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How Not To Write About Movies

Illustration for article titled How Not To Write About Movies
Photo: Mark Lennihan (AP)

Black Panther is the biggest hit of 2018 and stands poised to become one of the five highest grossing movies in the history of this continent. It’s a rare movie that serves as both an artistic and financial success and has absolutely destroyed any preconceived boardroom notions about a movie with a nearly all-black cast and directed by a black man having limited commercial appeal. Personally, I liked it because it had BATTLE RHINOS in it. But I think we’re all missing the REAL story here, and that is: Is Black Panther a WIN for Disney?

There isn’t a place in the world less artistically meaningful than a shareholders’ meeting. And yet…


That’s Sean Fennessey, who by day serves as editor-in-chief of The Ringer, but at night leaps into a phone booth, grabs a safari outfit and bullhorn, and becomes… THE MOVIE KNOWER. What qualifies Fennessey to opine, at length, at the inside machinations of this industry? Here he is on the Longform podcast explaining his credentials:

I’m doing it because Bill (Simmons) was like, “You should do it… This is what you’re interested in and it’s stupid that you don’t do this.” And I was always very like, “I don’t really know anything.” And then the longer I started to live out there I started to learn things and then I started to feel like, “How come people don’t see this?”

Indeed. How come no one sees what this man sees? He lives in LOS ANGELES, people. And has for, like, a few years now! I hope Fennessey keeps a framed certificate of his L.A. residency on a wall behind his desk, which is presumably festooned with Tom Cruise bobblehead dolls.

Anyway, Fennessey’s column about Black Panther is a lukewarm Bloomberg Business-style shit salad that includes tossed-off hyperboles such as this one:

…no young director has ever possessed the capital that (Ryan) Coogler has right now. Not black filmmaker—any filmmaker. Not Coppola after The Godfather, not Spielberg after Jaws, not Lucas after Star Wars, not Cameron after Titanic.

RYAN COOGLER TOPS MY TRADE VALUE RANKINGS! We can quibble with whether or not the above passage is true (it isn’t), but that’s just falling into the trap. Even if you could scientifically rank directors by Imaginary Hollywood Capital, you would simply be taking the already insufferable circle-jerk discussion around box office figures into a new, astoundingly vacuous dimension. Which Fennessey is not afraid to do!

The major studios are casually known as the Big Six: Warner Bros., Universal, Fox, Columbia, Paramount, and Disney. But these delineations don’t accurately reflect what Disney has managed to do in the past five years. Here’s a look at the stock price in that time.


I’m not gonna look at that chart because I love myself, but I’m glad someone finally had the GUTS to read the tea leaves properly and explain to the world that the real winner of Black Panther is THE MARKET. Disney IS the monoculture now. By my count, they have at least five of what I consider to be BLUE CHIP movie franchises. I watched tape of Black Panther to confirm this.

My favorite scene in Black Panther is Shuri’s tour of Wakandan tech, a kind of updated James Bond-ian strut with Q through a Hall of Cool Shit. Look at these sick kicks! Check out this sweet Lexus with automated driving pod! Observe my energy-channeling vibranium super-suit with retractable necklace tech!


Okay, I’m back with you now. That scene was awesome.

Now picture [Disney CEO Bob] Iger wandering that same hall, gallivanting among his collection of precious IP.


No. NO. FUCK YOU. You ruined that scene for me, just now, with your weird-ass wet dream about a rich pud crowing over his IP.

For children, this is a glory, as satisfying a time as there has ever been. None of these movies is rated R, all are interconnected to a world in which the young audience has been investing, and each one comes gilded with merchandise, music, and Happy Meals over which to obsesses. These titles will make up a vast library for those kids (and overgrown fans) to cycle through repeatedly when the company launches its streaming service to rival Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Hulu.


Folks, the future of movies is CONTENT, and the future of content is MOVIES.

Disney is building a Wakanda of its own—impenetrable by the outside world, protected on all sides by a fierce and technologically advanced army, and prepared for the worst invasion. In 2018, it’s Killmonger-proof.


So true. Finally, a true L.A. Knower has given me the showbiz insight that I so desperately craved: That Disney is a very big, very rich company that is riding a streak of good movies. Never mind that it only takes one run of shitty movies for this take to become, somehow, more worthless than it already is. I look forward to Universal usurping the Top Tier of the studio pyramid when they release 9ast & 9urious 9: 9 Harder.

This kind of insufferable Industry-ese isn’t terribly new, of course. You can get a healthy dose of it from trade mags like Variety or The Hollywood Reporter, or you can just talk to an agent for a few minutes before realizing your mistake. AMC even tried to make a TV show out of it. So it’s deeply amusing to me for Fennessey to move to L.A., have a MOVIES ARE ASSETS! epiphany, and then carry on like he’s exploring some real deep shit when all he’s doing is practicing a lateral brand of Rovellism. It’s little more than homemade PR, doing studios a favor by repurposing their own highly mockable kind of brand-speak into analysis.


Re-framing movie and TV arguments into posthuman gobbledygook, where I’m supposed to give a shit about how a movie affects the future of some asshole company and the empty suits running it, has been a scourge on art for a very long time now, and it does Ryan Coogler and his triumphant colleagues few favors to reduce them to notable entries in the Disney ledger. We already have plenty of tech and business writers around to flood the internet with bloodless articles about which company is activating the most meaningful impressions. But unlike phones and cars and Facebook, movies are actually cool! They deserve better than being made into fodder for lame industry analysis.

More importantly, this kind of stuff is shit to read. For years now, Bill Simmons has name-dropped his idol William Goldman, and has repeatedly parroted his famous maxim that in Hollywood, “Nobody knows anything.” And yet, his entire website seems to be built around a mission to disprove that. Well here’s something I know: They won’t succeed.

Drew Magary is a Deadspin columnist and columnist for GEN magazine. You can buy Drew's second novel, The Hike, through here.