Today, the New York Film Critics Circle voted to expel Armond White, a former three-time chairman, over comments he made at their annual awards dinner. (New York Post critic Lou Lumenick, accused of breaching the Circle’s charter by revealing details of their internal voting, was suspended for a year.) As Criticwire reported, there is some confusion over what White said and what was said by his guests, but Vanity Fair blogger Katey Rich saw White yell “White liberal bullshit!” as Steve McQueen stepped onto the stage to receive the NYFCC’s award for Best Director, and Slate’s Dana Stevens, who was at White’s table for much of the night, says he and his guests were consistently loud and disruptive.
At Entertainment Weekly, NYFCC member Owen Gleiberman, has more:
I’ve known Armond White casually, as a fellow critic, since the early ’90s, and seeing him around at screening rooms, movie-industry parties, and, yes, awards dinners, what I’ve always observed about him is that as contentious as he can be on the page, he has always come off as a strikingly friendly person — not only to me, but even to critics he’s bashed. For all his bluster, he’s got a hearty, understated demeanor, a twinkle in his eye, and a gentle jolly chuckle. You can talk to him about a film he’s disemboweled on the page (one that you loved), and he’ll say what he thinks, but the words always come out a lot mellower than what he wrote. I suppose that could make the more forceful torrents of his writing look scarily “compartmentalized,” but the way I’ve always seen it, Armond cared, to the point of anger, about art, but he was a civil and even gracious person because he recognized that even the people whose work he didn’t respect (filmmakers or critics) were human beings. When he went kamikaze on the page, he was acting like the critic version of a performance artist, transforming his opinions into scalding drama (which is part of what critics do).
Yet this all began to come crashing down at the New York Film Critics Circle awards dinner back in 2011, when White was chairman. Emceeing that year’s awards, he insulted several of the winners from the podium (introducing Tony Kushner to present the Best Picture award to The Social Network, he said, “Maybe he can explain why it won”), and then, last year, when he was no longer chairman, he heckled from his table in the same way that he did this year (at the time, the object of his wrath was Michael Moore). And now that he has done it again, what’s clear is that Armond White’s “contrarian” impulses have crossed the line from being things that he thinks into a depressingly established pattern of reckless uncivil behavior. Ultimately, the two things have nothing to do with each other. White has the right to believe, and say in print, anything he wants. But disrupting a public event is a squalid form of acting out that has no defense.
I’m on record (or at least, on Twitter) saying I thought this was the wrong move, but then I’m not a member of the NYFCC and my personal contact with White has been fleeting. There’s no doubt that White’s expulsion will further stoke the suspicions of those who think he’s being singled out for his views — for being “the strongest voice in contemporary criticism,” as he put it himself — and not his behavior. But it’s possible to agree with, or at least see merit in, some of White’s views on 12 Years a Slave and hold that yelling obscenities in public is not the right way to express them. (It doesn’t help that White, who has accused Stevens and Vulture’s Bilge Ebiri of being “haters” and saying they lack the intellectual fortitude to debate him, took objection to being confronted by McQueen at a Fox Searchlight party in December, telling the BBC, “A more experienced filmmaker understands what the event was about – and it is not about arguing with a journalist.”) Although there have been plenty of voices calling, some with rather too much enthusiasm, for White’s ouster, it’s a sad day for all involved.