STATUS REPORT: Female Film Critics are Still Outnumbered — Jennifer Merin reports

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Dr. Martha M. Lauzen‘s latest study, Thumbs Down 2018: Film Critics and Gender, and Why It Matters, conducted and published by the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University, shows that male film critics outnumber female by two to one. More specifically, men comprise 68 percent of US-based film reviewers, while women are just 32 percent. The report also found that men outnumber women in every job category, including critics, freelancers, editors and contributors. Continue reading…

Researchers examined the work of print, broadcast and online reviewers included on the popular Rotten Tomatoes aggregator Website in Spring 2018. The study considered more than 4,000 reviews written by 341 contributors.

First conducted in 2007, Thumbs Down: Film Critics and Gender, and Why It Matters is the most comprehensive and longest-running study of women’s representation and impact as film critics available. Over the years, the study has considered more than 16,000 reviews written by over 900 reviewers. The study’s new figures mark a marginal improvement over the last two years.

Regarding representation, the study found that by media outlet, men accounted for 70 percent of those writing for trade publications, 70 percent writing for general interest magazines and websites, 69 percent writing for a news website or wire service, 68 percent writing for newspapers, and 68 percent writing for movie or entertainment publications. By film genre, men made up 78 percent of those reviewing action and horror features, 75 percent reviewing animated features, 74 percent reviewing documentaries, 73 percent reviewing comedy/dramas, 70 percent reviewing dramas, 69 percent reviewing science fiction films, and 59 percent reviewing comedies.

Regarding the impact of gender imbalance, the study reveals that male critics were likely to award worse ratings to films with female protagonists than female critics were (with the disparity less marked with films with male protagonists), and films with a female director were more likely to be reviewed by a female critic. Moreover, the figures show that female critics are more likely to mention a female director by name than a male critic (89 percent compared to 81 percent) and make exclusively positive comments about that director (52 percent compared to 38 percent).

According to Lauzen, “These gender imbalances matter because they impact the visibility of films with female protagonists and/or women directors, as well as the nature of reviews.”

Specifically, the study found that when writing reviews about films with women directors, female reviewers were more likely than men to mention the name of the woman directing the film, and to use exclusively positive comments when talking about her skills, work, and/or vision. 52 percent of the reviews written by women but 38 percent of those written by men included only complimentary comments about the woman director, such as “master” or “impresario.” In contrast, male writers were more likely than females to use exclusively complimentary words and phrases when talking about male directors. 32 percent of reviews written by men and 23 percent of reviews written by women used only positive descriptors when talking about male directors.

“Something as simple as the mention of a director’s name in a review, and labeling that individual as a ‘master’ of the filmmaking craft can help shape the narrative surrounding that director,” Lauzen noted.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Dr. Martha M. Lauzen is a member of the Board of Advisors for the Alliance of Women Film Journalists

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