Hit or Miss

Toronto Star wine column leaves bad taste

September 11, 2017

The Toronto Star, Canada’s largest paper, on Friday published a column suggesting wines to pair with films from previous years of the Toronto International Film Festival, which opened on September 7.

But really? A wine pairing for 12 Years A Slave?


“I was astounded,” says Michael Barclay, a freelance writer and former copy chief for Maclean’s magazine, who called the blurb a reporting and editing screwup that reflects cultural obliviousness. “I don’t know what they were thinking. 12 Years A Slave is one of the most powerful films I’ve ever seen. It’s gutting, horrific, beautiful, and a crucial film. This women wasn’t even joking. It’s just completely tone-deaf.”

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The story was published online on Friday and in the Saturday print edition. Barclay, who still reads the paper cover-to-cover, spotted it and called it out on Twitter Sunday.

As CJR began reporting this piece, the pairing was still included in the story online. The newspaper removed it this afternoon, after CJR left messages with the public editor. On Monday afternoon, Star public editor Kathy English tweeted about the 12 Years a Slave pairing, noting that, “all involved agree this was in bad taste.”

CJR contacted the author, freelance wine writer Carolyn Evans-Hammond, who says she’s written the Star column for approximately two years. She intended this week’s wine suggestions for readers who could not attend the festival but still wanted to participate in spirit through past films.

Initially, Evans-Hammond told CJR it made sense to pair 12 Years A Slave — “a hard, tough, important movie to watch” — with “something that goes down easy.”

She said the column appeared exactly as she submitted it.

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And she didn’t think the column was a problem. “What was I going to do otherwise?” she asked. “Omit that film, I think that’s less scrupulous. It’s a very important film to watch. I could have said a shot of whiskey, but I’m a wine writer.”

She called CJR again after reading some of the criticism on Twitter, saying she didn’t see it coming.

“I feel gutted that people would take offense, and I didn’t mean to hurt anyone,” she said. “Twitter has obviously revealed I have hurt people, which makes me sad. There’s no way I want anyone to think I’m glossing over it or diminishing these movies in any way.”

The Star has received criticism for its lack of diversity on staff as well the newspaper’s policies on columnists following the departure of freelancer Desmond Cole for his activism.

The recommendation for 12 Years a Slave wasn’t the only blunder in the wine column. Another pairing in the column suggested a 2014 red from Tuscany to pair with Still Alice, a movie about a Columbia linguistics professor who struggles with early onset Alzheimer’s. The movie, Evans-Hammond wrote, “calls for something intense but elegant — much like Julianne Moore’s portrayal.”

The Star has also removed that suggestion.

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Karen K. Ho is a freelance business, culture and media reporter, based in New York. She is also a former Delacorte Fellow at CJR. Follow her on Twitter @karenkho.