Remembering Roger Ebert, the Feminist

Roger Ebert

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

by Monica Castillo
View profile »

Monica Castillo is a freelance film critic. You can usually find her on Twitter talking about the movie she just watched at @mcastimovies.

Get Bitch Media's top 9 reads of the week delivered to your inbox every Saturday morning! Sign up for the Weekly Reader:

9 Comments Have Been Posted

This doesn't negate anything

This doesn't negate anything you've said about him but before we hold him up as a paragon, let's remember he also said, "A child conceived through incest or rape is innocent and deserves the right to be born." and was opposed to abortion. (source:

I don't think it negates the good he may have done but I think it's important to not pretend he was perfect, and he certainly wasn't what I would call a feminist.

I am so tired of

"The Feminist Police" insisting that one cannot be a feminist if one is against abortion. I personally have a good friend who considers herself progressive and feminist in every way, mean, and action. except that she believes that healthy babies-to-be should have chances at living, and that it is our responsibility as a society to see that all humans grow up with access to education and opportunities for living whole livelihoods. People like her have been forced into being in the "deep closet" of silence away from such discussions. Their voices may be uncomfortable, but they need to be included, too. As for Roger Ebert,. I was never a fan of his because some of my most favorite movies of all time were the ones he despised the most ... the one exception was "The Brown Bunny." One thing I personally believe, is that critics should not be the ones dictating our entertainment - that it is up to our hearts and minds leading us to what we wish to enjoy watching and listening to that matters. Many critiques in <i>Bitch</i> I agree with, but there are many that I do not agree with. And that's okay.

their voices are not

their voices are not "uncomfortable", they are simply irrational. calling yourself feminist and denying a woman the right to decide what happens to her body just does not make any sense. this has nothing to do with "the feminist police", but calling myself a vegan doesn't make me vegan when i still eat meat.

Re: Ebert

Roger Ebert was politically 100% pro-choice. He made very clear the above statement was a personal opinion and that in no way should women be legally required to conform to it. He was also Roman Catholic, so obviously had a big fence to try to straddle.

It's one thing...

It's one thing to disagree with the critiques presented in Bitch Magazine and another to try to block said magazine from being disseminated. You could say that you disagree with some of Bitch Magazine's analysis and think that that's fine and your opinion and thus, correctly, not view yourself as pro-censorship. Or you could disagree with some of the analysis in Bitch Magazine and think that it therefore should not be allowed to publish such analysis, which would place you squarely in the pro-censorship camp.

The same distinction could be made in the case of your friend's opinion on abortion. In theory, if your friend is against abortion personally but does not agree that access should be restricted for other people than she can still reasonably call herself a feminist. One can have standards for their own behavior that they do not try to enforce on other people. However, if your friend believes that abortion should be illegal because her personal opinion is that abortion is wrong, then she is engaging in a moral colonialism that is antithetical to feminism, at least as I understand it, as an ideology about freedom and liberation, not about enforcing one's will on others.

To give the opposite example: if I believe that abortions are an excellent choice for some women, would it be at all conceivable that I could force those women to have abortions? No, that would be an outrageous violation of human rights and ethical conduct. One that has been forced upon women of color as a brutal tactic of oppression if I may add an important digression.

I don't think that acknowledging that coercion and enforcement of one's values on another human being is antithetical to feminism makes one a bully or a member of the "feminist police," whatever that is. I think it is a valuable part of the discussion of what feminism is and what it stands for. And who it stands with. So if I may conclude by quoting you out of context a bit:

"critics should not be the ones dictating our entertainment - that it is up to our hearts and minds leading us to what we wish to enjoy watching and listening to that matters."

Politicians and moralists should not be the ones dictating what we do with our bodies - it is our hearts, minds, and consciences leading us to what we believe is right and just for ourselves that matters.

A good man

Just because he wasn't ideologically pure doesn't mean he contributed nothing to women's rights. I'm sure if you dig deeply enough into anyone's personal beliefs or psyche, few people would end up smelling like roses. Yeah, it was a bummer that he was against abortion--but he also got a mostly pro-female, anti-racist viewpoint out to a lot of people.

well if that's feminism then

well if that's feminism then I don't want to be a feminist. I'm sorry but the fascist views you come with here chills me to the bone. Should murdering your newborn be legal? Should murdering your siamese twin be legal?. After all we can't tell people what to do with their own bodies. That you don't even CONSIDER the fact that it is not YOUR body we're concerned about but the body of another human being growing inside you sickens me. You may not feel that a fetus is human enough to be given consideration but to piss all over the people who do and say we want to control your body is every bit as reprehensible as republicans saying that real rape does not cause pregnancy. The manipulation of our views is disgusting. YOU may not feel that a fetus is to be given the rights of a human but don't twist our views to be about anything else than the human being that is inside you.

Well then I'm sincerely glad

Well then I'm sincerely glad we've cleared that up. You're honesty makes it all so much easier. For example, what a wonderful turn of phrase, "the body of another human being growing inside you." Do you only care about said tiny unformed body or are the future conditions of its life relevant as well? Is my body only an incubator? I am negative space surrounding the all important holy light of innocent, defenseless fetal life! I suppose I could expand on this some, make some eloquent points about how we're human beings not baby making machines, stating the glaringly obvious differences between fetuses and newborns, give you some stats about poverty and talk about the emotional well being of children born to people who do not want them, but you have a moral high horse to ride. So go, swiftly, bludgeon the unsuspecting with your will, HIYA!

Wonderful post

I was trying to find a resource list like this one to share with friends and family who didn't realize how progressive he was. Just watched that Women in Danger video from 1980 and can't believe how sadly relevant it still is today. Thanks for this wonderful round-up.

Add new comment