“Thumbs Down” – Dr. Martha Lauzen’s Report on Film Critics and Gender

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Men write the overwhelming majority of film reviews in the nation’s top newspapers. In Fall 2007, men penned 70% and women 30% of all reviews. Furthermore, of the newspapers featuring film reviews, 47% had no reviews written by women critics, writers or freelancers. In contrast, only 12% had no reviews written by men critics, writers or freelancers.

The fact that males dominate the business and art of filmmaking is well documented. According to the latest Celluloid Ceiling report, women comprised a scant 15% of all directors, writers, producers, editors, and cinematographers working on the top 250 films of 2007 (“The Celluloid Ceiling: Behind-the-Scenes Representation of Women on the Top 250 Films of 2007,” Martha M. Lauzen). In addition, female characters comprised only 28% of all characters in the top 100 films of 2002.

However, little is known about the sex of those writing reviews and whether this influences the nature of their reviews. This report seeks to fill this void by asking some basic questions about women’s representation in the ranks of those individuals who write about film in the United States.

Read the full report, and feel free to comment here.

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  • http://maryfpols.com Mary Pols

    Pretty disheartening, although part of me is surprised that the percentage of women reviewing film isn’t even smaller. And isn’t it nice timing to have some statistics to chew on on the day that we learn that Ebert & Roeper (ie, Man & Man) are being replaced with Ben & Ben (Boy & Boy).

  • http://www.usmagazine.com Thelma Adams

    As a member of AWFJ, I’m not surprised at these findings — or the bizarre announcement of the Ben & Ben show following Ebert and Roeper as Mary mentions above. Every year, when I host a panel at the Woodstock Film Festival about, ok, amazing women in cinema, including female directors, producers, screenwriters and actresses, I address the fact that while women drive the marketplace for films, its largely men who are the critical gatekeepers. Because of that, films like Laurel Canyon or Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day or even Sex and the City often hit a wall of negative male criticism. A provisional answer is that we, as women, have to make room for more female critics in the media, and try not to tear each other down in the process. I hope this dialog, and this organization, will go a long way toward accomplishing this goal — although I’m no Polyanna believing in miracles.

  • http://documentaries.about.com Jennifer Merin

    Disheartening, indeed. But, as Mary says, it’s not surprising. We’ve felt the disparity for a long time. We just haven’t known until now how great it is.

    In delivering the stats, Martha Lauzen’s important study sets a benchmark for us. Now we know in concrete and shocking terms exactly what we’re up against.

    Professional film critics–be they women or men-are responsible for interpreting, contextualizing and making recommendations about what is unquestionably one of the world’s most popular forms of entertainment and one of the nation’s largest industries.

    Additionally, movie theaters are our contemporary classrooms in that whatever flickers across the big screen seems to set our social behavior and to establish our mores.

    Yet women critics–despite the fact that we of the female gender account for more than 50% of our population—are still excluded from a national discussion that has sweeping cultural and financial significance.

    That’s not acceptable.

    We must, as Thelma suggests, work together to change this egregious situation by creating more opportunities for women film critics and by turning up the volume on what women critics have to say about film.

    That’s certainly one of the primary goals of AWFJ.

  • http://www.womensindependentcinema.com Ashleyanne Krigbaum

    I am in love with this page! I would really like to find a contact email for the blog, so if anyone could pass that my way, I’d be very appreciative.

    ash (at) wicinema.com

    Cheers!

  • http://www.flickfilosopher.com MaryAnn Johanson

    we, as women, have to make room for more female critics in the media, and try not to tear each other down in the process.

    Are women tearing each other down? How and where is this happening?

  • http://documentaries.about.com Jennifer Merin

    Thanks, Ash, for your kind words and enthusiasm. You can reach us by email at awfjinc@gmail.com. We welcome your comments.

    All best,

    Jennifer

  • Lindsay Arata

    As a former student of Dr. Lauzen and a follower of her ongoing studies, these new statistics do not surprise me a bit. Also, as an aspiring film critic in my spare time, it is very challenging to find an audience or for that matter a publisher of my work.

    These statistics parallel the disparities of women working in Hollywood as stated in Dr. Lauzen’s other studies. What is so interesting is that women represent over half of the population, yet they are alarmingly underrepresented in one of our major exports that exalt American culture. I really am thankful that these studies are published and updated annually to keep the momentum of awareness and conversations going.

    Support women filmmakers, especially on opening weekends!

  • Josh Steinberg

    I suppose women are going to have to return to male sounding psuedonyms.

  • Vicki

    <<>>

    Building your own “audience” from scratch is a challenge, but can be done. Invest in a good autoresponder for your web site, like Aweber or Getresponse. Get a presence on Myspace, Facebook, Flixter, etc, and “friend” people who like movies. Encourage them to opt in to your mailing list with a free offer, like an ebook or report or FAQ about finding free screenings, or movies online. Once you have your own “customer list” that you own and manage yourself, you won’t have to settle for scraps from the boys’ table. When you come prepackaged with your own list of 2000+ readers, publishers will come to you.

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  • wobblefunk

    i think that you are avoiding a key element to your arguement. usuing my research from school, we asked my media set how many males would like to go into the film industry. 50% of the males would of liked to enter the industry, and only 1 of the 5 girls in our class would like to enter the industry.

    this leads me to say maybe its not that women cant get into the film industry as key roles, its that they dont want to. something i feel is often overlooked when people published these findings. the same can be said of reviews, as women dont may not want to write them.

    think about that before throwing statistics round

  • http://base/Calendar/Film?BrowseBy=reviewer&reviewer=Marjorie+Baumgarten&x=12&y=5 Marjorie Baumgarten

    I am a working female film critic and a member of AWFJ, and I have some questions regarding the study’s methodology and conclusions. Why did the study look for women film critics at only the top 100 daily newspapers in the country? The dailies are not the only employment outlets for which American female film critics work. This exclusivity ignores women critics, freelancers, and editors who work at alternative weeklies, the trades, consumer magazines and scholarly journals, online film sites, and wire syndicates (although the summary included in this link doesn’t mention how daily newspapers’ wire reviews are counted, if at all). I suspect the number of women found to be working at these types of publications would be much larger than the parallel statistics for the dailies. (An unscientific glance at the affiliations of the individual members of AWJJF(http://awfj.org/about/) suggests that that to be the case and, in that case, contradicts this study’s findings.) And as far as influence goes, I’d put the ripple effect of a review in Entertainment Weekly or US Weekly against a locally generated review in the Akron Beacon Journal or Tulsa World any day of the week. Likewise for a syndicated reviewer such as AWJF member Christy Lemire, whose reviews I can read in my local daily almost as frequently as that paper’s fulltime male critic. And what of the women critics for the trades and journals, whose critiques at the festival and pre-sales stages of a film’s career can often signal life or death? Granted, it’s undeniable that the job of the staff film critic across America is in peril – publications and news outlets everywhere these days are in a world of hurt. Even though belt-tightening is de rigueur everywhere you look right right now, I suspect that different (and more optimistic figures) might result from a study that included publications known to value critical film commentary and have a vested stake in its continuance – publications such as the trades, alternative papers, and consumer magazines.

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