Justin Chang wins criticism Pulitzer for Los Angeles Times

Justin Chang
Former Los Angeles Times film critic Justin Chang.
(Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)
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Former Los Angeles Times film critic Justin Chang was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for criticism on Monday for his “richly evocative and genre-spanning film criticism that reflects on the contemporary moviegoing experience,” according to Pulitzer judges.

Chang was honored for his work published last year, led by an article in August 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 the 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.


“It’s been my great honor and privilege at the L.A. Times to advocate for the art that I love, and the art that moviegoers in Los Angeles love,” Chang said during an emotional speech in a Zoom staff meeting convened to celebrate Chang and contributions of others. “I know critics at other papers and other publications who’ve had to fight tooth and nail to cover the things that really matter to them. That was never a battle that I had to fight for one second at the L.A. Times.”

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 11 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. Times editors said the coverage demonstrated the paper’s commitment to covering L.A.’s diverse communities.

“The Monterey Park shooting was an extremely difficult event to cover ... there were a number of reporters who worked throughout the night, no matter how tired they were,” Managing Editor Hector Becerra said during the Zoom call. “We live in a state where a lot of things happen, from wildfires to mass shootings and all kinds of horrible events. And we step up — the staff steps up.”

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Times Executive Editor Terry Tang said, “The coverage of the Monterey Park shooting and the community and lasting well into the whole year is truly a public service — that’s why we are here.”

In addition, 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 inmates, which she wrote while with the Marshall Project, and published in the New York Times Magazine. Blakinger joined the paper last year 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. He said the awards speak “to the spirit and the importance of what you do and it speaks really to your commitment. ... You write stories that matter.”

Since 1942, The Times has won 52 Pulitzer Prizes, six of which were gold medals for public service.

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

Judges bestowed the most prestigious Pulitzer award, for public service, to the non-profit newsroom ProPublica for its reporting on a murky practice by some U.S. Supreme Court justices to accept lavish trips and gifts from billionaires.

Marjorie Miller, the administrator of the Pulitzer Prizes, kicked off Monday’s virtual announcement ceremony by noting the strain facing the industry and individual journalists.

Miller noted that dozens of publications folded last year and cutbacks trimmed 3,000 journalists from the industry.

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 that were submitted. “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.”

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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.

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.

“We all know Justin is such an illuminating thinker about films, the artists who make them and the art form itself,” said Craig Nakano, assistant managing editor for entertainment and arts. “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.”

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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 an interview, Chang praised 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.”

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“My years at The Times were just an amazing experience,” the 41-year-old Anaheim Hills native 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,” he said.

“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.”

The show, airing on ‘L.A. Times Today’ on Spectrum News 1, explores the repercussions of the Jan. 21 shooting in Monterey Park and the ways members of the public have responded to the epidemic of gun violence in California.

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