10 Awesome Things Roger Ebert Did For Social Justice
It seems like the entire internet is mourning for Roger Ebert, whose pithy and acerbic commentary on the movies, not to mention his trademark “thumbs up, thumbs down” review system, held American film to a higher standard. The writer was a prolific writer, blogger, and even rice cooker chef, long after cancer and assorted other injuries left him unable to speak. But Ebert’s death is not just a blow to movie aficionados: Ebert was a champion for social justice, determined to see film represent all people fairly. Compiled below are ten of his most fiery moments, earning him thumbs up from social justice advocates everywhere.
1. “New Seasons With New Names”
Ebert was deeply concerned about climate change. As he says in a recent blog post: "You know what has me freaked out? I consider it a real possibility that millions now living will die as a result of the interests of the National Association of Manufacturers and its 11,000 members."
2. “Asian American characters have the right to be whoever the hell they want to be! They do not have to 'represent their people'"!
In an altercation at a Sundance Film Festival, a (white) heckler yelled that a film by Justin Lin was “offensive.”
“What I find very offensive and condescending about your statement is, nobody would say to a bunch of white filmmakers ‘How could you do this to your people?’” Ebert yelled back. “This film has the right to be about these people, and Asian American characters have the right to be whoever the hell they want to be! They do not have to 'represent their people!'"
3. Racist casting of The Last Airbender
Roger Ebert was also good at letting people of color speak for themselves when calling out racist depictions in film. When The Last Airbender, which had mostly a white cast for a show originally made with people of color, he tweeted Vietnamese writer Q Le’s article “Facepainting,” with the article receiving thousands of retweets, and became the top Twitter search result for “Airbender.”
4. “These films hate women”
Ebert and his long time critical partner Siskel, are renowned for their critique of slasher films’ treatment of women.
“These films hate women and being in a movie theatre surrounded by people who are identifying not with the victim but with the attacker is a very scary experience,” Ebert noted.
5. “My feeling is that love between consenting adults is admirable”
Ebert still considered himself a Roman Catholic when he wrote a column a few months ago discussing his faith, but he also pointed out some of his major disagreements with the church, specifically including LGBT marriage.
“My feeling is that love between consenting adults is admirable,” he wrote.
6. “It continues to surprise me that many who consider themselves religious seem to tilt away from me”
In that same article, Ebert announced his support since childhood for liberal policies.
“Through a mental process that has by now become almost instinctive, those nuns guided me into supporting Universal Health Care, the rightness of labor unions, fair taxation, prudence in warfare, kindness in peacetime, help for the hungry and homeless, and equal opportunity for the races and genders,” he continued, “It continues to surprise me that many who consider themselves religious seem to tilt away from me.”
7. “I should have shut the *** up”
Discussing his opinion on the modern Huckleberry Finn novel, Ebert posted the following:
“I'd rather be called a N***** than a slave.”
Oof. Cringeworthy and racist. However, only a few hours later, he followed up with “You know, this is very true. I'll never be called a N***** *or* a slave, so I should have shut the **** up.”
While committing a misguided racist mistake, Ebert was able to admit his foolishness and respond with an apology, publically, a thoughtful response more celebrities would do well to emulate.
8. “Ronnie and Will make an attractive couple, possibly because Miley is standing on a box below camera range”
While Ebert’s review of The Last Song is not inherently feminist (unless you’re convinced anything involved Nicholas Sparks’ is automatically misogynist), it points out a delightful characteristic of his film reviews: his criticism, no matter how scathing, was always fair and honest, witty and sometimes caustic without deteriorating into stereotype.
9. “What’s not to like?”
After John Mayer’s Playboy article in which he referred to himself as having “a white supremacist d***,” Ebert tweeted at him: "To John Mayer regarding black women: What's not to like?" Ebert was married to Chaz Ebert, who is a black woman, from 1993 until his death.
10. He went on a date with Oprah
Actually, two dates: during one, he convinced her to go into syndication. Nice work, Roger.