Mickey Mouse and the free press in Hollywood showdown

[Update: Disney has ended the ban.]

In a world full of corporate phonies, few are as fraudulent as Mickey Mouse and the company that’s amassed a fortune and immense corporate power and isn’t afraid to use it to intimidate a free press into submission.

The Disney Company stepped in it, however, when it ordered retaliation against the Los Angeles Times, which had the courage to publish an investigation into a too-cozy relationship between the company and the city of Anaheim, which has yielded whatever tax breaks the company wants at Disneyland.

Its writers and critics were denied access to press screenings of Thor: Ragnarok as punishment, a severe penalty in a market like Hollywood.

If people didn’t know about the investigation, they know about it now because Disney’s flame-thrower response has raised the ire of film critics around the nation.

“Walt Disney’s ban on LA Times critics and writers from press screenings of Thor: Ragnarok (and presumably the next two Disney movies) wasn’t just a petty bit of retaliation and a frankly dangerous action from ‘one of the good guys,'” writes Scott Mendelson, who covers Hollywood for Forbes. “It was a shockingly shortsighted action, even if the original reporting justified anger, that turned a local controversy into a national conversation. I’m frankly surprised that the smart folks at the top didn’t see that ‘Streisand Effect’ coming.”

Washington Post pop culture critic Alyssa Rosenberg says she won’t review Thor or any other Disney production.

She likes Disney. She just likes journalism’s independence from corporate pressure more, she writes.

Is this the end-all, be-all of journalistic crises? Probably not. It’s not as if Disney can prevent critics at the Times, or any other human being, from buying a ticket to its movies, taking notes and writing up what they’ve seen. Phones may be increasingly verboten in movie theaters (as they should be), but pen and paper are still perfectly legitimate things to use while a film is playing.

The bigger issue is that the later a critic’s review of a movie goes up, the harder it can be for that review to land a coveted spot among the Google search results that guarantee a solid chunk of traffic to a piece. There’s a reason that all of your favorite critics rush to, say, get “Game of Thrones” reviews up as soon as possible after an episode ends, even if that means fast-forwarding to the end of the episode in HBO Go and writing that up (this is not something I personally do, but I’m aware that some outlets do it). The spike of readers from Google can help sustain our jobs. For movies, the race is less intense, but there’s still a real advantage to being able to post a review once an embargo lifts, or, as was the case for the Los Angeles Times, to include a film in a holiday-season wrap-up. These aren’t things that it’s possible to do without access to an advance screening.

Today, 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 issued a joint statement saying they have voted to “disqualify Disney films from year-end awards consideration until said blackout is publicly rescinded.”

It’s not just the film critic community that is being pushed around.

Last December, a market analyst downgraded Disney stock. He’s been frozen out, NBC reports.

“They won’t return our phone calls or emails or take our questions on a conference call and when they do analyst meetings they invite everyone but us,” said Rich Greenfield from the firm BTIG. “This appears to be a recurring policy for the way [Disney CEO] Bob Iger handles critics. It goes all the way to Bob himself.”

Iger, by the way, is reportedly considering running for president.

  • Rob

    Kind of a Goofy move on Disney’s part

    • BReynolds33

      I see what you did there.

  • Guest

    As Shakespeare said “Methinks thou dost protest too much”

  • Erick

    Sounds like a job for Brad Paisley. . . .

  • Al
    • Gary Leatherman

      He is and his movies are really really good too (check out Boy and Hunt for the Wilderpeople) I am reserving judgement for his foray into the Hollywood blockbuster but am hopeful.

      • Al

        All of his stuff is so good. Loved “What We Do in the Shadows.”

  • KariBemidji

    Take some time and read the story about Anaheim and Disney. It’s brilliant. How does a city stand up to a company? Especially when that company is the sole reason anyone goes to Anaheim.

  • BReynolds33

    A question, if I may – a legitimate one, not being sarcastic.

    Do people actually read movie reviews? I’ve never read one. (Nor have I read music reviews, book reviews, etc.)

    • kevins

      Not I.

    • Erick

      A good review/critique can inform and deepen an appreciation for a work of art. I would recommend giving one a try sometime.

      • BReynolds33

        I actually think I might. Why not, right?

    • wjc

      Yes, they do. Hence the popularity of sites like http://rottentomatoes.com.

      In addition to what Erick said, a lot of people don’t really want to shell out good money for a real stinker. (though plenty of people don’t care.)

      • BReynolds33

        But Rotten Tomatoes is rated by people, not critics, right? Or is it both?

        • Rob

          Critics are people too

        • Gary Leatherman

          both. one rating aggregates the anointed ones and the other by the hoi polloi

        • wjc

          The rottentomatoes score is based on critics. Some critics are categorized as “Top Critics”, but readers’ opinions are not included.

          Flixster includes a viewer rating.

    • Yeah, I read them. I won’t even rent a Netflix DVD is it’s only gotten 1 star in the Strib or PiPress. Why would I want to waste my time on crappy movies if I trust the intelligence of the critic? I value my Saturday nights.

      Same with restaurants.

      • BReynolds33

        I’ll trust star rating type reviews… from people. Restaurants I like get poor reviews, movies, music, etc. The ones I tend not to like are always super high rated. Maybe I just don’t “get it?”

        • Quite often, I’ll call up reviews while I’m watching a movie or after I watch it to see whether it matches what I’m seeing. Also, in terms of character, plot and development, a good review can call attention to something that I otherwise might miss, since I’m not a film expert, but I like to think a little bit while watching them.

          Most all of my movie watching is at home. Since Aurora, I don’t go to theaters.

    • Rob

      Yow. Then how do you get info as to whether something might be worth watching, listening to or eating? Are you a total trial and error type?

      • BReynolds33

        Friends, usually. Twitter. Word of mouth.

    • Joseph

      I do read the movie reviews, mostly the Strib and P-Press (and Cube Critics here at MPR). I want to see if a movie is worth the $10+ price of admission, and also my time. If it gets negative reviews and/or 2-stars or less, and I still am curious to see the movie just for funzies, I’ll wait for it to come out on Netflix or get it for free from my local library. Of course, if the fancy movie reviewers say its lousy, but my friends on Facebook are saying its awesome, I’m going to trust my friends (who share similar tastes to me) over the professional film reviewers who tend to get a bet snooty sometimes.

      I don’t bother with book/music/restaurant formal reviews – for those I just turn to Facebook and see what my friends say.

  • Jerry

    Slight correction: Rosenberg says she won’t review Disney productions *in advance*. It sounds like she will still be reviewing them:

    “what feels best to me is to show solidarity with the critics at the Los Angeles Times and to see movies under the same conditions that they do”

  • MikeB

    Collective action works

  • jon

    Public domain is expanding again Jan. 1, 2018… one year closer to Mickey mouse being public domain…

    2024, if nothing changes… expect disney to start buying senators and representatives soon… and every bit of bad press along the way makes it a bit more expensive to get those senators and congressmen…

    • Rob

      When it comes to exerting undue influence over our political and economic systems, Mickey will find it tough to get over on the Googles and Apples of the world

  • Al