A documentary film tracking Dr. Anthony Fauci's medical career from the AIDS crisis to COVID-19, is creating controversy away from the big screen.
"Fauci," from NatGeo and Magnolia Pictures, hit select theaters Sept. 10 before getting a Disney+ release earlier this month. The documentary lets disparate figures like President George W. Bush, U2's Bono and Bill Gates praise the
Infectious disease specialist.
The studios failed to make the documentary's box office figures available to film industry sites or JustTheNews.com. The vast majority of studios, large and small, routinely share that data, as NatGeo and Magnolia have done on previous releases.
Movie fans then noticed RottenTomatoes.com, arguably the biggest review aggregator site on the web, didn't initially feature any "audience" reviews of the film.
Mainstream film critics saluted "Fauci," although most admitted the film served up a hagiography of the 80-year-old bureaucrat. Once audiences started weighing in on the film at Rotten Tomatoes, though, the results were withering. Professional critics gave "Fauci" a 92% "fresh" score, while audiences gave it just a 2% — or "rotten" — rating.
A similar pattern emerged at IMDB.com, a major film and TV reference destination. "Fauci's" audience rating, on a scale from 1-10, hovered around 1.8. This week, however, the site altered its review algorithm. Now, the audience review tally is a more robust 5.8.
A quick glimpse at the review breakdown, provided by the site, shows the overwhelming number of audience critics gave the film a one-star rating.
The site now features this explanation:
"NOTE: 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."
JustTheNews.com reached out to IMDB.com, owned by Amazon, to explain what triggered the reappraisal and whether it similarly updated other titles, and why.
The site did not respond.
Review aggregator sites allow audiences to review product, but the unofficial critics aren't asked to prove they've seen the film in question. That leads to select users treating the function as a way to share a partisan or populist opinion without fairly assessing the film. Some call this trend "review bombing" a movie based on factors beyond its entertainment value or quality.
Netflix scrapped its ratings system four years ago shortly after users torched liberal comic Amy Schumer's stand-up release "The Leather Special." The company didn't officially tie the decision to that reaction.
Rotten Tomatoes stopped allowing audiences to weigh in on a film prior to its release date after users trashed the MCU film "Captain Marvel" in 2019, viewed by some as a feminist lecture.
Fauci isn't an entertainer, but over the past year-plus he's attracted both ardent fans and critics alike. The latter may be impacting some of the reviews.
The same, in theory, could lead to the doctor's admirers counterbalancing that effort, though.
Amazon, which acquired IMDB.com in 1998, is increasingly known for allowing partisanship to impact its decisions. The platform removed "Created Equal: Clarence Thomas in His Own Words" from its service during Black History Month earlier this year without warning or explanation. The documentary allows the conservative justice to share his life story largely in his own words.
The company also threatened to block a right-leaning documentary, "What Killed Michael Brown?" before allowing it to stream on its platform. Amazon initially told the director, Eli Steele, the movie didn't meet the company's quality threshold initially before backing down.
Sasha Stone, editor of the long-running AwardsDaily.com film site, sees liberal bias in IMDB.com's review tweak.
Fauci's popularity is far greater on the left than the right, with key players like Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) routinely excoriating Dr. Fauci for his pandemic advice and alleged funding of controversial "gain-of-function" research at China's Wuhan Institute of Virology, widely suspected to be the source of COVID-19.
Stone sees a reverse bias on Hollywood review platforms where conservative-friendly content, think 2020's "Hillbilly Elegy" or Dave Chappelle's Netflix special, "The Closer," are concerned.
"They have their verified critics, and they accept their ratings, even though to any objective observer they are not fair evaluations but are completely partisan," Stone says. "There aren't enough critics with different points of view from the right to balance things out. Thus, it's becoming more and more like a public vs. elite critics scenario."
Even critic Richard Roeper publicly said his fellow critics graded the 2016 "Ghostbusters," cheered as a feminist achievement due to its all-female leads, on a curve.
Stone says the audience reaction to "Fauci," whether users have seen it or not, is "an expression of the growing anger at the government's bungling of COVID," she says.