We've Got Hollywood Covered
|

National Critics Group Slams Variety for ‘Shabby Treatment’ of Freelance Critic Over Carey Mulligan Review

Group calls for trade to remove editors note of apology added after Mulligan complained about review of ”Promising Young Woman“

The National Society of Film Critics has slammed Variety for what it says is the “shabby treatment” of one of the outlet’s freelance critics after he published a review of Carey Mulligan’s performance in “Promising Young Woman” that the trade outlet subsequently walked back with a public apology.

The review from writer Dennis Harvey, which was written at Sundance in 2020 and who is not a member of the NSFC, had sparked online backlash after a rebuke from Mulligan, who said in a New York Times interview in December that the review was “basically saying that I wasn’t hot enough to pull off this kind of ruse.” The outcry led Variety to amend the review with an editors note and apology.

“Variety sincerely apologizes to Carey Mulligan and regrets the insensitive language and insinuation in our review of “Promising Young Woman” that minimized her daring performance,” the editor’s note on the review reads (see a screengrab of the note below).

Photo: Variety

The critics group objected to the addition of the apology during the height of awards season and defended the critic’s characterization of Mulligan elsewhere in the piece, arguing that the note should be removed and that Variety should do more to support its writers.

“Like any journalism, film criticism often displeases those being written about. And, like any journalists, film critics must have the support of their publications when that displeasure, usually coming from people far more powerful than any journalist, is made known — especially when that publication claims to report on the industry those powerful people inhabit,” the statement reads. “It is appalling that, in this instance, Variety chose to side with that power rather than supporting its writer.”

Variety Editor-in-Chief Claudia Eller and a spokesperson for Penske Media did not immediately respond to TheWrap’s request for comment.

The National Society of Film Critics is made up of 60 of the country’s most prominent movie critics, according to its website, including Variety’s own Owen Gleiberman and Peter Debruge, who edited Harvey’s review. The group’s annual awards are among the prestigious film critics awards in the United States.

In his positive review of “Promising Young Woman,” Harvey praised Mulligan’s performance but wrote that she was “a fine actress [but] seems a bit of an odd choice” as the movie’s “many-layered apparent femme fatale” protagonist. The NSFC defended Harvey’s language as an example of the character’s stylized presentation rather than an explicit comment on her appearance or attractiveness.

The group said that Mulligan is within her rights to respond to criticism of the film but felt that an editor should have removed any language it found insensitive prior to its publication. “There are also ways Variety could have acknowledged and responded to Mulligan’s criticism, rather than simply capitulating to it and undermining its own critic in the process,” the group wrote. “The imposition of a subjective value judgment (‘her daring performance’) as a flat editorial perspective, as if it were a matter of inarguable fact rather than opinion, is particularly inappropriate. We believe the editor’s note should be removed.”

Discussion over “Promising Young Woman” comes as critics and media pundits have become more attentive and sensitive to characterizations of women and people of color within media. Emerald Fennell’s “Promising Young Woman” has been a contender in the awards season and picked up four Golden Globe nominations last week.

Read the full note from the National Society of Film Critics below:

We, the members of the National Society of Film Critics, wish to register our alarm at Variety’s shabby treatment of our colleague Dennis Harvey.

On Jan. 26, 2020, Variety published Harvey’s review of the movie Promising Young Woman from the Sundance Film Festival. (Full disclosure: The review was edited by Peter Debruge, Variety’s chief film critic and a member of the NSFC.) While praising the film, Harvey wrote that Carey Mulligan, “a fine actress, seems a bit of an odd choice” as the movie’s “many-layered apparent femme fatale” protagonist, noting distancing aspects of the character’s costuming, hairstyling and vocal delivery. He went on to praise Mulligan’s performance as “skillful, entertaining and challenging, even when the eccentric method obscures the precise message.”

On Dec. 24, 2020, almost a year later and in the thick of awards season, Mulligan noted her objections to Harvey’s review in a New York Times profile: “It felt like it was basically saying that I wasn’t hot enough to pull off this kind of ruse.”

Mulligan, like any artist, is within her rights to respond to criticism of her work, just as we are within our rights to assert that nothing in Harvey’s review — which focuses on the actor’s stylized presentation, not her attractiveness — supports her claim. But differences of opinion in the evaluation of a film or a performance are not at issue here. What concerns us is Variety’s subsequent decision to place an editor’s note at the top of the review: “Variety sincerely apologizes to Carey Mulligan and regrets the insensitive language and insinuation in our review of Promising Young Woman that minimized her daring performance.”

If Variety felt the language in Harvey’s review was insensitive and insinuating, it had the option of working with him to fix that in the editing process before it ran. There are also ways Variety could have acknowledged and responded to Mulligan’s criticism, rather than simply capitulating to it and undermining its own critic in the process. The imposition of a subjective value judgment (“her daring performance”) as a flat editorial perspective, as if it were a matter of inarguable fact rather than opinion, is particularly inappropriate. We believe the editor’s note should be removed.

Like any journalism, film criticism often displeases those being written about. And, like any journalists, film critics must have the support of their publications when that displeasure, usually coming from people far more powerful than any journalist, is made known — especially when that publication claims to report on the industry those powerful people inhabit. It is appalling that, in this instance, Variety chose to side with that power rather than supporting its writer.