aggravating their sense of helplessness, grievance–and martyrdom. It’s the flipside of the aberrant warmth some Blacks claim in response to the superficial uplift of The Help and The Butler. And the perversion continues among those whites and non-Blacks who need a shock fest like 12 Years a Slave to rouse them from complacency with American racism and American history.

- The fact that McQueen’s harshness was trending among Festivalgoers (in Toronto, Telluride and New York) suggests that denial still obscures the history of slavery: Northup’s travail merely make it possible for some viewers to feel good about feeling bad (as wags complained about Spielberg’s Schindler’s List as an “official” Holocaust movie–which very few people went to see twice). McQueen’s fraudulence further accustoms moviegoers to violence and brutality.

- And Alfre Woodard as a self-aware Black plantation mistress rapidly sinks into unrescuable psychosis. Ironically, Woodard’s performance is weird comic relief–a neurotic tribute to Butterfly McQueen’s frivolous Hollywood inanity but from a no-fun perspective. By denying Woodard a second appearance, director McQueen proves his insensitivity. He avoids any hopefulness, preferring to emphasize scenes devoted to annihilating Nyong’o’s body and soul.

- The egregious inhumanity of 12 Years a Slave (featuring the most mawkish and meaningless fade-out in recent Hollywood history) only serves to perpetuate Hollywood’s disenfranchisement of Black people’s humanity.

- Steve McQueen’s post-racial art games and taste for cruelty play into cultural chaos. The story in 12 Years a Slave didn’t need to be filmed this way and I wish I never saw it.

And there's a lot more where that came from.

What's most curious to me about his reaction is that I actually didn't find the film as harsh, repugnant and torturous as he did. In fact, as I've shared in previous posts, I believe that there are still even more brutal (physically and mentally) stories to be told about slavery. Although, I've also said that there's a rich history here (of the Transatlantic Slave Trade), full of a myriad of tales of all kinds, mostly untapped, which could be fodder for countless films to last many lifetimes. And I certainly hope that 12 Years A Slave won't be the final word on slavery movies in America, but instead the one that encourages a much closer, more comprehensive look at those many momentous years in American (actually, global) history, where numerous untold tales are currently buried - tales of the inhumanity endured, for sure, but also of the triumphs, the loves, the hopes, dreams, traditions and mythologies rooted in the cultures from which our ancestors were removed, and everything else between the extremes, whether historical fact, or creative fiction.

But I should note that White is notorious for his outbursts during the annual New York Film Critics Circle Awards (NYFCC). You might recall, 3 years ago, when the famously contrarian film critic hosted the NYFCC ceremony and used the opportunity to further verbally obliterate films and filmmakers he didn't care for that year. 

And again, during the 2012 NYFCC event, while White didn't host, he wasn't shy about voicing his opinions from his table in the audience, for example, yelling "The Good Shepherd!" while Robert De Niro was speaking, and also yelling out the name of the second black actress to be nominated for an Oscar ("Ethel Waters!") twice while Viola Davis was on the stage. 

However, last night's condemnation of McQueen is the harshest I've heard, since I started following the NYFCC annual event, with White in attendance. And even though I wasn't as enthralled with the film (12 Years A Slave) as others were (although I didn't loathe it anywhere as much as White did), I'd say White was waaaay out of line last night. 

But maybe his outbursts are par for the course at these NYFCC awards celebrations, and are expected as simply "part of the show," kind of like a "roast," and everyone is "in" on the joke. 

Or maybe not.

Let's wait and see what kind of blowback white receives from this (if any), other than articles condemning his behavior. 

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