In recent days, I was asked by editors at Motherboard to review a science documentary. The PR pitch for the film seemed interesting enough, however, upon watching the whole documentary, I found myself caught up in a moral dilemma of the feminist type. Why? Because the documentary, female-centric in story and production, was terrible.
The email, more or less, that I sent my editor about the documentary:
The documentary didn’t focus enough on the science which was by itself quite interesting (this genetic disorder disproportionately affects Puerto Ricans, for ex) with the film opting instead for a human interest angle that was barely relatable. There were few emotional moments that connected with the viewer. The interview subjects themselves were a bit derp (overweight, unattractive, elderly, lacking eloquence or all of the above), and the awkward hokey music that played over their camera time didn’t help at all. They said their life sucked, but I as a viewer was never shown any substantial example of how their life sucked. I was bored and disinterested throughout. The animated story in the very beginning of the doc was the best part.
In addition, the documentary did a poor job of explaining the science. I was confused over whether or not the drug on clinical trial was approved by the FDA, and then later, why it was not approved. The film mentions at the end the same drug was approved in India, Europe and Japan but never explains the politics or why this is the case. I realize this was because they were trying to focus on the people, but the people were not as interesting as the science or the politics behind the science.
I generally rate Motherboard documentaries as a 8 or higher (out of 10)….I would put ______ at a 4.
I opted to not complete the assignment. I could have written something positive about the film despite not enjoying it or finding it sharable, but I found this option just as morally wrong as publishing the negative review. True, the negative review would have led to more publicity for the film, and this team of film-makers, but I don’t believe all press is good press when you are dealing with sexist environments like those found in filmmaking in general as well as documentary-filmmaking.
The documentary filmmaker, a lady scientist, had received awards for her work on PBS and such a decade-plus ago, so I was surprised by how not enjoyable her latest project was. It’s almost like she can’t compete now, in this age of everyone-is-a-filmmaker-on-YouTube. It might have been good enough for PBS in the 1990’s, but not now.
This whole personal dilemma of mine reminds me of Buzzfeed getting press last fall for their decision to not write negative reviews. The rebuttal to their “no negative reviews” position came from Gawker, of course, who argued news outlets are not supposed to be extension of publicists and PR firms, (a laughable position when you look at sites like TechCrunch and PandoDaily). This argument is fundamentally true, news outlets are not supposed to be beholden to publicists by any means, but I don’t see the merit in smacking down an older woman in a tough field for delivering a shitty product.
Is my thinking wrong here?