Steve McQueen collects “Widows” raves, cries “Racism,” and steps in it


We will know later tonight if “12 Years a Slave” director Steve McQueen has a new hit on his hands with the heist thriller “Widows.”

But we do know he’s rolling in rapturous notices for a decent — not great — genre pic. Almost universal praise for the cast, the direction, etc. — lots of love for Viola Davis, as always. This swooning fool is lucky Daily Beast doesn’t allow comments. Oscars? Really?

McQueen, however, looks at these reviews and sees trouble — “inherent racism” in the way critics address or pay attention to the interracial marriage (Davis/Liam Neeson) at the heart of the story, or the widows of color who drive the plot.

I’ve glanced over my review and others and cannot see what he is talking about. As he gives no examples, it’s a bit of a head -scratcher until you consider the possibility he’s doing a lot of press, sees a lot of white press faces, and figures he’ll get away with a swipe that he doesn’t have to back up. Yeah, I’m saying he’s talking through his arse.

Specifics? Evidence?

I have no doubt that SOMEbody reviewing “Widows” MIGHT have thought it was “daring” or what have you to pair up Viola D. with Liam N. No idea who that might have been. It’s not daring. Not these days. So who is McQueen referring to?

McQueen could make a stronger case declaring that critics all-too-often throw extra love on a filmmaker’s LAST film when her or his next one comes out. Yeah, that happened here. Maybe critics bend over backwards to rave up the work of a talented BLACK director just to prove they’re not racist (in their minds). You could make that case, too. “Grading on the curve,” “benefit of the doubt,” etc.

Without pointing out examples of exactly what he’s talking about, he’s just blowing Fox News-style smoke. Steve McQueen is imagining a “War on ‘Widows'” that doesn’t exist.

But what about “inherent racism” in “Widows” itself? Anybody looking at that?

The one abusive relationship in the film has Jon Bernthal as the abuser. Making a point about Jews, there, Steve?

And how much of a racist Black Male (Brit) stereotype is it for you to make the sex kitten, bombshell character a vavavoom blonde (Elizabeth Debicki)? We all know what Cleavon Little said in “Blazing Saddles,” and the stereotype he was sending up.

This unwarranted attack –remember, overwhelmingly positive reviews were bestowed on “Widows” — and statement of the obvious (criticism is still mostly white and mostly male) brings to mind Mindy Kaling’s knee-jerk blast about reviews of “Ocean’s Eight.”

Some of us remember the various tirades Spike Lee has gone on over the years whenever one of his movies was widely panned, or even his accusations that theater chains and theater managers were intentionally under-reporting ticket sales to his epic, “Malcolm X.” These actions grabbed headlines and attention for his movies, even during his “Spike can’t make a good movie anymore” years. He, of course, had earned the right to complain. And no, your average 28 year old reviewer wouldn’t know that.

I like that this Indiewire piece (read the comments) summons up Brie Larson’s hilarious “white male critics” attack/defense for “A Wrinkle in Time.” Say what now? She was making a point about perspective, a “Venus and Mars” take on how “old white men” don’t get a movie girls embraced, the soft and squishy and dramatically-inept but politically-correct as-all-get-out “Wrinkle,” directed by Ava DuVernay, a veteran of a thousand jobs in Hollywood, none of which suggested she was a gifted film storyteller.

No Brie, an Academy Award for an indie thriller doesn’t earn you a pass when it comes to intellectually rigorous arguments any more than it immunizes you from taking the money for “Skull Island.”

And no, criticism is not diverse and never has been. Thanks to the collapse of most of the decent paying gigs with the disappearance of legacy media, that’s not going to change. Attempts by Rottentomatoes and others to anoint Major New Female/People of Color voices have failed for a variety of reasons, the ugliest being their anointed ones just don’t have it.

I reviewed “Widows” the way I pick critics I read — on merit. Race doesn’t figure into it on that scale. It’s a movie by movie, critic by critic “content/value/talent” thing that doesn’t pull back far enough to fret, “Well, why are so many critics this race or that gender?” or “Why are so many people in film Jewish 100 years after ‘An Empire of Their Own’?” or “Why is Michael Peña the only Hispanic male to land acting work?”

Because colorblindness has always been the goal. And pulling some random accusation out of your butt over a movie that’s, if anything, OVERpraised, is just stepping in it.


About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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1 Response to Steve McQueen collects “Widows” raves, cries “Racism,” and steps in it

  1. Damn, this is why I love your blog. You tell it as it is in no uncertain terms. McQueen is just stirring the pot for easy press. Keep ’em coming and godspeed.

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