Justin Chang Scoops Pulitzer Prize! Unbelievable Achievement for LA Times Critic!

Justin Chang, previously a film critic for the Los Angeles Times, was recognized with a Pulitzer Prize for criticism. The Pulitzer judges praised Chang’s “deeply expressive and wide-ranging film critique, offering insight into the modern cinematic experience.”

Chang’s award-winning work from last year featured a piece in August that supported filmmaker Christopher Nolan’s contentious choice to exclude depictions of the devastating atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in his film “Oppenheimer.” The film subsequently clinched the Academy Award for best picture.

Chang dedicated nearly eight years to The Times as a film critic before leaving in January to join The New Yorker magazine. His career started at Variety, a Hollywood trade magazine, where he spent 12 years, progressing from an intern to the chief film critic before transitioning to The Times.

Speaking at a Zoom staff meeting held to honor him and others, Chang expressed, “It’s been a true honor and privilege at the L.A. Times to champion the art form that I, and many moviegoers in Los Angeles, are passionate about. I know of critics at other outlets who’ve had to fight relentlessly to cover the subjects dear to them. At the L.A. Times, I never faced such a struggle.”

The Times team was nominated as a Pulitzer finalist for breaking news for their coverage of the January 2023 mass shooting at the Star Ballroom Dance Studio in Monterey Park, which resulted in 11 fatalities. About 20 minutes following the Lunar New Year shooting, the suspect entered another studio in Alhambra, but was disarmed by a young man and fled the scene.

A massive manhunt ensued, concluding when law enforcement officers cornered the suspect in a Torrance strip mall parking lot, where he died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Times editors emphasized that the coverage demonstrated the paper’s dedication to covering L.A.’s diverse communities.

Discussing the Monterey Park shooting coverage, Managing Editor Hector Becerra said during the Zoom call, “It was an incredibly challenging event to report on… with several reporters working tirelessly throughout the night. We live in a state where countless incidents occur, from wildfires to mass shootings and other tragic events. And we step up — the team steps up.”

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Times Executive Editor Terry Tang added, “The coverage of the Monterey Park shooting and its lasting impact throughout the year is genuinely a public service — that’s our purpose.”

Moreover, Times staff writer Keri Blakinger was named a finalist for a feature story, “The Dungeons & Dragons Players of Death Row,” about how the fantasy game served as a lifeline for Texas prisoners. Blakinger wrote the piece while with the Marshall Project, and it was published in the New York Times Magazine. She later joined The Times to cover criminal justice and the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department.

The Times’ owner, Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong, joined the call to congratulate Chang and the finalists, stating the awards reflect “the spirit and significance of your work and your commitment… You write stories that have real impact.”

Both The New York Times and The Washington Post won three Pulitzer Prizes each. The New York Times and Reuters were recognized for their coverage of the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel and its aftermath. The Washington Post received the national reporting award for its “sober examination” of the cultural impact of the AR-15 semi-automatic rifle.

The most prestigious Pulitzer award, for public service, was given to the non-profit newsroom ProPublica for its reporting on the shady practice of some U.S. Supreme Court justices accepting extravagant trips and gifts from billionaires.

Marjorie Miller, the administrator of the Pulitzer Prizes, initiated Monday’s virtual announcement ceremony by highlighting the industry’s challenges and the pressure on individual journalists.

Miller acknowledged that many publications closed last year, resulting in the loss of 3,000 journalists from the industry.

Chang’s award marked the sixth consecutive year that The Times received at least one Pulitzer, bringing the newspaper’s total Pulitzer count to 52.

“Justin delves into his ideas with a diligence that’s rare and unique,” commented Times Film Editor Joshua Rothkopf, who edited most of Chang’s submitted columns. “His clear thinking and creativity inspire all of us who appreciate movies and thoughtful writing about them. Our collaboration was incredibly rewarding.”

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Last year, The Times won the Pulitzer for breaking news for its coverage of a secret audio recording that revealed L.A. City Council members plotting in crude and racist ways — a shocking insight into the city’s political factions and power struggles.

In 2023, Times photographer Christina House also received a Pulitzer in feature photography for her powerful and empathetic images of a young unhoused woman living alongside the Hollywood Freeway while grappling with drug addiction and childbirth.

In 2022, Times photographer Marcus Yam was awarded the breaking news photography award for his poignant images of the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, capturing the human toll of the historic shift in the country.

The newsroom celebrated Chang and his significant achievement, which continued the recognition for several Times columnists who have received the prize for criticism over the years. Times art critic Christopher Knight won the award in 2020. Five years prior, senior critic Mary McNamara was honored for her columns that explored beyond television to examine broader cultural trends.

Assistant Managing Editor for Entertainment and Arts, Craig Nakano, praised Chang, “We all recognize Justin as an enlightening thinker about films, the artists who create them and the art form itself. What people might not know is that his intelligence and graceful writing are balanced with an incredible work ethic and kindness, even under deadline stress. All his exceptional work since joining The Times in 2016 built up to this moment.”

Chang’s columns centered on screen works, highlighting those he believed deserved acclaim for artistry, humanity, and storytelling.

Conversely, he did not shy away from expressing his disappointment in other works, such as Alexander Payne’s “The Holdovers.” His review of that film was titled: “Bah, humbug! ‘The Holdovers’ is a clunky, phony white-elephant gift of a movie.”

In an interview, Chang commended his mentor, The Times’ longtime film critic Kenneth Turan, as his “first significant teacher of film and film criticism.”

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Chang shared, “I learned a great deal from Kenny about how to conduct oneself, how to approach the work with humility, which is something I’ve strived to do. I believe humility and authority go hand in hand. If you start with humility, authority will follow.”

“My tenure at The Times was an incredible experience,” the 41-year-old Anaheim Hills native added.

“From the moment I stepped into the Spring Street office — when we were still on Spring Street — The Times granted me full freedom to approach this job in my own way. And I don’t take that for granted,” he said.

“People have many ideas and presumptions about what a critic should be, what a critic should cover, what they should prioritize and sometimes those agendas are closely tied to the agendas of the American commercial movie industry,” Chang noted. “While I admire the American movie industry, I’m also fascinated by other types of movies. I’m interested in the entire cinematic spectrum. And I’m exceedingly grateful to The Times because they’ve always allowed me to explore that spectrum to its fullest.”

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