Armond Allen White (born 1953) is an American film and music critic known for his provocative and idiosyncratic film criticism. He currently writes for National Review and Out. He was previously the editor of CityArts (2011–2014), the lead film critic for the alternative weekly New York Press (1997–2011), and the arts editor and critic for The City Sun (1984–1996). Other publications that have carried his work include Film Comment, Variety, The Nation, The New York Times, Slate, Columbia Journalism Review, and First Things.
Armond Allen White was born in Detroit, Michigan as the youngest of seven children. His family was the first African-American family to move to a primarily Jewish neighborhood, where he grew up. Raised Baptist, he later became Pentecostal, and identifies himself as "a believer".
His interest in journalism and film criticism began as a student at Detroit's Central High School, when he first read film critic Pauline Kael's book, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang whom he cites for "her willingness to go against the hype", along with Andrew Sarris, for his "sophisticated love of cinema", as being a major inspiration on his choice of professional career. White received a Master of Fine Arts degree in film from Columbia University's School of the Arts in 1997.
White was the arts editor for The City Sun, where he wrote film, music and theater criticism, for the span of its publication from 1984 to 1996. He was hired by New York Press in 1997 and wrote for the paper until it ceased publication in August 2011. He then assumed the editorship of the Press's sister publication CityArts starting in September.
White is a member of the National Society of Film Critics and New York Film Critics Online. He was the three time chairman of the New York Film Critics Circle (1994, 2009 and 2010), and has also served as a member of the jury at the Sundance Film Festival, Tribeca Film Festival and Mill Valley Film Festival and was a member of several National Endowment for the Arts panels. He has taught classes on film at Columbia University and Long Island University. White claims to watch "five to 10 movies a week" and "as many as 400 films a year".
In January 2014 White was expelled from The New York Film Critics Circle for allegedly heckling director Steve McQueen at an event for the film 12 Years a Slave. White maintained his innocence, and characterized his expulsion as a "smear campaign". White received an "Anti-Censorship Award", as a part of the 35th annual American Book Awards, because of his being "unfairly removed" from the New York Film Critics Circle.
Style of criticism
Major themes within White's criticism include: Evaluation of a movie's audio-visual language within specific cinematic traditions (White advocates that viewers/critics cultivate "cinematic literacy," learned from "knowledge of a form's history and standards"); the importance of cinema as a religious, spiritual, and moral vehicle (he has often called for critics to use standards of "morality, culture, and continuity" to assess film quality); and the state of what he calls the "broken film culture" of the United States, in which divisive politics have come to supersede humanistic, non-cynical, film storytelling which could otherwise unite viewing communities (thus destroying "art, social unity, and spiritual confidence"). White often condemns what he sees as a powerful pattern of "denial" within mainstream film journalism, which he summarized in the op-ed piece, "What We Don't Talk About When We Talk About the Movies," and plans to address in an upcoming book by the same title: critics overlooking humanistic movies with deep social messages [including, in White's 2014 update of that 2008 essay, films such as "The Darjeeling Limited, Private Fears in Public Places, World Trade Center, The Promise, Shortbus, Ask the Dust, Akeelah and the Bee, Bobby, Running Scared, Munich, War of the Worlds, (and) Vera Drake"], over these critics' praise of films that, in his viewpoint, are "mendacious, pseudo-serious, sometimes immoral or socially retrograde and irresponsible." In the current critical era, White states, the "Aesthetic of the Hit" (referencing a phrase by late media critic and author George W.S. Trow) dominates everything, as films are evaluated as only entertainment, "disconnected from social and moral issues."
In his online column for Out magazine, "Our Bud at the Movies," White also analyzes LGBT films and LGBT film history, gay-cinema-relevant mainstream cinematic works, and international cinema aimed at gay and lesbian audiences.
Though White recognizes many internationally respected, cinematic auteurs such as Jean-Luc Godard), he is known for defending populist, blockbuster filmmakers as visionary movie artists, especially action-oriented auteurs such as Brian De Palma (director of mainstream genre works such as Mission Impossible; Scarface; and Carrie), Walter Hill (action and Western movie director-producer), Michael Bay (big-budget, sf-action director-producer of the Transformers film series), Justin Lin (and other directors of multi-racial, internationally oriented The Fast and the Furious franchise), Neveldine/Taylor (writer-directors of the visually edgy, low-budget Crank film series), and Zack Snyder (of the recent DC comics film adaptations, such as Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice). White has frequently praised the work of Bay—maker of profitable tentpole films, which, over time, have gotten more and more negatively reviewed by American film critics—over that of more critically acclaimed, art-film-styled action directors such as Christopher Nolan. Such unconventional critical positions over contemporary theatrical films have earned White the label of a contrarian, going against his movie reviewer peers much, if not most, of the time (for instance, his agreement with Rotten Tomatoes "Tomatometer," which aggregates professional and popular film reviews, is currently at 52%).
White has re-contextualized his oft-cited, "contrarian" designation, by explaining that, like his major influence, the late film essayist Pauline Kael of The New Yorker magazine, he writes independently of the Hollywood publicity machine that limits the range of critical commentary by many film journalists and bloggers. According to White, mainstream critics' writing practices towards "consensus-opinion," "unanimity," and "conformity," have collectively resulted in film criticism's "loss of independence," essentially turning most film reviewers into "celebrity-worshipping awards-givers" that operate in "collusion with the entertainment industry." By contrast, he argues that the "contrarian" writing of Kael (and himself) reflects "autonomous, uncoerced journalism" through which, rather than viewing as film writing as mere "consumer advice" about "a commercial product," cinematic reviews can combine "immediate personal response with informed intellectual analyses" as well as include "industrywide macro-criticism" that "merge(s) business acumen with sociological scrutiny." Like Kael, White views himself as writing in ways that offer readers "a connection to a world of culture" by sharing with them "enlightened social responses" to theatrical films, turning movies into a pathway towards community education and democracy. In contrast with the "broken film culture" that White feels exists today within US mass media, he advocates that "American movie culture should have accepted the belief in movie democracy and social democracy as part of the value of expressive entertainment." Having himself been banned from early screenings of new movies for film reviewers, allegedly by movie publicists and producers who did not like his reviews of other work, White frequently argues that this journalistic failure to evaluate movies as anything more than an entertainment product, is what hurts film criticism today.
At the start of every calendar year, the beginning of film critics' awards season, White publishes his famous "Better-Than" list of recommended movies released the previous year. Reflecting both his emphases on cinematic literacy/cinematic morality, as well as his rejection of what he considers nihilistic, partisan movies, White's "Better-Than" list frequently sparks controversy in the film criticism community. It praises little-seen international or independent films, or highly recommends otherwise critically condemned popular or blockbuster films—usually in sharp contrast with the majority of year's-best choices offered by mainstream film critics for the same period, many of which White goes on to reframe as the year's worst movies.
- The Resistance: Ten Years of Pop Culture That Shook the World (ISBN 978-0879515867)
- Rebel for the Hell of It: The Life of Tupac Shakur (ISBN 978-1560254614)
- (Forthcoming) What We Don't Talk About When We Talk About the Movies
- McNeil (2015), pp. 61-78
- "Columbia University – Online Directory". Columbia Alumni Association.
- Jacobson, Mike (February 15, 2009). "No Kiss Kiss, All Bang Bang". New York. Retrieved April 26, 2010.
- Staff (2004). "The Critic". Filmmaker Magazine. Retrieved April 20, 2010.
- Kipp, Jeremiah (April 2002). "Beyond Entertainment: An Interview With Film Critic Armond White". senses of cinema. Retrieved April 20, 2010.
- Lingan, John (May 15, 2008). "INTERVIEW: Armond White". Splice Today. Retrieved April 27, 2010.
- White, Armond (July 3, 2012). "Armond White's Mid-Year Awards". New York Press. Retrieved December 18, 2012.
- Staff. Armond White. IndieWire. Retrieved May 8, 2010.
- New York Film Critics Circle. Retrieved May 4, 2010.
- New York Film Critics Online. Retrieved May 8, 2010.
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- White, Armond (2010). "Message from the 2010 Chairman". New York Film Critics Circle. Retrieved January 14, 2011.
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- Gleiberman, Owen (January 13, 2014). Why Armond White got kicked out of the New York Film Critics Circle. Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved January 13, 2014.
- Child, Ben (January 7, 2014). Steve McQueen heckled as 'garbage man' at New York film awards. The Guardian. Retrieved January 13, 2014.
- Feinberg, Scott (January 7, 2014). Embattled Film Critic Armond White: I Never Heckled Steve McQueen (Exclusive). The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved January 13, 2014.
- Chen, David (January 8, 2014). The /Filmcast Speaks to Armond White About Heckling Claims: “It’s a Smear Campaign”. /Film. Retrieved January 14, 2014.
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- "Do Movie Critics Matter?". First Things. Retrieved 2016-04-20.
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- "Armond White Archive - National Review Online". National Review Online. Retrieved 2016-05-14.
- "Armond White - the provocative film and music critic". www.out.com. Retrieved 2016-04-21.
- "Objects of Appalling Beauty: An Appreciation of Brian De Palma | The House Next Door | Slant Magazine". Slant Magazine. Retrieved 2016-04-25.
- "Walter Hill Forum: Armond White and Gregory Solman discuss Bullet to the Head for CityArts - New York Film Critics Circle - NYFCC". www.nyfcc.com. Retrieved 2016-04-25.
- "Bay Watch: Armond White’s Transformers 2 review for CityArts - New York Film Critics Circle - NYFCC". www.nyfcc.com. Retrieved 2016-04-25.
- "Furious 7: A Trip to Action Movie Utopia". National Review Online. Retrieved 2016-04-25.
- "The Lost Dimension". First Things. Retrieved 2016-04-25.
- "The Simultaneous Rise and Fall of Michael Bay". Minnesota Connected. Retrieved 2016-04-27.
- "5 Christopher Nolan Movie Criticisms That are Totally Valid". Screen Rant. 2014-11-11. Retrieved 2016-04-27.
- Seitz, Dan (2010-09-10). "Armond White Is Right (Sometimes): 5 Reviews We Agree With". AOL Moviefone. Retrieved 2016-04-27.
- "Armond White Movie Reviews & Previews - Rotten Tomatoes". www.rottentomatoes.com. Retrieved 2016-04-27.
- "Banned Critic: New York Film Critics Are "Celebrity-Worshipping Awards-Givers" (Guest Column)". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 2016-05-14.
- "Why Kael is Good for You". Columbia Journalism Review. Retrieved 2016-05-14.
- "Open-Hearted Pauline Kael Would've Liked Two Can Play That Game | Manhattan, New York, NY | News". www.nypress.com. Retrieved 2016-05-14.
- "The Year the Culture Broke". National Review Online. Retrieved 2016-05-14.
- "Across the Ungreat Divide". National Review Online. Retrieved 2016-05-14.
- Dries, Kate. "Meet the PR Mastermind Who's Managed Woody Allen's Image For Years". Jezebel. Retrieved 2016-05-14.
- Nolan, Hamilton. "Film Critics Unite: 'Go Throw a Cellphone at Some PA You Thin-Skinned Pussy'". Gawker. Retrieved 2016-05-14.
- Jagernauth, Kevin. "Armond White Says 'Macbeth' Is Better Than 'Star Wars: The Force Awakens' In Annual List". The Playlist. Retrieved 2016-04-20.
- "The Eleventh Annual Better-Than List". National Review Online. Retrieved 2016-04-20.
- Roberts, Jerry. The Complete History of American Film Criticism. Santa Monica Press, 2010. ISBN 978-1-59580-049-7
- Lopate, Phillip (ed.). American Movie Critics: An Anthology From the Silents Until Now. Library of America, 2006. ISBN 1-931082-92-8
- Lee, Spike and Fuchs, Cynthia. Spike Lee: interviews. Univ. Press of Mississippi, 2002. ISBN 1-57806-470-8
- Daniel McNeil, "The last honest film critic in America: Armond White and the children of James Baldwin", Film Criticism in the Digital Age, eds. Mattias Frey and Cecilia Sayad (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2015)