A Conversation Between Cinema Femme Magazine Founder Rebecca Martin and Film Critic Carla Renata
This interview appeared in the second issue of Cinema Femme magazine. Read the full issue here.
CARLA RENATA: My father was in the military, so we traveled quite a bit. My love of film was fostered by my mom. On Sundays, my brother and I would grab some cereal, hop in bed with Mommy, and watch old movies all day long. It would be anything from Charlie Chan to Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney to Rita Hayworth. Mommy would be share trivia about the films and stars. She was kind of like Turner Classic Movies, but she was just my mom. So that’s where it started.
BROADCAST JOURNALIST TO TRAVELING SINGER/ACTRESS TO FILM CRITIC
RENATA: I graduated from Howard University with a degree in Broadcast Production, which now would be called Broadcast Journalism. My intention was to produce the evening news on ABC. I interviewed for a desk assistant position and realized it wasn’t a good fit financially. So, I opted to put that career on pause and sang around the world with USO tours and cruise ships.
REBECCA MARTIN: So, you are a singer?
RENATA: I do sing and I’ve been in numerous Broadway shows. What happened was I came to LA to pursue acting. Things were going well for a minute and then it all came to a screeching halt. I thought maybe it was time to put that college degree to work. I had a publicist who booked me as a guest on an online radio show. The host and owner of the station kept inviting me back and eventually offered me to be his cohost. Around that same time, I was encouraged to start a blog where The Curvy Film Critic was born. Since that time, I’ve been invited to become a member of the African-American Film Critics Association (AAFCA), Los Angeles Online Film Critics Society (LAOFCS), and Online Association of Female Film Critics (OAFFC). Through networking opps with those organizations, I was able to meet other critics who shared the same passion I had about film.
RENATA: When I first got on the trajectory of being a film critic, my only reference was Siskel & Ebert and Leonard Maltin on Entertainment Tonight. But, I noticed, there were no women critics. So, after some research, I discovered less than 5 percent of women were film critics and 2 percent of that were people of color. I felt like, this is ridiculous.
MARTIN: It is ridiculous; it’s very frustrating.
RENATA: I thought, I can do this! I had Turner Classic Movies for a mom and a degree in film. So, as luck would have it, a friend of mine knew the president of “Black Hollywood Live,” a YouTube station/channel that is owned/operated by Maria Menounos and her husband Keven Undergaro. So, I pitched a film review show. We did some test shows and finally launched the show (“Black Tomatoes”) February of this year.
SPEAKING MY TRUTH
RENATA: My film critic site has gone through various incarnations, for a variety of reasons. I’ve finally settled on “The Curvy Film Critic” because I’m curvy, I’m a film critic, and it’s easy to remember. Since the market is so saturated, you have to find a way to stick out. I decided the best way for me to stick out was to speak my truth. I learned from Roger Ebert how to not say I don’t like something without throwing acid rain on someone else’s parade. If I don’t care much for a project, I may say something like, “It wasn’t my cup of tea, but these people will like it or give a synopsis of the film.” I’ve actually screened some films that were so bad that I couldn’t find the heart to review. I simply couldn’t find the words or anything redeeming about it.
For example, a studio representative reached out to me to review a film. When I watched it, I found myself in a very precarious position of not knowing what to say. So, I decided on the truth. When asked for a quote, I confessed my feelings for this film. To avoid saying all of that in a review, I’m just not going to review it. I was petrified when I clicked send. The rep emailed me back and was appreciative that I told the truth. I was scared. I’m an independent, I don’t have someone bankrolling what I say or do. One bad sentence or one bad review to the wrong publicity firm or studio representative, and I take the chance of being cut off.
MARTIN: Yeah, that’s admirable; you could have gone another way.
RENATA: Yeah, that’s just not who I am. However, on the flip side, the past ninety days have been a whirlwind. The LA Times published an article regarding fourteen underrepresented film critics of color. I was one of them. In addition, I was featured in Variety during the Toronto International Film Festival.
MARTIN: That is fantastic, congrats!
RENATA: …And featured in The Cherry Picks, which I believe is how you found me. Also hosted a night of “The Black Experience on Film” for Turner Classic Movies through my film critics organization, AAFCA.
MARTIN: I saw that; what a great experience for you.
RENATA: We made history doing that. Turner Classic Movies had never done anything like that before. Because my love of film was fostered by my mother, to be able to have her watch me hosting Turner Classic Movies was everything.
MARTIN: Wow, that’s amazing.
RENATA: That was everything to me. And to have her enjoy it, we stayed up all night, watching all of the movies films until 2 a.m., and I had a set call for another project at 6 a.m.
MARTIN: Oh my goodness. That’s rough.
RENATA: When I finished shooting that day, I flew straight to Toronto for the festival.
MARTIN: But I bet it was worth it, right? Even though you were probably pretty tired.
RENATA: It was totally worth it. And the funny thing is now, it’s coming to the point that I need to get an assistant, an associate or something, because, when I was at Toronto, I was getting like a thousand emails a day.
MARTIN: Yeah, you definitely need an assistant. That’s a lot.
RENATA: It was crazy. On average, I get somewhere between five hundred and a thousand emails a day. Most of them are like, this screening is happening, can you do an interview, can you do that interview, I’m like. . .
MARTIN: By the way, thank you for doing this interview!
RENATA: You’re welcome. It’s a lot going on, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything. It’s everything that I wanted to do. Sometimes, you need to know exactly who you are and where you’re supposed to be to know where you are going.
KNOW WHO YOU ARE, IN ORDER TO KNOW WHERE YOU’RE GOING
RENATA: It’s really funny, because this screening I went to today was “Bohemian Rhapsody” (2018), and one of the quotes in that movie from Rami Malek, who’s playing Freddie Mercury in the film, he said pretty much exactly that: You really need to know who you are, in order to know where you’re going, how are you going to make your impact or imprint on life. Freddie Mercury was somebody that knew that unequivocally. He never tried to be someone that others wanted him to be. He was simply himself.
As a woman and a person of color, trying to navigate through the waters as a film critic is difficult at best. Everybody is talking about #MeToo, #TimesUp, diversity, and inclusion. Middle- aged white men are acting like they’re an endangered species. I’m like, nobody’s trying to make you an endangered species, nobody is trying to make you extinct, nobody’s trying to get rid of you. All I’m saying, and the bottom line for me is this is . . . let’s just add some more voices to the diaspora.
It’s upsetting to me that for a film like “Ghostbusters” (2016) and “Ocean’s 8” (2018) or “Widows” (2018), that the studios do not go out of their way to invite women to those screenings. It’s just like, really though? Really?
At the end of the day for me, film is an art form. It’s like a painting. If you were going to any museum anywhere in the world, someone will stand in front of a painting and not two people will see that painting the same way. Same thing goes for a motion picture. People will see the same motion picture and not have the same experience. For that reason, it is important to have more diverse voices involved in all genres of film criticism. Everybody’s voice is represented and not just from one vantage point.
RENATA: I wanted to say, when I was growing up, I didn’t see anyone who looked like me talking about films or being a film critic with a passion for film. I know there probably was someone out there, but I didn’t see or hear them. I didn’t know they existed. I’m hoping there’s some little girl, some teenager, some chick in college, who’s a Broadcast Journalism major, who sees me, hears me, and knows that anything is possible if you work hard enough. Nothing is impossible. If you want to be a film critic, be a film critic. Don’t let anyone throw acid rain on your parade.
“BLACK PANTHER” (2018)
RENATA: There has been numerous Marvel Comic Books films. But this was the first time, in fifty years, Marvel decided to give “Black Panther” some love. What happened when they did? It was like watching a superhero revolution happening. One of the “Good Morning America” segments that aired during the film’s premiere week had an audience full of little kids. Black, white, and otherwise with “Black Panther” costumes on. One of the costumes that struck me the most was a little girl with a “Black Panther” costume on. When the hosts interviewed and asked her, “Why are you so excited about ‘Black Panther’?” she simply responded, “I finally saw somebody that looks like me.”
MARTIN: Wow, that makes me happy.
RENATA: It’s important children see themselves represented, across all different lanes of life. It is only then they know it’s possible. If I had seen one black astronaut when I was a kid, I probably would have been an astronaut. Representation is important and how it’s presented is just as important.
MARTIN: It’s really been a pleasure speaking with you. You’ve lifted my spirits, so thank you.
RENATA: Thank you, Rebecca, happy you feel that way. What you are doing is important. You are giving a voice to women who, for up until this point, didn’t have a voice, didn’t have a place to go, only a few select places. We appreciate you.
MARTIN: Well thank you! Thank you, that means a lot. It’s been a pleasure speaking with you.
Learn more about Carla Renata, The Curvy Film Critic, at www.thecurvyfilmcritic.com. You can hear her film reviews on Sundays at 5 p.m. on Black Hollywood Live’s “Black Tomatoes.”