Recently, the Daily Lobo ran an unjustly harsh review of the Cherry Reel Film Festival. Implicit bias was shown in the review, and while not intentional, ultimately the majority of the films we labeled as “disappointments” were made by students of color. This is meant to serve as an explanation of what happened, why it was wrong and how we are working to prevent this from happening again.
The film industry is a white-dominated field. In 2019, only 14.4% of the directors of theatrical films were people of color and 91% of studio heads were white, according to Variety. The University of New Mexico and the film and digital arts program are both minority-majority and Cherry Reel is predominantly run by white students.
The film industry at large already creates little space for filmmakers of color to share their stories due to institutionalized racism that allows white people to easily maintain power in the industry and outward racism that creates an unsafe environment for people of color.
The level of negative criticism the review directed at students of color contributed to exclusion and racism that is prevalent in the field by not allowing Cherry Reel to be a positive platform for students to share their work.
This review was edited by an all-white component of the team, and our failure to discuss racism in the film industry when deciding how to approach this review is indicative of our biases and inherent racism as white people.
Our responsibility, as the independent voice of the University of New Mexico, is to think critically about every single article we publish — reviews and opinions included — and to have a diversity of lived experiences on our editorial board.
When setting out to write this review, we sought to critique student work as a way to treat students as real filmmakers, and their work with legitimacy. However, we did not hold ourselves as student journalists to a professional standard as well when working on the review.
The level of criticism in our review crossed a line. While reviews do not always need to be positive, the extent of the negative criticism was not okay. As journalists, we should know word choice matters. We should have taken a second to think about the decision to label student films as “disappointing” and the impact it could have on someone. Especially when discussing student work, a negative review can directly affect those in our community at the start of their careers.
Many of the letters of the editors we received touched on how the nature of the criticism impacted students.
“Film students know that we are going into an industry that will try to pit us against each other. We know that studios will make everything feel like a competition, and that ‘losing’ feels like your work and everything you did for it is worthless. ‘Losing’ means becoming a starving artist or abandoning your work. Cherry Reel is not that,” Aiyana Shuler wrote.
Part of how we will strive to fulfill our responsibility to the community is to have an honest dialogue between the paper and the public. A newspaper is meant to hold institutions of power accountable, and the public is ultimately trusted with holding the media accountable, and we thank you for doing so.
In light of this review, we saw some of the highest engagement toward a story we published. While we regret the contents of this story, hearing the community's thoughts, criticism and perspectives on what we write is something we want to encourage. Although we do not condone personal attacks towards staff members, we always accept letters to the editor which can be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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As you have proved, hearing the community's response to what we write is integral to holding us accountable. To improve this dialogue, you can expect a bi-weekly editorial from the editor-in-chief. This is a means to bring more transparency from the Daily Lobo editorial board to the public by allowing insight into the views and opinions of the editorial voice of the paper.
Along with this, we are in the process of scheduling implicit bias and anti-racism training for next year's editorial staff. While we also strive to have as diverse of an editorial board as possible, it is just as important to educate ourselves and think critically as white people.
Finally, our other shortcoming was the fact that we reviewed a piece that was directed by and starred two people on staff. This was an obvious conflict of interest and something that never should have happened. It even further delegitimized our intent to take the film festival seriously. Discussions of conflicts of interest are something we continue to have on staff.
While the intent of our review was not to harm, the impact was far from it.The review will stay removed from our website, and we thank you for holding us accountable.
We strive to learn from this to improve the reporting at the Lobo so that we can do our job to serve and report on issues that matter to the community and not let something like this happen again.
This editorial is unsigned as it represents the views of the Daily Lobo editorial board