Former Los Angeles Times film critic Justin Chang was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for criticism on Monday.

Chang was honored for his work published last year, led by an August article that defended director Christopher Nolan’s controversial decision to avoid depictions of the horrific atomic bombings of the Japanese cities Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Nolan’s epic movie “Oppenheimer,” which went on to win the Academy Award for best picture.

Chang was a critic with The Times for nearly eight years; he left the paper in late January to become a film critic for New Yorker magazine. He began his career at Hollywood trade magazine Variety, where he spent 12 years, starting as an intern and working his way up to become the publication’s chief film critic before segueing to The Times.

“The only job I ever wanted was to be a film critic,” Chang said in a brief interview Monday. “And to get to do it at the L.A. Times — I grew up in Orange County reading The Times — was just a dream come true.”

The Times’ staff was selected as a Pulitzer finalist for breaking news for its coverage of the January 2023 mass shooting at the Star Ballroom Dance Studio in Monterey Park that left nearly a dozen people dead. About 20 minutes after the Lunar New Year shooting, the suspect walked into another studio in nearby Alhambra but a young man disarmed him and he ran away.

An enormous manhunt began and ended when law enforcement officers converged on a strip mall parking lot in Torrance, where the suspect died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

In addition, Times staff writer Keri Blakinger was named a finalist in the features category for a report she authored, in conjunction with the Marshall Project and New York Times Magazine, before joining the paper last year to cover criminal justice and the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department.

Chang’s award marked the sixth year in a row that The Times won at least one Pulitzer, bringing the newspaper’s all-time Pulitzer total to 52.

“Justin dives deep into his ideas with a rigor that’s not only rare, but singular,” said Times Film Editor Joshua Rothkopf, who edited most of Chang’s columns. “His clarity of thinking and creativity are beacons to all of us who love movies and well-considered writing on them. Our work together was immensely enjoyable.”

Last year, The Times won the Pulitzer for breaking news for its coverage of a secret audio recording that exposed L.A. City Council members scheming in crude and racist ways — a jarring look at the city’s political factions and power struggles.

Photographer Christina House was also awarded a Pulitzer in feature photography in 2023 for her striking and empathetic images of a young unhoused woman who was living alongside the Hollywood Freeway while dealing with drug issues and childbirth.

In 2022, Times photographer Marcus Yam received the breaking news photography award for his sobering images of the U.S. departure from Afghanistan that captured the human cost of the historic change in the country.

“We all know Justin is such an illuminating thinker about films, the artists who make them and the art form itself,” Entertainment and Arts Editor Craig Nakano said. “What folks might not know is that his intelligence and graceful writing are matched with an amazing work ethic and kindness, even under deadline pressure. All of his brilliant work since joining The Times in 2016 led up to this moment.”

The newsroom celebrated Chang and his major accomplishment, which continued the recognition for several Times columnists who have captured the prize for criticism over the years. Times art critic Christopher Knight won the award in 2020. Five years earlier, senior critic Mary McNamara was honored for her columns that strayed beyond television to examine larger cultural trends.

Chang’s columns focused on works for the screen, singling out those he felt deserved praise for artistry, humanity and sheer storytelling.

Similarly, he did not hide 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 the interview, Chang singled out praise for his mentor, The Times’ longtime film critic Kenneth Turan, as his “first great teacher of film and film criticism.”

“I learned a lot from Kenny just about how to carry oneself, how to approach the work with humility, which is something I’ve tried to do,” Chang said. “I have this thing in my head, it’s a formulation that I can’t let go of — which is that humility and authority go hand in hand. You start with the one, the other will follow.”

The 41-year-old film critic is a native of Anaheim Hills.

“My years at The Times were just an amazing experience,” Chang said. “From the moment I walked in the doors on Spring Street — when we were still on Spring Street — The Times gave me all the freedom in the world to approach this job as I saw fit. And I don’t take that for granted.

“People have a lot of ideas and assumptions about what a critic should be, what a critic should cover, what they should prioritize and sometimes those agendas are very much tied to the agendas of the American commercial movie industry,” Chang said. “While I love the American movie industry, I’m really interested in other kinds of movies, too. I’m interested in the whole cinematic spectrum. And I’m so grateful to The Times because they’ve just always let me explore that spectrum to the fullest.”


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