Brie Larson is sick of being interviewed by ‘white dudes’

The ‘Captain Marvel’ star is campaigning for more diversity in the press pool. Will it work?

Brie Larson: ‘I don’t need a 40-year-old white dude to tell me what didn’t work about A Wrinkle in Time’. Photograph: Noam Galai/WireImage

Brie Larson: ‘I don’t need a 40-year-old white dude to tell me what didn’t work about A Wrinkle in Time’. Photograph: Noam Galai/WireImage

 

Brie Larson, star of the upcoming Captain Marvel, has always seemed like a good egg. Since securing grade-A status after winning an Oscar for Room, she has worked for survivors of sexual assault and has become an active force in the Times Up movement.

Now she’s making efforts to increase diversity in the press pool.

“About a year ago, I started paying attention to what my press days looked like and the critics reviewing movies, and noticed it appeared to be overwhelmingly white male,” she said.

With this in mind, Larson personally selected Keah Brown – a woman of colour with cerebral palsy – as her interviewer for a Marie Claire feature. Brown noted that: “Nobody usually wants to take a chance on a disabled journalist.”

Larson made a rigorous attempt to confirm that her eyes weren’t deceiving her. There really did seem to be a bias towards the male and the pale.

“I spoke to Dr Stacy Smith at the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, who put together a study to confirm that,” she said. “Moving forward, I decided to make sure my press days were more inclusive.”

It will be interesting to see what effect she can have on the make-up of the busy Captain Marvel junkets. Such operations function on the same scale as the D-Day landings. Several floors of a luxury hotel are given over to videographers, make-up people, caterers, holding rooms and even space for the odd print journalist.

I do not have any technical data to compare with that gathered by Dr Smith, but the demographics of such operations vary depending upon where you’re sitting. For such large commercial features, much of the energy is now directed towards shorter video slots – where a star is asked “tell me about your role” while sitting beside the poster – and those jobs do skew towards younger journalists and tend to be a little more diverse.

Longer print interviews tend to go to older journalists.

Then again, a female-oriented magazine such as Marie Claire will usually send a woman for such a job. (A quick, unscientific search on the magazine’s website found women writing the first 10 interviews that appeared.)

There is almost certainly a bias towards men in those interviews carried out for big serious newspapers. Larson is quite correct to point out that journalists with disabilities are conspicuous by their absence in all categories.

As Larson has noted before, a larger bias occurs in the area of film criticism. Last year she caused some commotion by implying that the mixed reviews for Ava DuVernay’s A Wrinkle in Time had something to do with the age and race of the reviewers.

“I don’t need a 40-year-old white dude to tell me what didn’t work about A Wrinkle in Time,” Larson said. “It wasn’t made for him! I want to know what it meant to women of colour, biracial women, to teen women of colour.”

As a few veteran female critics politely pointed out, maniacs on the internet have long been telling them that they shouldn’t be reviewing comic-book films because they “weren’t made for them”.

But Larson’s more general point is undeniable. A terrifying survey last year confirmed that around 78 percent of film criticism was by men in the US (we politely note that it’s 50-50 in The Irish Times). The situation for racial minorities was no better.

There are issues with Larson’s approach. Most periodicals are wary of allowing an actor to demand a specific interviewer for a profile. Such arrangements do nothing to promote disinterested questioning.

Her efforts to increase diversity are nonetheless welcome. “This could be my form of activism: doing a film that can play all over the world and be in more places than I can be physically,” she said of Captain Marvel.

There are worse ways of flogging superheroes.

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