Ebert Bounces Back
Q. I was offended by your remarks about Trent Lott, which were totally unnecessary and irrelevant to a review of "Gods and Generals." Please stick to reviewing movies, not giving political statements.
Susan Bean, Lee's Summit, Mo.
A. I wrote that "Gods and Generals" was a Civil War movie that Trent Lott might enjoy. So it actually is, in my opinion. The movie embodies a nostalgic view of the war in which whites on both sides are noble, heroic and pious, and African Americans are all but invisible. That was the vision Lott seemed to be evoking when he said that if the segregationist Strom Thurmond had been elected in 1948 "we wouldn't have all these troubles today."
But you raise a larger question: Do political opinions belong in movie reviews? When they are relevant to the movie, of course they do. Where did so many Americans get the notion that there is something offensive or transgressive about expressing political opinions? Movies are often about politics, sometimes when they least seem to be, and the critic must be honest enough to reveal his own beliefs in reviewing them, instead of hiding behind a mask of false objectivity.
When I read other critics on tricky movies, I seek those who disagree with me. For example, Mark Steyn, the conservative political columnist, doubles as the film critic for the Spectator, a conservative British weekly that has been my favorite magazine for more than 25 years. I read his reviews faithfully. Presumably they are informed by his conservatism, but since he is such an intelligent and engaging writer, I would rather be informed I am wrong by Steyn than correct by a liberal drone. If you disagree with something I write, tell me so, argue with me, correct me–but don't tell me to shut up. That's not the American way.