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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Jennifer Merin

Jennifer Merin is the Film Critic for Womens eNews and contributes the CINEMA CITIZEN blog for and is managing editor for Women on Film, the online magazine of the Alliance of Women Film Journalists, of which she is President. She has served as a regular critic and film-related interviewer for The New York Press and About.com. She has written about entertainment for USA Today, The L.A. Times, US Magazine, Ms. Magazine, Endless Vacation Magazine, Daily News, New York Post, SoHo News and other publications. After receiving her MFA from Tisch School of the Arts (Grad Acting), Jennifer performed at the O'Neill Theater Center's Playwrights Conference, Long Wharf Theater, American Place Theatre and LaMamma, where she worked with renown Japanese director, Shuji Terayama. She subsequently joined Terayama's theater company in Tokyo, where she also acted in films. Her journalism career began when she was asked to write about Terayama for The Drama Review. She became a regular contributor to the Christian Science Monitor after writing an article about Marketta Kimbrell's Theater For The Forgotten, with which she was performing at the time. She was an O'Neill Theater Center National Critics' Institute Fellow, and then became the institute's Coordinator. While teaching at the Universities of Wisconsin and Rhode Island, she wrote "A Directory of Festivals of Theater, Dance and Folklore Around the World," published by the International Theater Institute. Denmark's Odin Teatret's director, Eugenio Barba, wrote his manifesto in the form of a letter to "Dear Jennifer Merin," which has been published around the world, in languages as diverse as Farsi and Romanian. Jennifer's culturally-oriented travel column began in the LA Times in 1984, then moved to The Associated Press, LA Times Syndicate, Tribune Media, Creators Syndicate and (currently) Arcamax Publishing. She's been news writer/editor for ABC Radio Networks, on-air reporter for NBC, CBS Radio and, currently, for Westwood One's America In the Morning. She is also a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association. Read Merin's recent articles below. For her complete archive, type "Jennifer Merin" in the Search Box (upper right corner of screen).