Disney Ends LA Times Ban After Film Critics Threaten Boycott

The company announced the decision hours after four major film critics' groups threatened awards disqualification.

Disney on Tuesday reversed its decision barring Los Angeles Times critics from press screenings because of what the entertainment company had called “unfair coverage” of its business ties.

The turnaround followed mounting backlash from journalists across the industry who described the ban as an attack on the free press.

“We’ve had productive discussions with the newly installed leadership at The Los Angeles Times regarding our specific concerns, and as a result, we’ve agreed to restore access to advance screenings for their film critics,” Disney said in a statement to The New York Times.

Disney told the LA Times its film critics would lose access to advance screenings of the company’s movies after a three-part newspaper series in September detailed the theme park Disneyland’s business ties with host city Anaheim, California.

The Times revealed Disney’s decision last week in a “note to readers” announcing that its review of “Thor: Ragnarok” would follow the film’s public release because Disney “declined” to allow Times critics admission to an advance screening.

Flavorwire, an online arts and culture magazine, was the first outlet to take a public stand against Disney on Monday. In a scathing op-ed, Jason Bailey, the site’s film editor, vowed to end coverage of Disney movies until the Times ban is lifted, and called on other outlets to do the same.

“We are, we’re well aware, a comparatively tiny platform, and Disney will probably not even notice our little blackout,” Bailey wrote. “But if larger outlets are willing to do the same, to stand with their colleagues in the critical community against a corporate bully, well, maybe that will move the needle a little.”

Disney addressed its feud with the Times last week in statement, complaining of “biased and inaccurate” coverage that showed a “complete disregard for basic journalistic standards.” Times reporter Dan Miller, who wrote the Disneyland stories, fired back, tweeting that Disney never asked for a correction.

Flavorwire’s Bailey defended the Times’ reporting and called Disney’s attempt to punish the paper “petty” and “small.” He also noted that Times writers had also been locked out of Disney TV sites.  

“To penalize a major newspaper – and one that boasts some of the finest critics and entertainment journalists in the country – over a trio of unflattering (and, it should be noted, impeccably and exhaustively reported) stories is petty and small,” Bailey wrote. “And for other outlets to look on, or look away, as a giant multimedia corporation doles out that punishment is unacceptable.”

Hours later, Alyssa Rosenberg, a pop culture writer for The Washington Post’s opinion section, published her own op-ed expressing disgust over the Times ban and pledging to boycott Disney’s advance screenings.

“As a critic-at-large operating out of the opinion section, I have an amount of leeway in deciding what to cover and when I cover it,” Rosenberg wrote. “And what feels best to me is to show solidarity with the critics at the Los Angeles Times and to see movies under the same conditions that they do.”

“Until the Times’ critics are treated like everyone else and welcomed back to press screenings, I’ll write about Disney movies ... after their premieres,” Rosenberg continued.

The A.V. Club joined Rosenberg’s show of solidarity later in the day.

“Write an unfavorable story ― one that Disney hasn’t disputed factually, even ― and it will blacklist your publication, punishing independent journalism by using its massive corporate influence,” A.A. Dowd, A.V. Club’s film editor, wrote Monday. “And it’s one that we similarly can’t abide.”

Backlash over Disney’s banishment of LA Times critics continued to grow on Tuesday.

The Chicago Tribune, which, like the LA Times, is owned by the newspaper chain Tronc, joined media outlets taking a stand against Disney’s decision.

“Disney’s maneuver, targeting the Times for reasons unrelated to its film coverage, seems to me craven and petty,” film critic Michael Phillips wrote in an op-ed on Tuesday. “And hostile to the practice, provocation and purpose of journalism — cultural, investigative or otherwise.”

Four major film critics’ organizations announced Tuesday that they had voted to disqualify Disney’s films from award consideration until the company “publicly rescinded” its Times ban.

“Disney’s response should gravely concern all who believe in the importance of a free press, artists included,” said a statement released on behalf of members of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, the New York Film Critics Circle, the Boston Society of Film Critics, and the National Society of Film Critics.

Supporters of the Times flooded Twitter with messages of solidarity:

A Walt Disney Co. representative did not immediately return HuffPost’s request for comment.

This article has been updated to include Disney’s decision to reverse the ban.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article stated that Alyssa Rosenberg is a film critic for The Washington Post. She is a pop culture writer for the Post’s opinion section.