LA Times readers where wondering: why no coverage of Thor: Ragnorak, the film that was about to win the weekend box office battle? And where were the other Disney films in the Times coverage? The Times explained: “This year, Walt Disney Co. studios declined to offer The Times advance screenings, citing what it called unfair coverage of its business ties with Anaheim.” Disney didn’t just ban the Times because it felt it was portrayed unflatteringly. No, Disney went further and said the Times story was fake news. (Interestingly, Disney president Bob Iger briefly served on the business advisory council for President Donald Trump, the “fake news” accusation king.) The New York Times and other major media outlets joined in a boycott of Disney until the ban was lifted, and Disney lifted the ban.
Here’s the deal though: Star Wars: The Last Jedi is coming out soon, and these media outlets would have needed plenty of fortitude to forego an invitation to screen the film early and write their reviews. Who would win in a real stand-off? This time even director Ava DuVernay stood with the journalists, despite the fact that Disney is due to release her newest movie A Wrinkle in Time in March. But Disney was flexing its muscles: maybe it doesn’t need mainstream journalists to review its films anymore? Just as Trump decided he could win without the establishment?
Saluting the film journalists standing up for one another. Standing with you. https://t.co/M9Fs22vv4L
— Ava DuVernay (@ava) November 7, 2017
Disney said in a statement explaining the ban: “Despite our sharing numerous indisputable facts with the reporter, several editors, and the publisher over many months, the Times moved forward with a biased and inaccurate series, wholly driven by a political agenda.” That’s the prototypical “fake news” shout out.
With Star Wars — if not its smaller films — Disney has an edge: the company knows people will watch the new Star Wars film whether the Times writes about it or not. But will people keep buying the Times if it doesn’t cover Disney? It’s one of the major questions of our disrupted information age — where’s the power? And how much disintermediation can the the big entertainment companies get away with? If the power to crown winners and losers has really shifted directly to Rotten Tomatoes and the people, then professional critics may be the VHS tape of the future. After all, the influencer economy says it’s better if The Biebs, JLaw and LeBron James like your movie than if a scribe out of Vassar with a film degree thinks it’s worthy.