Reviewing movies and TV shows, at a moment when Hollywood is increasingly letting socially progressive values drive artistic choices, feels more and more like a political act as much as a cultural one. Progressive and liberally-minded critics who work for major media publishers on the coasts, for example, don’t tend to champion, say, pro-military movies. Meanwhile Bible Belt, MAGA Republicans usually aren’t writing dispassionate commentary online about movies and shows that explore sexuality and gender.
Most people, ultimately, seem to just retreat to their respective corners and root for their own tribe in these kinds of scenarios, making sites like Rotten Tomatoes and IMDb often little more than storehouses of competing echo chambers.
Enter a newly launched review site, “Worth it or Woke,” which debuted just a few months ago — and at a time when sites like Rotten Tomatoes and IMDb also keep changing their rules in such a way that certain opinion and commentary are increasingly favored and amplified over others (I’ll leave you to figure out which is which).
“The growing disparity between what audiences think about a program and that of the ‘professionals’ has finally increased to the point that it can no longer be ignored,” the “Worth it or Woke” About Us page explains. “So, we have decided that our religious conservative voice needs to be heard, and so we bring you Worth it or Woke.
“Everyone is biased but we wear ours out in the open for all to see, so much so that we’ve built it right into our critique model. Right alongside with what we think about the story, performances, and visuals, we let you know if the woke quotient (woketient) is distractingly high, tolerable, or not there at all.”
Disney’s newly released live-action remake of The Little Mermaid is a good example of what’s going on here, in terms of the state of official review-dom these days. And also helps explain why a site like “Worth it or Woke” feels like it’s even necessary in the first place.
In terms of the new Little Mermaid, many of the audience reviews on a site like Rotten Tomatoes have fixated on the casting of a young black woman in the title role while others are more focused on, simply, the movie itself — and on whether it’s a worthy remake that lives up to the original. In the aggregate, the reviewers include obvious trolls and plenty-satisfied viewers, as well as people who have a problem with any change at all being made to a beloved classic (plus too-sensitive types who see tinges of racism in any legitimate negative commentary here), all of which combines into a stew of toxicity that sites like Rotten Tomatoes and IMDb keep changing their rules in response to.
IMDb, for example, has been bombarded by 1-star reviews for The Little Mermaid, and its audience review section now includes this verbiage: “Unusual activity: Our rating mechanism has detected unusual voting activity on this title. To preserve the reliability of our rating system, an alternate weighting calculation has been applied.”
Rotten Tomatoes, meanwhile, segregates its audience review section into two buckets: Verified Audience ratings, and All Audience ratings. And there can be quite an eyebrow-raising difference between the two, such that The Little Mermaid’s more than 5,000 Verified Audience ratings are 95% positive, while the movie currently has more than 25,000 All Audience ratings … of which only 57% are positive.
Take a series like Prime Video’s The Terminal List from 2022, which creator Jack Carr has proudly proclaimed doesn’t have “woke stuff … shoved into it.” Critics ripped it to shreds, earning the series a terrible 39% on Rotten Tomatoes, while fans on the review site responded to the action and pro-military feel by giving the show a near-perfect 95%.
A sampling of some of the “Worth it or Woke” review snippets currently shown on the site’s homepage carousel:
- Guy Ritchie’s The Covenant: “I didn’t know that Guy Ritchie had it in him. The Covenant is a superb war movie that will pi$$ you off, and rightly so.”
- The Little Mermaid (2023): “The Little Mermaid is watered-down and woke flotsam that made its way to the ocean via toilet flush.”
- Fast X: “Put your brain on cruise control. Fast X is 2.5 hours of vroom vroom things go boom, family, and whatever the h3!! Jason Mamoa is doing.”
- Hypnotic: “Hypnotic asks, ‘What if Christopher Nolan was far less talented and made a Matrix movie about the Jedi Mind Trick?”
Have mainstream sites like Rotten Tomatoes, which try to be all things to all people, outlived their usefulness? That day is probably still to come, but all of this does underscore one thing, at least for me — how ridiculous it is to pretend that there’s an inherent objectivity to works of art in the first place.