The blackout sets 'a dangerous precedent in a time of already heightened hostility toward journalists'
Four of the biggest film critics circles in the country — 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 — have jointly denounced the Walt Disney Company and barred the studio from awards considerations until its media blackout of The Los Angeles Times is “publicly rescinded.”
“It is admittedly extraordinary for a critics’ group, let alone four critics’ groups, to take any action that might penalize film artists for decisions beyond their control,” read a joint statement from the groups, released on Tuesday morning. “But Disney brought forth this action when it chose to punish The Times’ journalists rather than express its disagreement with a business story via ongoing public discussion. Disney’s response should gravely concern all who believe in the importance of a free press, artists included.”
On Nov. 3, The Times published a note online that stated “Walt Disney Co. studios declined to offer The Times advance screenings” of their films in light of the media outlet’s reporting on the company’s business ties with the city of Anaheim, where Disneyland is located. In an initial statement on the matter, the Mouse House claimed The Times “showed a complete disregard for basic journalistic standards.”
The studio later followed up with a lengthier response in regards to the article. “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,'” a statement released on Friday read (via Deadline). “We’ve had a long relationship with The L.A. Times, and we hope they will adhere to balanced reporting in the future.”
“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 statement from the critics circles noted.
The Toronto Film Critics Association followed suit in a statement released later on Tuesday from the group’s president, Peter Howell. “Making this an international protest, we have voted to disqualify Disney’s films from consideration at our Dec. 10 awards meeting unless the blackout is lifted prior to the event,” Howell said. “We fully support press and intellectual freedoms, and we urge Disney to do the same by lifting its ban on The L.A. Times.”
Additional boycotts of Disney films — which include Marvel Studios’ Thor: Ragnarok, Lucasfilm’s Star Wars: The Last Jedi, and Pixar’s Coco — arose in light of the blackout. Entertainment news outlets, like The A.V. Club and Flavorwire, announced their writers won’t attend Disney press screenings until the ban on The Times is lifted.
“I like a lot of movies that come out of the Disney corporate behemoth, even as I find the Marvel formula wearing a little thin and worry that the new Star Wars movies have yet to completely crack either the formula of the original or to discover their own special sauce,” The Washington Post‘s Alyssa Rosenberg, who also won’t be attending Disney press screenings, wrote in a column on Monday. “But I like journalistic independence from corporate influence more. This is a fine price for me to pay for it.”
Joining the boycott, The New York Times issued the following statement: “The New York Times will not attend preview screenings of Disney films until access is restored to The Los Angeles Times. A powerful company punishing a news organization for a story they do not like is meant to have a chilling effect. This is a dangerous precedent and not at all in the public interest.”
Reps for Disney did not immediately respond to EW’s request for comment.
This article has been updated in light of developments.