When you hear the term Film Twitter one would naturally assume this was a group of people from around the world, of all races, and walks of life, who just so happen to share the commonality of loving movies. You would also presume this to be a space online for people to share their thoughts and opinions on films, to learn from differing interpretations, as well as being a place for critics to interact with regular film geeks to grow an audience.
Then you add humans to the mix and the result is a toxic little corner of the internet where impassioned “debate” is the tone of preference. Where race baiting and gaslighting are the primary tools of communication and time spent virtue signaling to the masses for the dopamine rush of attention is the focus. Where critics are more intent with activities like humble-bragging to their peers about what movie they’re watching that they can’t tell you about or crafting a world-salad film reaction in hopes of attracting the studios eye for a glimmer of access or achieving the ever-coveted pull quote. Or where Letterboxd junkies with no outlet, born after 2000 claiming to be cinephiles, purposely attempt to combat critics for a few seconds of artificial empowerment. When thinking about where this “community” went wrong you need to first explore the issues then look at who it is that actually makes up Film Twitter.
What is the problem with Film Twitter?
There are many problems that have caused a pretentious air of hostility on Film Twitter. First and foremost, would be that too many critics spend far too much time critiquing/policing other critics’ opinions. The other would be the amplification of the voices of trolls for a variety of reasons that only fuels them. The entire industry is built of little cliques for the most part. No one really cares about the other outside of these little clusters. Until there is a difference of opinion.
This is when action is activated on Film Twitter. Some of this is for the intent of calling out shills which is hard to argue. More often than not though these opportunities are used for some sort of virtue signaling moment to get attention. If you don’t respect or value the critic or troll, why value or respect their voice? Because it serves up material for a wide range of agendas. All swirling under the veil of a community built on talking about film.
Sadly, racism and sexism exist in this world and people are going to say some horrific things online. Sometimes it’s blatant, sometimes it’s under the surface. There is no question times people will say things that do need to be called out. These are the moments that are designed for the humanity of the community to band together for what is right because in retrospect this group of people likeminded on what is right and wrong, are in fact, the majority. When people quickly move on from a certain moment and the tension slowly dies is when some will look for things to reignite the atmosphere.
This is where the voice of trolls will come into play. Unknowns who will conveniently be used as the majority for the purpose of keeping racism or misogyny on the forefront, and Film Twitter eats it up. However, countering racism/sexism with different racism/sexism by using the simpleton voice of the minority is not sustainable for building mutual respect with the majority who already agree with you. All this does is motivate the troll when they see their victory.
The average critic can share their latest film review and it will get say, 300 likes and 80 retweets. The same person will post a tweet from some unknown with 27 followers saying some bullshit nonsense, using them as an example of normal, and it will get maybe 1,800 likes and 600 retweets. Why amplify the voice of some meaningless troll because he doesn’t like a female led movie, or the race/sex of the cast? Why gaslight people in advance with baited tweets about how they should feel about a film? Because these tweets will generate 100x the traffic than simply sharing more of your own opinions on a film or retweeting other quality peer reactions to the same film.
Then there are those flies that get in the house during a BBQ and swarm the kitchen trying to land on all the food. The annoyance of shills. Those advantageous critics whose sole focus is cozying up with the studios to get VIP access. The main problem with this unfortunately is that there is a proven track for how to accomplish this and over-celebrating almost every movie and serving as more of an advertiser of a film than an honest evaluator of one is the first step. It’s simple human nature to see how to achieve something and it’s a wide-open path. So, you can’t fault them too much for seizing the opportunity. Everyone’s ethics and morals are their own.
The main problem is that Hollywood is an extremely petty, and ultra-shady industry. They openly reward shill behavior and why wouldn’t they from their perspective. Gone are the critics of major publications for the most part. The rise of independents running their own brands has flooded the pool and without the shielding of corporate entities these studios are able to get directly to these content creators. Knowing all they need to do is dangle a little swag, invites to a premiere, or some screening links before many of their peers to reward them for praising their movies. It’s brilliant from their end.
Essentially film studios that make billions of dollars creating fictitious movies are now dropping pennies to critics, turning them into mini hype machines, and slowly creating a world of fictitious film criticism that eliminates honest analysis in exchange for a picture at the premiere they can share online, or a hoodie with a movie title on it. Studios are slowly manipulating the industry and when you are a one-person-show, knowing if you blast a movie that you will instantly be lost on the email list and replaced with another person, is a tough consequence to commit to when you are trying to grow on your own and even more so, actually make a living.
The impact here is simple, a lack of credibility in what people claiming to be critics are saying about a film. The world of film criticism and film journalism has collided with many (mostly the general public) not knowing the difference. Sure, it’s a subjective artform but it’s easy to see who these studio mouthpieces are as well as recognizing those newcomers splashing onto the scene and trying to rise up the ranks. Because on the video side of film coverage it is nothing if not a copycat game.
It’s seemingly harmless but it does hinder the efforts of actual film critics who stick to their honest opinions. This is a slower road. It’s steeper with many more setbacks and will take more effort. But for some people that’s just part of their moral code, so it’s a no brainer. That doesn’t mean a certain level of annoyance and honestly some animosity does not build as they see people thriving by basically misleading their audiences for the appeasement of the studios, getting access for it, which in turn builds their reach as the reward.
Those looking for internet fame are a sneakier animal. They will poach information from other critics under the veil of friendship. They will relentlessly humblebrag and showcase their access to the masses in a variety of blatant and cryptic ways to get more attention. Even if a situation never calls for it. We’ve all seen the “I just got an invite to a movie, but I can’t say what it is…” tweets.
It does nothing really for their audience, but it does serve a subtle “neener neener” to their competitors. 99% percent of these critics are on the video side and usually, but not always, are the ones that expect you to go from their friend to their fan when their audience outgrows whatever yours may be and you are no longer of use. Suddenly you have a group of critics covering the work of celebrities who think of themselves as pseudo-celebrities. It’s a natural progression and you can’t fault them for doing them but its impact on Film Twitter is undeniable.
The result is an online community more focused on sharing the opinions of the unknown to ride their high horse or battling the voices of the twenty-year-old Letterboxd cinephiles than using any ability they may have to ignore the negative in order to spend time amplifying the positive. It’s a collection of people all coming to Film Twitter for different reasons and unfortunately the small few know exactly the buttons to push on the vast professional side who are too fake of a community to be able to overpower the negativity like they easily could. Instead, it’s really a collection of people that are more focused on the competition and the attention, than the craft and professional rapport.
So, who is Film Twitter?
In my opinion Film Twitter is essentially broken down into two main categories, both with smaller groups inside them. First you have regular film geeks who can be broken down primarily into two types of people. Simply put, you have regular people. Common film geeks who like to pop online and see things about movies and to hear what their favorite critics or friends think of a current film or new trailer. All common stuff for those who just want a few seconds to escape into movies during their day. As I mentioned others are also those who have their Letterboxd profile and act like they know everything about movies and any taste outside of their taste is wrong and meaningless. These to me are like the little guppies that wade in the pool while the big fish swim around and do their thing.
Then you have the counter to regular people, these would be trolls, who often include many of the Letterboxd Mafia. They, like regulars, enjoy film, possibly even love film as much as anyone. They don’t, however, have any emotional stability when reacting to people who may like things they hate, and it’s even worse when people may dislike things, they end up loving. This is when the already ingrained tendencies in the trolls will take over to incite outrage when the situation calls for it in their minds. If a given scenario calls for a different approach, themes of misogyny, racism, or sexism, will always suffice in a pinch. Or if an issue is dire enough the attempt at cancellation is always a great boost to a troll’s feeling of importance. They don’t like a movie for often juvenile reasons, and they are simply put, simpletons.
Now you would think these trolls would be easy enough to overshadow, right? Really out of tens of thousands of people who love movies the population that actually makes up these trolls is quite small in the grand scheme of things. They spout nothing but antagonistic rhetoric, usually fueled from their own shortcomings, their racism, and blatant sexism in both males, and yes, in plenty of females and those in between. So why is such a small population of bottom feeders given such a heightened voice despite not speaking for the majority? That’s because like any ecosystem, they serve a crucial need to another group living inside Film Twitter that would be unable to thrive without the faint voices of trolls.
This other group filling the second half of Film Twitter consider themselves to be actual film critics. Critics of film either professionally or freelance can also be broken down into a couple of key categories. You have journalistic critics and the advantageous critics. Now of the journalistic critics you will see more of a trained professionalism. Some of these critics are creatively driven, they view their reviews and content as their form of art. Their opinions on film tend to be more unique to their own without following the trendy thoughts the majority of people may have for a specific movie and they have an overall looser freedom of speech in their critiques and general viewpoints.
These types of critics also for the most part focus on the art “as is” without the need to amplify the material to something grander than simple entertainment. If there is a social or political tie-in with a film that’s prevalent, they will comment on it. But they don’t look for something to get up in arms about in every single movie. They don’t care who made it, who wrote it, or who starred it in. The only concern is, was the film any good?
Where creatively driven critics may follow their own path in film criticism as more of a hobby, there are many more professionally and financially driven critics that certainly make up the vast population on this side. These are often the grinders, they pump out content, rarely get into topics outside of the film, and primarily keep to their own lane given that many (not all) work for larger publications that enable them access. They keep from ruffling any feathers, their content does not raise any flags, and they’re usually a little softer on bigger studio movies. Despite getting lured into the drama from time-to-time.
This leads us to the next group. The group that I feel is actually at the core of all toxicity swirling inside of Film Twitter and current film criticism as an industry, and they are the advantageous critics. These are people that may genuinely enjoy being a film critic, but being one is really just a means for another goal. Some use criticism to achieve the dream of being an influencer, for wealth and popularity. Others seem like they are overcompensating for the fact they are covering entertainment and not out on the ground covering real-world issues with meaningful importance. Access to the studios for some is the main goal and to do so they conduct themselves as film cheerleaders rather than impartial evaluators because sadly it’s the quickest way to achieve it and everyone knows it.
Now, many advantageous critics certainly overlap with the other film critics on Film Twitter and do share plenty of the same goals. These critics also have their own varying levels of impact on the atmosphere of Film Twitter. But it’s their methods of conducting their business/brand both blatantly and super subtly that has slowly but surely created a churning atmosphere of loathing, self-righteousness, rampant flexing, and hostility. This is the high school cafeteria culture that has spilled out into the halls of Film Twitter. Building momentum as others see these tactics and replicate to keep up, and to be honest very early on, I was susceptible to some of this as well. It’s easy to get pulled into.
Then you have the critics who are highly intelligent but seem to feel the coverage of movies as simple entertainment is beneath them. They look for any thread of sexism/racism/politics to pull from a film that can consume their attention. Instead of spending time covering how a film was directed, written, acted, or if it achieved its goals for people outside of their small social bubble. For these people it’s all about who, not about what and it results in critical bias. These critics make their content more for the Film Twitter crowd than they do for the outside world.
And in the end the problem with Film Twitter is simple. It isn’t popular to share the positive, the negative is what thrives. It’s built on a fake facade everyone knows about, but little people speak of it, and it creates an undercurrent of tension that far over shadows the small collection that just want to talk about movies they like and dislike because you always have to have one eye out for the disingenuous.
Anthony J. Digioia II © 2023 SilverScreen Analysis