It’s well-documented that CityArts film critic and NYFCC member Armond White is not a fan of 12 Years a Slave – or most critically-acclaimed (aka “good”) films, for that matter. (On the other hand, he loved Grown Ups 2 and once cited Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance as a better movie than Zero Dark Thirty.)
His scathing review of 12 Years of Slave, in which he calls the movie torture porn akin to The Human Centipede and accuses screenwriter John Ridley of “profiting from the misfortunes of African-American history” in order to further his career, spawned various think-pieces from the film reviewing community.
White himself has been called a troll by other film journalists and some diehard movie fans – that he’s contrarian just for the sake of being contrarian, that were it not for Armond White then Toy Story 3 would have a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes (the injustice!). Whether or not White actually believes in some of the things he says, I would argue that there is value in what he’s doing. 12 Years a Slave was my favorite movie of 2013 and I wholeheartedly disagree with White’s assessment of the film, but how boring is it when a movie is universally accepted by the masses – no questions asked. A dissenting opinion here or there, even for a movie like 12 Years a Slave, challenges people’s perception of a film and forces them to really consider why they like the film they like.
Unfortunately, White took it one-hundred steps too far at last night’s New York Film Critics Circle Awards.
Harry Belafonte, who was presenting the Best Director award to Steve McQueen, gave a rather beautiful speech about the history and significance of African-Americans in U.S. cinema.
The most moving moment of the ceremony, though, came after Belafonte was introduced, stepped up to the stage with a cane while receiving a standing ovation, and then delivered the speech of the night in presenting the best director prize to 12 Years a Slave’s McQueen. Noting that, over the course of his lifetime, people of color have been categorized as “colored,” then “Negro,” then “black” and now “African-American,” he said the abiding question for him and others who look like him has been, “Who am I? What am I?” He said the cinema has not always provided a helpful answer to that question. The Birth of a Nation, the first feature film, showed blacks as rapists and abusers, absent of soul, intelligence and desire, and Tarzan, the first film he ever saw in a theater, depicted them as little more than savages. “I didn’t want to be an African,” Belafonte recalled. “Now, I can say, in my 87th year of life, I am overjoyed to have seen Steve McQueen step into this space and give us a film that touches the depths of who we are as a people.” Belafonte addressed McQueen: “Even if you never do anything else, many in your tribe — many in the world — are deeply grateful.” As the room rose in a standing ovation, led by Fruitvale Station’s Jordan, McQueen, in tears, took the stage, kissed Belafonte’s hand and patted his chest. [The Hollywood Reporter]
You can listen to an audio recording of Belafonte’s speech here.
Variety reported that, once McQueen got on stage, Armond White proceeded to yell, “You’re an embarrassing doorman and garbage man! Fuck you! Kiss my ass.”
Joshua Rothkopf, chairman of the NYFCC, issued an apology to McQueen earlier today: “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.” He also mentioned that disciplinary action was being taken, although he didn’t give specifics.
Armond White defended himself, saying, “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.”
In any case, this isn’t the first time White has made disparaging remarks about someone at the NYFCC awards. He’s heckled Annette Bening, Michelle Williams, Robert De Niro, and Viola Davis just in the past two years.