‘If I had to base my career on what white men wanted I would be very unsuccessful,’ ‘Ocean’s 8’ star Mindy Kaling said in a recent interview
Everyone’s a critic. And a lion’s share of film critics, as Mindy Kaling pointed out during her press tour for the new female-led “Ocean’s 8,” are white men.
“If I had to base my career on what white men wanted I would be very unsuccessful, so there is obviously an audience out there who want to watch things like (‘Ocean’s 8’), what I work on, what (co-star) Sarah (Paulson) works on,” the actress told Yahoo Movies in an interview.
“And the thing about so much of what this movie is, I think white men, critics would enjoy it, would enjoy my work,” Kaling added, “but often I think there is a critic who will damn it in a way because they don’t understand it, because they come at it at a different point of view, and they’re so powerful, Rotten Tomatoes.” (The heist flick banked a $41.5 million opening weekend — bigger than its three male-fronted “Ocean’s” predecessors’ opening weekends, without adjusting for inflation. But it currently holds a humble 66% on the review-aggregation site.)
“The Mindy Project” creator-star’s comments came on the heels of research from the University of Southern California’s Annenberg Inclusion Initiative indicating that movie reviewers were indeed “mainly white and male.” Of 2017’s top 100 films, the analysis of more than 19,500 reviews showed, about 78% of critics were male compared to the 22% who were female. White critics were behind 82% of those reviews, while those from underrepresented racial and ethnic groups claimed just 18%.
Oscar winner Brie Larson also highlighted those findings during a speech at last week’s Crystal + Lucy Women in Film Awards, arguing she didn’t “need a 40-year-old white dude to tell me what didn’t work for him about ‘A Wrinkle in Time.’” “It wasn’t made for him,” she said. “I want to know what that film meant to women of color, to biracial women, to teen women of color, to teens that are biracial.”
Regardless of the platform, Kaling’s decision to address the field of critics is familiar to anyone who’s faced tough feedback — founded or otherwise — in the workplace. How can you tell if criticism is legitimate or not, and when and how should you respond? Here’s what experts said:
Consider the volume of criticism. Rebecca Fraser-Thill, a Pivot career coach and Bates College psychology lecturer, says she keeps this in mind while reviewing student evaluations: “One lone student making a critique is not enough for me to take it very seriously,” she told Moneyish, “but if I see the same theme repeated, that’s when I start to take notice.” With that said, she added, “even a lone voice can make a difference if they are being thoughtful, empathic and very reasonable and articulate — so it’s not always just volume; it’s also quality of what’s being said.”
Consider the critic. It can be hard for others to understand your work or role without having walked in your shoes to a certain extent, Fraser-Thill said. “(With) people who are supervisors or individuals who have done my work in the past, I look up to them and I’m going to think about their opinion in a different light than people who are not; who have never done my role,” she said. “So having a fellow faculty member come in and give me criticism about my lecture style — that’s meaningful to me.”
Ask whether the criticism is personal or professional. “Are they criticizing how I do my job or are they criticizing me as a person?” career coach Roy Cohen told Moneyish. If it’s work-related, he added, then ask for receipts: “Can you offer me up an example? When you say that, what do you mean?”
Proceed with caution “and give yourself some time to evaluate what you’ve been told,” Cohen said. “Whenever you’re dealing with criticism, don’t address it right away,” Fraser-Thill agreed, suggesting running or meditating in the interim. “You need to step back. Let your emotional system cool down before your rational system can come online and address it in a way that’s actually going to have impact.” To avoid coming off defensive, she added, stay as objective as possible: Show that you understood the criticism presented to you (“OK, I heard that you were saying XYZ”) and then use “I” statements pointing to data that show otherwise.
Ask a third party. If the criticism feels unfounded, test your assumptions on other folks who’ve observed your workplace behavior — relatively impartial colleagues and/or a supervisor whom you don’t report to — to see if they bear out, Fraser-Thill suggested. That doesn’t mean approaching friends who are already inclined to support you, she added, but “sitting down with (people) and saying, ‘So I’ve been receiving some feedback that I may not have been behaving as optimally as I would’ve hoped, and I want to hear your feedback.’” “Make clear that you respect their opinion no matter what they think,” she said.
If the critic is your boss, Cohen said, “you have to be far more cautious about power, authority, jeopardizing a relationship, jeopardizing your potential to be promoted” and being viewed as insubordinate. “Whether you agree with this person or not, their opinion has value to your career,” Fraser-Thill added. So if you’re receiving this feedback in person, she said, “saying, ‘I appreciate the feedback — I’m going to need a little bit of time to sit with this before I respond’ is a totally good neutral answer.”
After you’ve had time to reflect, Fraser-Thill said, see if there’s any data to refute some of what your supervisor alleged and “consider whether it’s going to be valuable” to bring up. You might also ask the boss to point out your actions in the moment so that you can self-correct going forward, she added. If there is a systemic factor that you feel is underlying the criticism — e.g., race, gender or political orientation — and/or you have data to back it up, then point to that as well, Fraser-Thill said. Focus the conversation on your strengths to the extent possible.
Consider offering context. The critic may be offering feedback “based on incomplete knowledge” of the situation, Cohen said. Say, for example, that you’ve been juggling a double workload while covering for an absent colleague — and then your boss complains that you’re slow on deadlines. “Obviously, they’re not factoring in that you are doing the work of two people,” he said.
If you can — and it won’t be career-damaging — let it go. “You’re not going to please everybody all the time,” Fraser-Thill said. “So you have to be willing to sit with some criticism that you can’t deflect. And that’s a painful truth of being a human.”
But if this issue is larger than just yourself and your career — like Kaling addressing the systemic diversity imbalance in film criticism — then a response may well be worth it, she said. “If it’s about taking on a bigger stance; being able to be part of a movement toward equality and justice and all of these ideals we hold in our society — then yeah, fight,” Fraser-Thill said. “It’s much more worth it to fight when it’s about a collective sense of what’s right.”
© 2018 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved