On Monday the media reacted in collective horror after an Atlanta-based morning radio host, who was interviewing the cast of a new blockbuster-calibre film, launched an unfortunate series of questions: the trajectory of which was both racially insensitive and sexist. This is certainly not the first time that questions at a press junket were hardly about the film itself.
In fact, it’s actually not uncommon to see footage from press junkets in which the journalists veer well off course. It seems commonplace to use the few minutes granted with the performer to simply ask something buzzworthy in the hope of having it viewed as many times as possible – and the bigger the budget the more likely that will be.
Press junkets are meant to serve a purpose. It is of course promotion for the film. Yes, the point for both interviewer and interviewee is sales: sell the film; sell the article. But truly a press junket is an opportunity for journalists to ask an informed and intelligent line of questioning about the film so that they can report to their respective audiences. The audience in turn can make an informed decision on whether or not to see the film. Easy enough.
But in this scenario, the interview opens with the host asking how the white actress and black actor could possibly play siblings in this film. It continues uncomfortably with the host asking the actress why she would cut her hair; he finds her attractive either way, though, he mentions. He even likes her feet.
This follows a similarly uncomfortable interview last week in which another actress was insulted by the show’s host for not sounding enthusiastic enough. This was after several condescending questions regarding her busy personal schedule – which included asking if there could have been time to read the book that inspired the film she was promoting.
Interviews like this, which gloss over an actor’s work, disrespect the craft and the effort put in by countless people to bring a film to life. It also begs the question: do we collectively think that there are higher and lower forms of art? That big-budget film actors simply do not deserve the same respect as a theatre actor, a ballet dancer or an author?
It seems the greater the special effects, the grander the score and the better the hair and make-up, the more likely journalists are to ignore the work of film actors. But I would venture to say that this is a gross oversight. And sadly, the disregard for their performances is also a disregard for the craft of journalism.
Megan Billings is a researcher/writer in Monocle’s New York bureau.