Roger Ebert, the man synonymous with film criticism, passed away yesterday after 46 years in his profession.
Why this has anything to do with feminism? I’ll tell you: As a critic, he championed controversial films like “Do the Right Thing” and documentaries like “Hoop Dreams” and “Roger and Me.” Ebert drew attention to the independent filmmakers he found in festivals. He spoke out against intellectual prejudices against minorities in the industry. On a larger scale, he cultivated an online community that read and discussed the myriad of topics he wrote about. He and Gene Siskel popularized the style of criticism that honed in on what movies meant as cultural representations of society, as well as their artistic merit. In short, Ebert and Siskel made mainstream what a lot of cultural commentators do daily.
Plus, He made the pretentious-sounding role of film critic into a recognizable and beloved TV and internet persona.
I started reading Ebert regularly through his wildly popular blog, a go-to for thoughtful commentary on gun control, ableism, religion, the health care system, and politics. But then, there were personal essays that could leave you in tears, such as his post on loneliness. He had an ability to craft difficult emotions and feelings into deceivingly simple and entertaining reads. And because the internet is vast and sometimes wonderful, I discovered old episodes of Siskel and Ebert’s show. A particular favorite of mine is a 1980 episode tackling the “new” trend of violence against women in film, which has feminist criticism all over it.
It’s difficult to come to terms with the loss of a pillar in a community. For cinephiles and critics, Ebert was such a pillar, one they could rally around or against.
And of course, no tribute post from another film critic would be complete without a personal story: I had the pleasure of meeting Ebert at my first film festival. I introduced myself for probably the first time ever as a film critic, a reporter for my college magazine. He smiled, gave me a thumbs up, patted me on the back, and we went our separate ways. A few weeks later, I emailed him a video I worked on, and he wrote back with a promise to share the video on Twitter. He did, and it crashed our servers to the delight of my editors. When it seemed like no one else in the pressroom wanted to talk to a college press pariah, he did so, and I will never forget how approachable he was. I’m sure I’m not the only one with a story like this—Ebert was a generous person who made an impact on the vast world of filmmaking as well as personally on thousands of individuals.
Photo via Chicago Sun TImes.