Boston is a city where culture matters. So Boston Globe film critic Wesley Morris’ Pulitzer Prize for criticism makes an important statement about the paper’s place in the cultural life of the city.
Morris’ Pulitzer comes just a year after Sebastian Smee won for his visual-arts criticism. Three years before that, Mark Feeney was honored for his criticism of photography, art and film. That is an impressive record. It also marks the Globe’s sixth Pulitzer since Marty Baron became editor in the summer of 2001.
I will confess that I do not usually read film criticism. But after Morris won, I went back and re-read the appreciation he wrote of Steve Jobs’ legacy shortly after the Apple chief executive died. It was smart in all the right ways, expressing the mixed feelings we all have about the overarching place in our lives that we have devoted to our digital devices.
Though I haven’t seen “The Help,” I was interested to see what Morris, an African-American, would make of a film that seems to have sparked ambivalence, especially among black movie-goers. Morris’ review is a meditation on well-meaning whites and the sting of liberal condescension. And the last sentence is a killer.
Boston, fortunately, is still a place where intelligent, literate criticism is read and appreciated. My former professional home, the Boston Phoenix, has long thrived on the strength of its outstanding arts commentary. It matters here, which is one of the reasons that this is such a great place to live and work.
As we all know, professional, informed criticism has ceded substantial ground to bloggers, commenters on Amazon and Yelp, and other unpaid reviewers. There’s a place for such amateur voices, and some of them are quite good. But gifted, deeply informed critics like Morris, Smee and Feeney show why crowdsourced reviews are a valuable supplement — not a substitute.