Big Tech’s assault on conservative views is ramping up in 2020.
Add Jacob Smith to that growing list.
The Libertarian film critic oversees Society Reviews. The web site critiques movies from an unabashedly right-of-center perspective. Smith also shares hundreds of his film reviews with the popular social media site Letterboxd.com.
Or, at least he did.
The service allows folks who may not have their own media outlet a chance to share reviews with the public.
Smith recently got booted from Letterboxd.com, which removed all of his reviews without notice. HiT reached out to Smith to find out the story behind the purge.
HiT: You’ve been posting your reviews at Letterboxd as well as your site for some time. Why?
Jacob Smith: Well, Letterboxd was initially recommended to me by fellow movie reviewers a couple of years ago. It was a place to post movie opinion and build a following, so it sounded simple enough. At the time I was looking for a way to better utilize my film reviews and build a following outside of my main site.
As my relationship with Letterboxd progressed, I found the site to be a useful tool to cover older films outside of the current releases as well as smaller films such as Hallmark movies and VOD releases. It was a solid, supplemental outlet for movies I wanted to express my views for but didn’t quite fit the main site.
HiT: Have you had any issues/clashes with Letterboxd before the recent dustup?
Smith: There was nothing too explosive that comes to my mind. Usually if I give a Christian movie a solid review, there would be some atheist reviewers who would object to my opinion, but outside of the occasional “ok boomer” response there were no huge dustups.
I would go even further to say that for every negative comment I got, there was also positive ones, so there was a good balance of the two.
HiT: How were you notified/alerted to your reviews going missing on the site?
Smith: I wasn’t. So last week, I was trying to log in to add some entries for the last two films I reviewed (“Gretel & Hansel” and “The Rhythm Section”). As I tried to access my account, it’s telling me my password is incorrect. I thought to myself, that was odd because I hadn’t changed it.
So then I tried to reset my password, and it’s telling me that my account no longer exists.
It was then that I found out my entire account had been deleted, nearly 500 reviews, including a few I had written exclusively for Letterboxd.
There was a follower of mine who was booted from Letterboxd a year ago under similar circumstances, and right there I knew they had banned me from the site.
HiT: Did the company explain the removal initially, or did they respond only after you inquired about the situation?
Smith: I didn’t receive a word from the company, not a warning or a notice.
I emailed their help desk and straight-up asked them what had happened. I was told, and I quote, “Your account was removed from our service because several of your reviews were in serious breach of our community policy.”
They then told me that the rule I broke “allegedly” was promoting, engaging in or inciting hate, violence, discrimination or intolerance, including based on race, age, gender, gender identity, ethnicity, religion, disability or sexual orientation.
So after being told that me, a black libertarian film critic, was guilty of promoting hate and discrimination via the platform of mainstream movie reviews, I had a good 10 to 15 minute laugh.
I asked them which reviews (since there were several according to them) violated their TOS [Terms of Service] and why wasn’t I made aware of this beforehand. They refused to answer any of my follow-up questions.
Editor’s Note: HiT reached out to Letterboxd for comment on this story. The site has yet to respond.
It wasn’t until I got a message from a follower on Letterboxd that apparently someone within the company took exception to my “Queen & Slim” review that was posted back in December where I called the Black Lives Matter themes of the film radical and exhausting, not to mention a fundamental failure of a romance movie. That likely led to my removal from Letterboxd.
HiT: Will you protest the matter? Or will this be the end of your ties to the company? Will you be sharing your reviews at other film sites?
Smith: I thought about it, but the sad reality is once you are on these people’s radar, they don’t stop coming after you.
I figured that I could use my resources and connections to make a big stink about this, and at least force Letterboxd to make a formal explanation of my removal that wasn’t written by someone with an anime avatar in their profile. Even if they reinstated me, what happens when the new Bond movie comes out later this year and I have some not so nice opinions about the screenwriter who has quickly become Hollywood’s new feminist golden goose?
We are right back to square one.
So yes, I have no plans to waste my time and effort to build a following on a site that doesn’t want me there and will just be looking for a new excuse to get rid of me. Will I be sharing my reviews elsewhere, I’m open to it, so consider me a free agent who is looking to shill for large sums of money…or a few followers, whatever comes first.
HiT: What do you think this says about Letterboxd …or the film community at large?
Smith: Well, here’s the thing, I knew that Letterboxd has an audience that leans heavier to the left, I mean the industry as a whole is heavily progressive these days, so it wasn’t really a surprise that my uber libertarian right views were going to clash with those who are upset that J Lo didn’t get an Oscar nomination.
But one thing that I have learned over the years is that there are people out there that aren’t Democratic Socialists who just want to enjoy a movie. Sadly, there are many people who cover film these days that are telling moviegoers what to support rather than give their honest opinion.
Most people just want to go to a movie for two hours and enjoy some entertainment no matter where they land politically, and if you aren’t giving people an outlet to discuss films or criticize them because you don’t like the people who are having the discussion then what service are you actually providing?
If you want to have a glorified members only book club then do that, but don’t tell people that you are a social network for sharing your taste in film and ban those who share a taste that you don’t agree with.
HiT: Will you be adapting/changing your critical approach in the future?
Smith: Well, when I first started reviewing films four years ago, my approach was vastly different from how I do it today. What happened was after Donald Trump started running for president, the political nature of the industry changed in a flash.
I didn’t start Society Reviews with the intention of being political, but as film and film opinion got so political divisive, I felt I had no choice but, to be honest, and call films out for what they were.
I’ve always looked at films with the average moviegoer in mind, even if something isn’t my cup of tea. Would the average Joe or Jane still enjoy it? But if you are going to release a film that lectures the audiences rather than entertain them, I have to call you out on it.
As we’ve seen, there aren’t many reviewers like us that do, and when we do, there is a clear resistance against it, meaning our opinions do hold a fair bit of weight otherwise, they wouldn’t be trying so hard to shut us up.
So for the question, I’ll try to watch my language but I’ll never watch my opinion.
HiT: Do you have any related thoughts on the matter?
Smith: Well, as much as I would love to go on a Jim Cornette style rant against Letterboxd and the furries that run that website, I think the biggest takeaway for readers and content creators, in general, is that if you are going to invest your hard-earned time to build and invest in any platform whether it is Youtube, Twitter, or whatever, make sure the platform is worth your time.
If the company doesn’t like your views then years of work and progress can be taken away from you in a heartbeat. For the users, if a company tells you they value your opinion, make sure they actually mean it because most people will claim to want to strengthen your opinion, when they just want you to strengthen theirs.