When considering going to a new restaurant down the block or checking out a play that just came to town, chances are the first place you’d turn to are the reviews. Critics serve the important purpose of giving people an initial impression of art and culture, becoming a bridge from creators to appreciators. Their words can determine a product’s reception.
With critics carrying so much power, how important is it for their demographics to be diverse? In the modern world of theater, the contributions from artists of color have been growing exponentially, with the likes of Jordan Peele, Lin-Manuel Miranda and Kehinde Wiley to name a few. While the types of media are diversifying, critics have not been able to keep up. According to a report from Variety, 82% of critics who reviewed the top 100 grossing movies in 2017 were white.
“How are white reviewers able to understand and contextualize the experience of artists of color?” Pascale Florestal, director of Young Critics Organization, asked herself. Florestal noticed that works by people of color are often judged more harshly, or are not understood by critics. In theater especially, she describes how reviews can be “the only documentation of these experiences, so what happens when the majority of people reviewing do not represent the community or the stories being told?”
Hoping to spark a change in the world of professional criticism, Florestal founded the Youth Critics Organization with WBUR’s “The ARTery” to focus on training young adults of color in criticism. The Young Critics Program now trains 12 young adults by taking them to theater performances to critique. It strives to teach youth about criticism and reporting, and how to exercise these skills while viewing performances all around Boston.
Pascale has been surrounded by the arts since the age of three and was shaped by theater after being put in dance classes by her parents. Her love for theater intensified after she participated in backstage work for community service in high school.
Eventually, she was inspired to get a BA in Theater at Ithaca College. After immersing herself in the industry for so long, she began to notice an imbalance in the reviews that different types of art receive.
“[In the] last like four years, a lot of new work has been happening, which has been so exciting and there's also been a big surge of theater of color,” she explained as we sat in the Boston Center for the Arts. “And one of the things I kept noticing is the people who are reviewing [these new productions] are mostly old white men.”
One she noticed, she realized the lack of diversity hurt both the audience and the artists.
“I felt it was imperative that we have younger voices to talk about the work because they're going to be the next people coming in doing this work, seeing this work, hopefully investing in it,” Pascale said.
With the help of top New England writing consultants, participants will become more familiar with criticism, while also getting to leave with a nice check after each review. Encouraging a more diverse group of people to pursue this type of reporting opens up an opportunity for a much-needed ripple in the world of criticism.
Expect a boom in the world of critics and a long overdue one at that.