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Entertainment Variety's apology to Carey Mulligan over its 'Promising Young Woman' review has ignited a row over press freedom

21:17  12 february  2021
21:17  12 february  2021 Source:   businessinsider.com.au

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Carey Mulligan in 'Promising Young Woman.' Carey Mulligan in 'Promising Young Woman.'
  • Carey Mulligan accused film critic Dennis Harvey of misogyny in his review of her movie in Variety.
  • Variety later published an apology to Mulligan on their website above Harvey's review.
  • The National Society of Film Critics has defended Harvey demanding Variety rescind the apology.
  • Visit Insider's homepage for more stories.

Since the 1970s and 80s â€" the heavyweight years of Kael, Sarris, and Ebert â€" it has been virtually unheard of for a film review to make headlines; critics simply don't hold that kind of zeitgeisty power anymore. But such has been the cultural force and widespread interest in British writer-director Emerald Fennell's debut feature, "Promising Young Woman."

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Much of the discussion surrounding the film, however, has been centered around an awkward dispute between the film's star, Carey Mulligan, and a review of the movie written by veteran critic Dennis Harvey, published in Variety, which has sparked a heated discussion surrounding the editorial standards of Hollywood's trade publications and the freedom of critics.

Dennis Harvey's review called Mulligan "a bit of an odd choice" for her role as a seductress in the movie

Alison Brie, Emerald Fennell, Bo Burnham, Carey Mulligan, Lisa Backwell, Csanád Szegedi posing for a photo: The cast and director of 'Promising Young Woman' at Sundance. The cast and director of 'Promising Young Woman' at Sundance.

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"Promising Young Woman," which also stars Bo Burnham and Alison Brie, premiered in January 2020 at the Sundance film festival where it received largely positive reviews. In the movie, Carey Mulligan plays Cassandra â€" a medical school dropout who dedicates her life to catching predatory men by pretending to be drunk at bars and clubs, and then revealing her sobriety when they have taken her to their homes.

At the festival, Harvey, a veteran film critic, praised the film for its "compelling mix of thriller, black comedy" genre devices but suggested that Mulligan, whose performance he described as "skillful, entertaining and challenging," was, in fact, an "odd choice" for the lead role and suggested that Australian actor Margot Robbie, who is a producer on the movie, might have been better suited to play the lead.

His reviews read: "Mulligan, a fine actress, seems a bit of an odd choice as this admittedly many-layered apparent femme fatale â€" Margot Robbie is a producer here, and one can (perhaps too easily) imagine the role might once have been intended for her. Whereas with this star, Cassie wears her pickup-bait gear like bad drag; even her long blonde hair seems a put-on.

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"The flat American accent she delivers in her lowest voice register likewise seems a bit meta, though it's not quite clear what the quote marks around this performance signify. Still, like everything here, this turn is skillful, entertaining, and challenging, even when the eccentric method obscures the precise message."


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a person standing posing for the camera: Carey Mulligan. Carey Mulligan.

Carey Mulligan attacked Harvey's review during a New York Times profile

Almost 11 months later, whilst discussing the movie's rollout during a profile in the New York Times, Carey Mulligan singled out Harvey's review of the film and challenged his conclusions about her casting as well as his reference to Margot Robbie, describing his remarks as misogynistic.

"I read the Variety review because I'm a weak person," she told the Times. "It felt like it was basically saying that I wasn't hot enough to pull off this kind of ruse. It drove me so crazy," she continued. "I was like, 'Really?' For this film, you're going to write something that is so transparent? Now? In 2020?' I just couldn't believe it."

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Shortly after the Times's story went live, Variety updated Harvey's review on their website by adding an Editor's Note, which apologised to Carey Mulligan for the review's "insensitive language" and seemingly distanced the outlet from Harvey's words.

The full editor's note reads: "Variety sincerely apologizes to Carey Mulligan and regrets the insensitive language and insinuation in our review of 'Promising Young Woman' that minimized her daring performance."

a woman sitting on a sofa: Carey Mulligan in 'Promising Young Woman.' Carey Mulligan in 'Promising Young Woman.'

Dennis Harvey said he was "appalled to be tarred as a misogynist" and the National Society of Film Critics slammed Variety

Speaking about the situation for the first time with The Guardian in January 2021, Harvey said he was "appalled to be tarred as a misogynist" and described Mulligan's interpretation of his review as "bizarre."

"I did not say or even mean to imply Mulligan is 'not hot enough' for the role," he told the newspaper. "I'm a 60-year-old gay man. I don't actually go around dwelling on the comparative hotnesses of young actresses, let alone writing about that."

He added: "This whole thing could not be more horrifying to me than if someone had claimed I was a gung-ho Trump supporter."

Now, earlier this week, the National Society of Film Critics â€" the group which represents the country's most prominent critics â€" published a statement on Twitter that condemned Variety's treatment of Dennis Harvey and demanded that the publication removes the apology from his review of the movie. "We, the members of the National Society of Film Critics, wish to register our alarm at Variety's shabby treatment of our colleague Dennis Harvey," the statement read.

"If Variety felt the language in Harvey's review was insensitive and insinuating, it had the option of working with him to fix that in the editing process before it ran. There are also ways Variety could have acknowledged and responded to Mulligan's criticism, rather than simply capitulating to it and undermining its own critic in the process."

According to the National Society of Film Critics website, Peter Debruge and Owen Gleiberman, Variety's chief film critics, are both members of the society.

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