The sexist hate campaign against the new season of ‘True Detective’: ‘There are too many women with power’

Disgruntled reviewers have set out to destroy Issa López’s latest version of the series on review-aggregation websites. They have already made victims of ‘The Little Mermaid’ and ‘The Lord of the Rings,’ and are now targeting the Jodie Foster series in which, according to some, there are too few men

True Detective
Jodie Foster and Kali Reis at the Los Angeles premiere of 'True Detective: Night Country.'Sipa USA (Sthanlee Mirador/Sipa USA / Cordon Press)
Eva Güimil

It has happened again. A female-led production has suffered so-called “review bombing.” The practice involves a group of people on social media who agree to leave a barrage of negative reviews of an audiovisual product on the main review aggregation websites that allow opinions from viewers. The motivation is always the same: rejection of the inclusion of characters who are female, members of the LGBTQ+ community, or any race other than white. That is, when a certain reactionary sector suspects that what it calls “woke culture” has sunk its claws into a product that was just fine when it was all white, male, and heterosexual.

The victim this time is the fourth season of True Detective (True Detective: Night Country, available on HBO Max) released worldwide last Sunday. The attack was so furious that it led its Mexican director Issa López to post a message on X, formerly Twitter: “If you liked last night’s episode and you have a Rotten Tomatoes account, could you go there and leave a review? The bros and the fandom of the first season have decided to reduce the rating, and it is a little sad considering all the 5-star ratings we have.”

On Rotten Tomatoes, ratings from professional critics and the wider audience are combined to give an overall score. And while the former gave the series 93% positive reviews, audience ratings barely exceeded 50%. Right now it remains around 70%. It is not unusual that both groups have differing opinions of the same product (the audience tends to opt for lighter subjects), but common elements in the comments suggest a movement that is not very spontaneous. For example, the assertion that there are too many “girl bosses,” that is, women with power.

“Too many girl bosses” wrote one viewer. “I wish they had focused on telling a good story, instead of being distracted by girl bossing,” wrote another. The list is endless and always points in the same direction: “This is woke and you can see this problem during the sixty minutes of the first episode,” “Stop shoving your message in our faces,” “Another franchise that makes the man evil!”, “I don’t know whose idea it was to let Hannah Gadsby write this season” (Hannah Gadsby is a lesbian comedian), and “Almost everyone is a lesbian!”

True Detective
Jodie Foster and Kali Reis hunt for a killer in 'True Detective: Night Country.'HBO Max

In fact, there is only one lesbian, and she is a teenager who only appears on-screen for a few minutes. But for those bros that López referred to, the term lesbian is used to criticize any fictional female character who does not conform to traditional notions of femininity and does not remain in the background.

López later deleted the comment and replaced it with a kinder one, celebrating that the ratings had gone up since she published her first message. She also apologized for making an unfair generalization, and added that there were many straight guys and fans of the first season who loved this fourth season and had left positive reviews. She has since deleted that comment as well.

But who is a bro?

In any case, the complaint was made and the debate has been opened. Who exactly are the bros López was referring to? Journalist Ann Friedman defined them in 2013: “Bro has become shorthand for the kind of privileged ignorance that thrives in groups dominated by rich, white, heterosexual men,” she wrote in an article in New York Magazine. Bro evokes a particular type of man who operates socially by excluding those who are different.” Eleven years later, that definition is still valid.

And what is the problem with the fandom (that is, the most loyal and staunch followers) of the first season, whom López also refers to? Let’s put it into context: True Detective is an anthology series, and each of its four seasons deals with a new case with different characters. And it is now in its fourth season. While the second and especially the third went largely unnoticed, the first, written by Nic Pizzolatto and directed by Cary Fukunaga, instantly gained cult status. This is the first key element: while that series starred two men (Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson), in the current iteration, the investigation is led by Jodie Foster and Kali Reis, an Oscar-winning actress and a professional boxer, respectively. Moreover, they play two strong, tenacious, and not very accommodating female characters.

True Detective
Woody Harrelson and Matthew McCounaghey in the first season of 'True Detective' (2014).HBO

In the first episode, the only one that has been released so far, Foster is a police chief who has no problem censuring the behavior of a subordinate who has just bought a Russian mail order bride. We also see Reis support an abused woman in front of her abuser and call the shots in a sexual relationship with a man who seems to want more than just sex with her. They are tough in their personal lives and brilliant in their work. These are traits that would probably be universally welcomed if they were male characters. And there is a second key element: in the lionized first season, female roles were reduced to a long-suffering wife, prostitutes, or corpses, and in almost all cases their common denominator was being scantily clad.

“It reeks of macho nonsense,” New Yorker critic Emily Nussbaum wrote in 2014. “Every live woman they meet is paper-thin. [There are] none with any interior life.” She also had words for the idolized protagonist Rust, played by McConaughey, whom she described as “a macho fantasy straight out of a Carlos Castaneda book.”

If in 2014 it already raised some eyebrows, looking back from 2024 — in the wake of the #MeToo revolution in which the women’s representation in audiovisual media has been reexamined, and their presence in the writers’ rooms has increased — the first season of True Detective seems like a parody of masculinity. Watching it again in 2024 makes the total absence of important female characters astonishing. In a police station where there are at least a dozen officers, there is only one woman: the secretary who answers the phone. In the entire season there is not a single woman with even the tiniest amount of authority, everything is cooked up by the bros. Needless to say, there is no LGBTQ+ presence either, and the other characters are all predominantly white, even though the series is set in Louisiana! The only African-American characters are a couple of annoying agents who try to judge Rust’s attitude.

A long list of victims

The fourth season of True Detective is just one more in the long list of productions boycotted by angry viewers, and the reasons that bother them are varied. A year ago the victim was another HBO Max series, The Last of Us. The third episode, Long, long time, which reflected a romantic relationship between two men, saw its negative ratings multiply one hundred percent compared to the previous episode, and it received a score of 4.8 out of 10 on Metacritic, while the first two episodes had bordered on outstanding. “It literally has nothing to do with the plot of the series,” complained far-right commentator Ben Shapiro, despite acknowledging that he has never played the video game. If he had done so, he would have known that this storyline already existed in the original video game. One of his embarrassing comments on Twitter was met with a celebrated response from Nick Offerman, who played one of the two lovers. “Buddy, your brand of ignorance and hate is exactly why we make stories like this.”

The inclusion of female and non-white characters in The Last Jedi caused a real commotion in the Star Wars universe. Viewers used negative ratings to protest the inclusion of Asian-American actress Kelly Marie Tran as Rose Tico in the film. The personal attacks were so verbally violent that the actress closed her social media accounts. The all-female reboot of Ghostbusters is another case in point. There were those who accused the 2016 version of “stealing their childhood” simply because the protagonists were women. The 2021 version, a crude copy of Stranger Things with no resemblance to the original, passed under the bro radar: there were not enough women in authority to make it hateful in their eyes. Ms. Marvel (2022) where the protagonist was also Pakistani, and She-Hulk (2022) were lambasted before being released.

When Captain Marvel (2019) suffered from review bombing with such intensity, Rotten Tomatoes changed its way of scoring by resorting to verified ratings. The company was aware that they have a problem with this kind of hateful mobbing. They require reviewers to provide “proof” that they have seen the film before reviewing it, but it only works with tickets purchased online and is not required for television series.

For now, these measures have not managed to stop the phenomenon. Last year the production that bombed was The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power. And not because of its weak script, but because of the representation of Galadriel, who was considered too warlike and unspiritual, as well as the presence of Black elves. Racism is another head on the review bombing hydra: the live-action version of The Little Mermaid (2023) was also attacked before its release and caused IMDb, the major movie database, to move to a weighted system to balance one-star reviews.

Beyond the screens

It is not a phenomenon that is exclusive phenomenon to audiovisual media. Its presence is felt even in literature. Last summer, five hundred users of Goodreads, the book recommendation website, mobilized to leave single star ratings to the novel The Snow Forest, by Elizabeth Gilbert, which had not even been published. They accused her of romanticizing Russia. Although the fiction was set in the 19th century, the hostility aroused by the invasion of Ukraine caused its release to be postponed.

The writer and journalist Noelia Ramírez wondered in an article: “Is the cult of scoring and ranking all the culture we consume getting out of hand?” Of course. And not just what we consume culturally. We have already become accustomed to clicking on the smiling faces that encourage us to evaluate stores and rate their sellers, to the mild desperation that we sense in the call center employees who let us know that we will soon receive a survey to rate their service, to the misleading ratings on restaurant portals motivated many times by personal revenge, or fake reviews that have been paid for or that are generated by artificial intelligence.

Where does it all end? There is a pack of toilet paper rolls from a famous brand available on Amazon that has 10,437 reviews. Some are devastating one-star reviews. Maybe we have scored too much.

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