When I saw this yesterday I thought it was satire – I assumed it was satire, I took it for granted it was satire. I had a good laugh and shared it on Facebook, thinking it was satire. Then I learned that it’s not satire – they mean it.
The title is We Messed Up. What follows is a hyperbolic, endless confession of wrong-doing over…a movie review and a lesbian taco shell.
And it’s not satire.
Yesterday we published a review of Seth Rogen’s new animated film, Sausage Party. After we received feedback about it from our Trans Editor Mey Rude, the members of the QTPOC Speakeasy and Facebook commenters, we decided to un-publish the piece. Here’s how the review came to be published on Autostraddle, why it was a problematic decision, and what we’re doing to avoid mistakes like this in the future.
Lordy. If you read that first paragraph of a long piece, wouldn’t you assume it was satire? Wouldn’t you assume no one, however Politically Woke, could be that po-faced and humorless? “Our Trans Editor Mey Rude”?? Do admit.
On Saturday we received a pitch from a freelancer who enjoyed Salma Hayek’s portrayal of the animated queer taco in Sausage Party; she found it to be surprisingly nuanced. Hers was the only pitch we received about the film. None of the senior editors saw the film or wanted to. I spent about an hour reading reviews over the weekend. Every review I read that made note of the film’s cultural caricatures also indicated that those caricatures were pushed so far beyond the point of absurdity that they actually became a subversive parody of stereotypes. In interviews, Salma Hayek expressed unbridled enthusiasm about the role.
Well who wouldn’t? Who wouldn’t rave about playing an “animated queer taco” in a Penis Joke Movie by Seth Rogen?
Then we get a long collection of snippets from reviews confirming the wonderfulness of the taco part. Then we get, gawdelpus, a transcribed discussion among the editors. A tiny sample:
Yvonne: i think it’s fine heather! i think i wouldn’t watch the movie because it’s in the category of movies i hate and i hope our readers can make that distinction for themselves. and it’s not like we’re endorsing this movie, just pointing out there’s a lesbian taco
Would you have known that wasn’t satire? Would anyone? I ask you.
After we published the review, we heard from Latinx readers who believe the portrayal of Salma Hayek’s taco was racist and that it reinforced harmful stereotypes. We heard from readers who were upset that we labeled the taco a lesbian when it seems more likely that she was bisexual. We heard from readers who questioned the consent of the sexual encounter between the taco and the hot dog bun. We heard from readers who found the taco to be a damaging portrayal of a predatory queer woman.
Come on. How is that not satire?
There are several reasons I should have listened to the alarm bells of unease I felt about the Sausage Party review. First and most damning: we allowed a non-Latina writer to cover a story about a caricature of a Latina, and while the review didn’t specifically mention the film’s stereotyping, by praising the film as a positive portrayal of a queer Latina, we allowed a white writer to, in effect, condone that stereotyping. Second, when I was looking for reviews, I trusted the opinion of mainstream newspapers and websites and didn’t specifically seek out reviews written by women of color, generally; or Latina women, specifically. Furthermore, if the review had been written by a staff writer we would’ve talked it out with the writer in Slack if we had concerns and asked them more questions. Since the writer was a freelancer, we chose not to reach out to ask follow up questions over email; instead, we plowed forward for the sake of a time-sensitive article. Third, we did not consult with our full team to see if anyone had heard anything positive or negative about the film’s portrayal of a queer Latina character. And finally, we put the burden on Yvonne of being the conscience and voice for all queer Latina women.
I want to personally apologize to every reader who was hurt by the Sausage Party review. I failed you as a senior editor of this website and I failed you as an ally. I am wholly sorry for the pain and anger I caused you. I offer you no justification. I was blinded by my own whiteness existing inside a system of white supremacy. I must do better. I will do better. I also want to take full responsibility for not working more closely with the freelancer. This was not her fault. This was an editorial failure. I should have asked more critical questions about the film, especially since no one I know had seen it.
A note from Yvonne: I want to apologize to our Latinx readers specifically because I could’ve stopped this from happening, especially when I recognized the red flags and didn’t stop to question them. I knew the taco was a racist caricature but attributed it to a systemic problem in media that wasn’t necessarily our problem. But it became our problem when we used our voice as a queer publication to write a positive review of that racist caricature and perpetuated a racist narrative for the sake of the queer representation in the film. I was wrong for not stopping this immediately, especially when it deeply effects my own people. I’m a Latina and I’m also susceptible to the racist, oppressive system we live in. I know how incredibly challenging it is to find genuine Latinx representations in media and I’m sorry I was a disservice to Latinxs by not demanding better. These aren’t our stories and we deserve better. I’m deeply shamed by this deplorable mistake and I will definitely learn from this and make sure I can provide the best representation for people of color going forward.
Then there’s a long thing about what they’re doing to make sure this never happens again.
I hope help reaches them in time.