While New Year celebrations were on, Kunle Afolayan was busy exchanging words with a viewer on the Nigerian Movie Reviews Instagram page who’d tagging him while complaining about Swallow, one of his most recent productions. As expected, this generated polarized reactions within and outside the industry about the average Nigerian filmmaker’s attitude to negative reception.
The Film Rats club community wasn’t left out of the conversation.
Note: The exchanges below have been polished for the sake of coherence and clarity.
Iwo: Don’t tag filmmakers in your reviews. It’s crass. Obviously, anyone can do it because social media is just that accessible, but it’s crass.
BiOne: Personally, I do not see anything crass about tagging filmmakers in negative reviews as long as there’s no trolling.
Unle: This is my stance too… You can’t put public stuff out and not expect people to talk about it and even tag you. The person might even be saying complete nonsense, but there’s nothing crass about it!
Iwo: It is crass, especially in this age where we’ve obfuscated valid criticism with “violence”. You can provide criticism without personal interaction, but if you insist, don’t yell if an uncouth filmmaker replies with vitriol.
J: I think I agree with this. What’s the objective of tagging them? Engagement? Response? Public shaming?
Iwo: People want a show and love a show. Of course, I’m not here to support Kunle Afolayan or any artist who decides to respond to such actions. But if you tag a man to a negative review and he replies in anger, please take it.
BiOne: Every age had its measure of violence. It is not a novelty. Media is just saturated and in our face. Trolls have always existed and will always exist. I just do not agree with the insistence that we can’t engage filmmakers who have willingly made themselves accessible and to whom we have staked our attention and time (which are important than money).
Iwo: You say it like you were forced to stake your attention and time. But true, make use of the access, but if you come up on my home terrace claiming you have a right to engage me, don’t be opposed to me bringing a gun out.
BiOne: It’s a free world and a free market and a free space for artistic interaction. He is making films for an audience. If they are displeased, they can certainly bring it to him. No one is knocking on his door. They are calling his attention to what they feel about his film. So it’s not crass when I tag Afolayan to a positive review but I shouldn’t tag him when I don’t like his movies because it is crass? That, to me, sounds disingenuous.
Iwo: It’s a free world and his response is a great crowning on the great freedom. Yes, freely express, tag tag and tag, but also enjoy the uncouth responses that emerge.
Sac: Like I said, you can do whatever you like. But the moment you tag anybody, you have called for attention and are entitled to a response. The polarity of the response is subject to the instability of the average man.
BiOne: So you are agreeing with me while making excuses for his crass response to a civil jab?
Sac: I haven’t made excuses. I have expressly criticized his response. But I won’t break the law of freedom of expression. Since that’s the operative law here.
Iwo: I’m not making excuses for anyone. The comment wasn’t civil neither was his response. Crass begets Crass.
BiOne: The digital playground is not your home terrace. She didn’t even comment on his page or a promotional piece. She called his name in the marketplace and he called her names. No one forced him to make a movie.
Iwo: No rules guard the space, whether it’s a digital playground or digital battleground. Whatever you see, take it like that. To anyone who really wants to stay above the din of social media clout chasing, deliver your critique properly.
BiOne: You know this well. It is hardly about the well-formed critique for these people. They are chasing profit and that is why critique pricks them. What’s the alternative platform for open discourse in Nollywood? Plus I disagree with the ‘No rules guard the space’. If it is the formality and technicality of the response, then there are people for that. With the audience, it’s emotional and informal. How do they feel about the movie? That is the only question they need to answer.
Iwo: Want discourse? Go to Film Festivals, write reviews, interact within the same acceptable channels other industries have encouraged. In all you do, respect access. Armond White with all his madness doesn’t tag the targets of his critiques.
BiOne: But Armond does. He does. He writes for publications that will be seen, that have a higher almost certain potential of being seen. And this is why he is not the best example. Are you telling the audience member to go to film festivals, write reviews, interact with the same acceptable channels other industries have encouraged? Let’s be candid, the reason we do not tag people in our discourse is one of two things: It’s either professional fear or professional respect. But audience member does not have a stake in either. They watched a film and they didn’t like it and they want you to know so that you can do better. And by the way, I went back to the lady’s comment. It was respectable and polite. It was in no way crass.
Iwo: No rules guard the place is correct. In proper situations, filmmakers have replied to critics in the past with well-written essays, sometimes via interviews. So no rules say a filmmaker cannot respond to criticism in the first place. Is it always useful? Not necessarily, I think. But no rules. Even more so in the social media space where access is 360 degrees. Anyone can say anything and get anything. I’ve argued that artists live very minimal digital lives to protect their process but it is what it is.
Writing for a publication is not the same as writing a review and tagging the recipient. A publication has an editorial system that most people cannot recreate. It is respectful to not tag folk especially when creating critique, and if it is absolutely important, do ensure that you can create a balanced take that doesn’t have vitriol or the potential to destroy your recipient publicly.
Don’t get me wrong, these guys are not worth defending, but I am a director and I’m not going to pretend to encourage actions that encourage violence or toxic fan power. If you don’t take care, an otherwise useful comment is relegated to the mud heap of trash. But let’s dead it, if you tag anyone on anything, receive that which you’ve given. It’s all about access. If a public spat is what you want, then go for it, by all means, it comes sooner or later.
BiOne: She is not a critic. She did not write a critique. She expressed an opinion, tagged the filmmaker and he responded. What I am getting from your explanation is “formality of exchange” as the rule that guides the interaction between the filmmaker and the critic. I’m talking about the filmmaker and the audience (even when they attempt a critique because we can tell the hat from the profession). However, I still disagree. The ‘rules’ of formality that guarded the filmmaker/critique interaction were borne out of the limitation of media. Social media is a democratic extension of that formal media. And with the ‘democracy’ comes a unique set of rules. I, however, agree with the protection of processes that can be achieved by working under the covers. But when the film is out. It is out for everyone and anyone can talk about it. Swallow was abysmally terrible and he’ll make more. Meanwhile, there are little to no consequences for a bad film in Nigeria’s theatre of formal interaction between the filmmaker and the critic.
Sac: There are no consequences anywhere. A bad film is not a crime, or a sin. There are no specified rules too. There are no written guidelines on how to post a review. The decision to call “tagging” unprofessional is actually older than social media. It’s no different from writing a review and mailing a copy to a filmmaker’s home or box address. I’m certain that must have been considered unnecessary in the old days. It’s, in fact, an attack. A direct invitation to a confrontation. A lot of what is considered right or wrong is just based on ethics, conventional agreements on what’s right or wrong. Tagging a filmmaker to a negative review is salting the bruised ego of a filmmaker. “Your film is shit and you must see it”.
BiOne: If Afolayan can make bad movies, he should be ready for bad comments, some of which will come to his digital doorstep. For every Ebert (and this is even filling the gulf between the critic and the audience) but I’ll still say it…. for every Ebert, there is a crazed fan who will send a death threat in a mail. Thank God that Film in Nigeria is not as fanatic as the Premier League because we might have had some French Revolution kinda-ish going on. Ian Wright might have his take on the intricacies of the sport but Wasiu, the Selsea fan of Shomolu (sic) can damn well say what he wants to say about Tuchel’s sudden slump in performance. And I can assure you that if he had a Twitter account, he’d tag his ass.
Iwo: Sure. I’m just saying if you deliver your bad comment personally, take the personal response when it arrives. Say what you want but also understand that the other man too now has an outlet to do the same.
BiOne: I just feel that the times are shifting. The aesthetic distance between the Art, the Artist and the Audience is all but gone. If we do not find a way to adapt and interact with the change, we will alienate the very people we are trying to impact with our craft.
Iwo: There are things to adapt to, but not everything requires the same amount or type of adaptation.
Amen: If the filmmaker now vexes, he can make a movie and use one of his characters as a mouthpiece to call you out. Awon ti “the white lady from the L.A Times.” Malcolm and Marie was one of the worst movies I saw last year. “I pray she gets Carpal Tunnel syndrome.” Bro was pained mehn. I’ve never really liked Sam Levinson. I mean I thought Euphoria was unnecessarily crass. Assassination Nation too. But his response to criticism in Malcolm and Marie was terribly off-putting. Even Kubrick had detractors. Tarkovsky famously hated 2001. You didn’t see Stanley making using one character to rage against “the weird director from the Soviet Union.” But trust children of nowadays. Radarada.
BiOne: Okay, so we are going to compare pre-social media inter filmmaker exchanges to our social media age where reddit threads can change the trajectory of an entire franchise. Naaaah. Tarkovsky didn’t have a Twitter account.
Amen: No, I wasn’t adding to that conversation at all. This discussion just made me remember Malcolm and Marie, one of my worst movie-watching experiences from last year. I despise the way Sam Levinson responded to criticism. It was immature. He’s free to do it of course. Doesn’t mean it wasn’t in poor taste. I brought up Kubrick cos I said he had his famous detractors yet he never responded to criticism the way Levinson did, by using a character in his movie as a mouthpiece to cuss out his critics.
I wasn’t weighing in on the exchange between Kunle and the woman. Just giving another example of a filmmaker who faced criticism and how he could definitely have handled it better. I used the “children of nowadays” thing to refer to Levinson (whose father, Barry Levinson, directed classics like Rain Man) as the kind of millennial that feels entitled, probably because of his father or something. I mean Tarantino never got along with a lot of critics. You didn’t see him make a revenge drama where pretentious critics get killed by filmmakers scorned.
BiOne: I understand now. Very true, I found Levinson somewhat disingenuous and retrospectively, I have still not figured what his film was.
Amen: The film the lady from the L.A Times gave a bad review? That would be Assassination Nation (2018), a movie that feels like someone took the worst part of Tarantino, Robert Rodriguez and Eli Roth, shoved it in a blender sans any context or self-awareness and served up, expecting everyone to worship him for it (because it allegedly was a feminist film), so much so that when one critic didn’t, he used a character in his next film to pray for her hand to wither and die from carpal tunnel syndrome.
Iwo: Critics dunked on a man because he got some privilege. Man replied criticism with a work, critics cry more. Half of Hollywood is convinced that being a white man and having rich parents is a sin. That’s the deal with Levinson.
BiOne: The politics and trivia around the film just made me less interested in allowing it settle. It got me giddy in the beginning; I remember writing a soaring review but now, not so much. I wish him the best. Privilege by birth is not chosen and no one should be bullied for it.
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