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Movie Critics do Black Films a Disservice


Rotten Tomatoes, Metacritic, and IMDb are the ratings you’ll see when you Google a show or a movie. I particularly noticed that when a Black movie is centered around struggle, the ratings Rotten Tomatoes gives, in particular, are pretty high, even if the film isn’t necessarily well-written or captivating. The critics’ ratings of such films are usually higher than that of audience reviews.  

The recent Netflix film, Cut Throat City is a good example of this. While many Black people have voiced that the movie wasn’t worth the watch, Rotten Tomatoes certified it “pretty fresh” with a 70% rating. Metacritic rated it a 67%, IMDb gave the most realistic rating with a 4.8/10. Meanwhile, the audience rating on the Rotten Tomatoes website rests at 40%.

Cut Throat City’s ratings from the Rotten Tomatoes page.

Cut Throat City didn’t sit well with audiences. Many say it was a poor depiction of post-Katrina New Orleans. Aside from the story being anything but captivating —you have rapper T.I. portraying a gangster with vitiligo for no other reason than artistic expression. 

I was bothered by the fact that this subpar movie was able to receive a 70% from a source I deemed credible for reviews. This made me dig a bit deeper into the types of films the site deems worthy of fresh critiques.   

Films like Moonlight and the infamous Precious were high on the Rotten Tomatoes scale with their melodramatic tales of Black adolescence, audience experiences the horrors of the characters’ lives and prays for them to escape their tough situation and emerge triumphantly. Audiences rated these films lower. 

Black cult classics that lack the angle of Black sorrow don’t seem to be given the same grace as their white counterparts. Wikipedia identifies a cult classic as a film that is unpopular within mainstream audiences and often revolutionary or ironically enjoyed. Looking into it, the review site doesn’t seem too fond of Black cult classics, the film Norbit received a 9% even though it is highly quotable and enjoyed by many with an audience rating of 53%, the more favorable Don’t Be a Menace to South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood got a 31% from the site, but a fresh rating from audiences with 80%.

Malcolm & Marie, the recent Netflix film that features Zendaya and John David Washington sent Twitter into a frenzy. Their passionate performances center a couple that performs catharsis by shooting hurtful monologues back and forth in this dialogue-heavy drama. Washington portrays the screenwriter Malcolm who goes on a tangent about how critics review Black films; how they always try to make them political even when there’s nothing political about them. Rotten Tomatoes rated it 59%, making it, well, rotten. Their audience, however, marked it  74%. 

Though I marvel at the eruption of films such as Get Out and Sorry to Bother You (both received over 90% on Rotten Tomatoes), I am skeptical of the reviews because of the underlying messages that make a statement about the Black community.  These include looking at the stigma of talking white and  introducing the idea of the “sunken place.” It’s as if they are scared to give these films anything less than 90% for fear of being called racist since the films are critiques of society.   

I am no stranger to scoping out ratings before I decide to watch a movie. Negative reviews often cloud my judgment as I observe the film. These invalidating reviews often discourage the audience from viewing films that they would have otherwise enjoyed. Though I don’t see film reviews being a thing of the past, I would love to see audience reflections being the catalyst instead of the critics’ reviews. Analyses of the movie-goers ring more true to how most feel about a film. Critics are put on a pedestal that is much too high, especially for it to be the opinion of one person. In the famous words of Jay-Z, “We don’t believe you, you need more people.”

I feel as though these criticisms hurt Black films the most. Like Washington’s character on Malcolm & Marie explains, not everything Black has to be about something bigger. I would love to see the day a Black film can be appreciated just as a film, one that doesn’t have to have a bigger meaning behind it, that doesn’t have to be full of symbolism or metaphors—but rather a film that gets praise just because it is enjoyable.

Corli Jay
Corli Jay
Corli Jay is a freelance writer based in Chicago, IL. Her work primarily focuses on policies that negatively impact the Black community, the community’s resilience, and Chicago’s music scene.
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