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.
How The Review Came to Be Published
Because the time and resources of our small full-time staff are always spread very thin, we rely on freelance pitches to cover things we can’t or won’t experience firsthand. 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.
Variety: “Racial, ethnic, sexual and sociopolitical stereotypes are shamelessly exaggerated and honed to satirical edges.”
New Republic: “It throws joke after joke after joke, a high percentage enough of which land to make it worthwhile, if you can get through all the cheerful offensiveness.”
AV Club: “…keeps returning to the network of religion-like beliefs and ethnic stereotypes that make up this food world [which] … the movie ridicules.”
Screen Rant: “Anyone with even a passing knowledge of world history is sure to appreciate a majority of this content (though, the stereotypes start to become played out after a while).”
MTV: “Sausage Party is ballsy and dumb and brilliant all in one bite. You can gobble it up like empty calories, snickering at satisfying junk like the way Salma Hayek’s lesbian taco shell Teresa leers at literal white bread Brenda’s squeezable behind.”
Chicago Sun-Times: “At times Sausage Party plays into ethnic and gender stereotypes while making points about ethnic and gender stereotypes … Despite all the cursing and envelope-pushing and bat-bleep crazy sexual stuff, Sausage Party isn’t mean-spirited. It’s just stupid. But also pretty smart. And funny as hell.”
HitFix: “Salma Hayek is surprisingly raw as a taco who tries to deny her feelings for Brenda the bun.”
Rolling Stone: “Salma Hayek scores as a bi-curious taco with a thing for Brenda.”
On Monday afternoon, I put the freelancer’s review into wordpress and was getting it ready for publication when I opened up a discussion about it in our senior editors channel in Slack. In the interest of transparency, I am copying and pasting the transcript of that conversation here.
heather: Salma Hayek Is a Surprisingly Endearing Lesbian Taco in “Sausage Party”
how’s that [headline]?
i can’t see how a latina woman voicing a lesbian taco in a seth rogen movie could ever be a good thing, but this review says it is nuanced and sweet
riese: is the reviewer white
heather: i don’t know
a lot of reviewers are talking about how this is a really nuanced allegory about theology and faith? that feels so impossible.
will someone else read the sausage party post? i have made the few edits it needed for readability, but i feel uneasy because i haven’t seen it and it is a latina lesbian taco falling in love with a hot dog bun
Yvonne: lol i can read it
heather: thank you
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
Yvonne: maybe we should include the trailer in there?
i had to go find it
and judge for myself
and was like oh eww
heather: i hope it’s not transmisogynistic. i went through ten pages of google results and tumblr and didn’t see anything about transphobia or transmisogyny
like if i think about it, of course i hate that they resorted to a stereotype, like making salma hayek use her accent for the voice of a taco but like this is seth rogan so my feelings are like :face_with_rolling_eyes:
heather: yeah, that makes sense!
Yvonne: do you think think the last paragraph is like an exaggeration? or does this fall into the thing of someone has an opinion different from yours type of deal?
Heather: i think the second thing. i mean, i don’t think it’s going to actually encourage queer rep in movies aimed at younger people; i don’t think that’s a thing that will happen at all. but i do think she’s right that having an animated lesbian character to sympathize with in a summer blockbuster aimed at the people who will pay money to see this is a big deal.
heather: also i wonder if the taco is bisexual
i can’t believe i am having this much of a crisis about this!
Yvonne: i get it though!
because sausage party is crass
Yvonne: like people in our community can critique the hell out of it
and pick it apart
Yvonne: because it’s meant for stupid fucking men
thank you, yes
that is my feelings exactly
Yvonne: and it’s not meant for us
and we don’t need more media like it in this world
because that is the world
we do not!
i have lost my mind, thanks a lot taco movie
i had no idea this was a movie!
heather: i wish i didn’t
Yvonne: a summer blockbuster even
heather: i’ll bet it’s so gross
Yvonne: for sure
heather: you have to read and write too much about donald trump to be forced to acknowledge that this movie exists!
Why The Review Was Unacceptable
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.
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.
What We’re Doing To Stop Mistakes Like This From Happening
Again, in the interest of transparency, I want to pull back the curtain on our editorial process for a moment and talk to you about how we cover TV shows and movies. Like I said, we often rely on freelancers for film and TV shows we don’t have access to. Luckily, I was accepted into the Television Critics Association this year, which has opened up some doors to us as far as TV access. However, we still don’t have the “ins” other publications do when it comes to movies. We have to rely on our staff members paying to see a movie on opening weekend, or freelancers coming to us with pitches about movies they’ve seen. That’s how the Sausage Party review came to be.
I also want to tell you about how we cover things we do have access to. I think Orange Is the New Black is a good jumping off point. For the most recent season of Orange Is the New Black, we passed around a sign-up sheet and offered our staff writers and editors the chance to review individual episodes of the show, and we reached out to a handful of freelancers whose work we love and whose voices we want to amplify to ask them to join us in writing reviews. My main priorities in our OITNB coverage were: 1) Making sure the majority of our reviews were written by women of color. And 2) Making sure any writer who shared an identity with an episode’s feature character had first dibs on writing about that episode. I told all of our writers they needed to be willing to trade or give up their review slots, if necessary, to achieve this goal.
We were three episodes into our review schedule when we found out about OITNB’s season-ending death. At that time, I pulled reviews from two of our white writers and sought Black writers to cover the important episodes. Riese mandated that we read the widely circulated article “Orange Is the New Black is Trauma Porn for White People.” And I personally edited every review so I could make sure the opinions voiced by our white writers were in line with the voices of Black writers I was seeking out every day for their opinions on every episode. I am really proud of the diversity of voices we showcased in our 13-episode review schedule. We published reviews by two trans women of color, four Black writers, one Latinx, one Indian woman, two nonbinary writers, and two bisexual writers. The majority of our reviews were written by people of color.
I mention this only to illustrate the huge difference between the way we write about stories we have access to and stories that we don’t. We need to do even better with shows like Orange Is the New Black. The overwhelming majority of our reviews should be written by women of color. 2016’s coverage was just a stepping stone. I also mention this because while yesterday’s Sausage Party review was unacceptable, it’s not a fully accurate representation of our editorial thought process. We try to find writers with similar identities to minority characters to cover TV shows and movies that focus on those characters — our failure to do so in the case of the Sausage Party piece serves as a reminder to us of why that practice is so important, and why we need to redouble our commitment to it. Our extreme commitment to having topics relating to any marginalized identity — be that trans status, race, religion, physical ability — is why we have such an enormous stable of writers we work with regularly, which’s why we need five full-time Senior Editors to manage, edit and work with those writers. It’s also why there’s been no financial room to promote anybody into a part-time or full-time position for the past two years.
Several weeks ago, Riese combed through our archives and our payroll and created a document called Diversity Initiative, in which she laid out the ways we are succeeding and failing in making sure Autostraddle is a constant source of voices of people of color. The senior editors studied her report and spent several hours on the phone the following day to brainstorm and make an action plan — both as individual editors and as a company — to hire, promote, pay, and publish more writers of color, and to make sure the writers of color who are on our staff have the editorial support they need to create the content they’re passionate about publishing. This is far from the first time we’ve had meetings on this topic and discussed how to do better, but this time we have a serious outline to follow with concrete action steps and we hope the results of that work will be evident soon.
We understand that (like most online media for LGBTQ folks) the majority of our senior staff is white, and that because of that, we make decisions based on our conditioning by white supremacy. Yesterday’s Sausage Party review is a very hurtful example of what happens when our lack of access and that blindness and our weaknesses as editors due to our privilege and systemic racism collide. I take full responsibility for the pain and anger the review caused.
We’re not there yet. In fact, we will never get there because the work will never be done. And we’re going to keep fucking up along our way. But we are constantly working to get better. I will redouble my own efforts to unpack my role in the systemic oppression of people of color and to check the ways in which I benefit from that system. I love you very much, and I want to work with you to make the world better.
As always, we welcome your feedback. We are grateful for the accountability you provide to us, and the ways you push us to be better.
UPDATE: The comments on this post have been closed. We value the feedback from our Autostraddle readers and will continue to work to make this website a safe place for you. Unfortunately, this post has made its way onto some forums and websites notorious for harassing women and the comments have become untenable.