Hey, remember when the Chicago Film Critics Association got into a nasty smack-down with haughty executives at 20th Century Fox?
I’m not talking about the summer of 2007. That protest was genteel compared to the first time that the CFCA had a dust-up with Fox and hounded the studio until it regained its senses.
In 1990, Fox marketing president Bob Harper announced that Chicago’s two most prominent film critics, Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel, would be banned from all studio press screenings. Harper didn’t like the way Chicago’s dynamic duo ridiculed the ad campaign for the Fox comedy “Nuns on the Run” during an appearance on “The Tonight Show.” So, the ban went into effect.
And the CFCA went into action.
Six members of the fledgling organization announced they would boycott opening day reviews of all Fox features and only critique Fox films after they opened, as Ebert and Siskel would be forced to do. The signatories included Roy Leonard of WGN TV and 720 AM, Nick Digilio of WGN AM, Johanna Steinmetz of the Chicago Tribune, Sherman Kaplan of WBBM-AM, Virginia Gerst of the Pioneer Press (later to win the 2004 Peter Lisagor Ethics in Journalism Award) and your future president, Dann Gire of the Daily Herald.
In a statement, we all agreed that Fox’s ban ran “counter to the spirit of timely and unbridled critical discussion.” Our elder statesman, Roy Leonard, summed it up nicely: “When they go after two people, in a sense, they’re going after all of us. We want everybody in the industry to know that we all feel, as a group, that 20th Century Fox’s actions against Siskel and Ebert were really childish and unprofessional.”
Shortly after the CFCA announced its backing for Ebert and Siskel, Fox inexplicably dropped its ban.
At the time, neither Ebert not Siskel had joined the CFCA. Still, in a Variety report, Ebert described the support as “very gratifying and touching.” Siskel said the move made him proud to be a Chicagoan because he did not believe this could have happened in any other city.
Let’s review: He did not believe this could have happened in any other city.
Just because these things don’t happen in other cities, Hollywood studios never thought they would happen in Chicago. Apparently, they still don’t.
So, in the summer of 2007, after repeated, rebuffed attempts to address Fox executives about their unfair, discriminatory and antiquated screening policies, the CFCA launched another action, this one designed to give greater screening access to all CFCA members, regardless of their media outlets. Again, reason prevailed, and because of two level-headed, Internet-savvy Fox executives, the CFCA became the first critics group in history to successfully negotiate a collective bargaining agreement with a major Hollywood studio.
If the late Mr. Siskel were alive, he might have been as impressed by our second Fox face-off as he was with the first in 1990. He might have said he did not believe this could have happened in any other city.
But make no mistake. Chicago is the city where this will always happen.
Because we are the Chicago film critics.
And that’s the Chicago way.
Dann Gire, Founding Director/President