Defining Feminist Film Criticism – Esther Iverem comments

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EDITOR’S NOTE: Esther Iverem participated in an informal survey about feminist film criticism for an article published on RogerEbert.com. She’s quoted in brief in the article, but her responses were so complete and compelling that they constitute a personal feminist film critic’s manifesto, of sorts. They should be read in their entirety. Here they are:

How do you define feminism and the feminist point of view in film criticism?

My definition of feminism is a womanist perspective that is intersectional and post-colonial–taking into account issues of class, race, gender identification, national origin and legacies of White supremacy. These same factors inform my view of film criticism.

What critical criteria are established by your feminist approach to film criticism?

Is the primary voice or story of the film from a woman’s perspective? Whose story is being told and what narrative does this story support?

Does your feminist point of view, as you define it, influence your preference in film genre, style and story and, if so, how?

I’m not sure. I am more inclined to prefer and review documentaries because of the rampant sexism, racism, imperialism, other isms and erasure infecting so many narrative films.

Does your feminist point of view set or influence your standards for rating a film as good or bad? If so, how and what is the reason why?

My point of view does influence whether I want to invest any of my time to review or even see a film. My viewpoint may color my thinking about whether a film is good or bad from the standpoint of erasure. So many distributed mainstream and even independent films are produced by Europeans or Euro-Americans and I gravitate to narratives from people of color and the global south, the majority of the people of the world.

Do you think only women are feminist in their film criticism?

No. Men can be feminist thinkers, sometimes more so than women.

Name one film that satisfies your feminist criteria and explain why.

The film, Beloved, based on the Toni Morrison novel, told a story from the perspective and voice of a formerly enslaved African-American woman. The film was intersectional, dealing with the full spectrum of class, race, gender and other real and legacy global issues still dictating the world.

Name one film that you’ve refused to review –even with a complete pan and slam — because it offends your feminist sensibilities and why.

Can’t think of any I’ve refused to review. I had the freedom to choose which films would be of interest to my readers.

Are there any filmmakers and actors who consistently meet your criteria for excellent feminist production? Who exemplifies this?

Perhaps Cicely Tyson.

Have you been assigned to review a film that you found unacceptably anti-feminist in approach and felt that you must self-censor your comments to conform to the expectations of your editor and/or fit the profile of the platform and its readers? Do you think this happens with other feminist film critics?

No.

From your feminist perspective, what fits the overall progressive objectives of feminist film criticism? Please rank the following in order of importance to you, and list last and separately those that you don’t agree with at all.

Agree

  • Gender parity should be measured not only by numbers/percentages, but also by the presence of feminist themes, stories, aesthetics and technical accomplishment.
  • We need more female film critics’ writings on major media platforms
  • Greater numbers of women writing about a film impacts/boosts audience awareness about that film and its audience appeal
  • Feminist film critics have to work harder to make their opinions, points of view known
  • The opinions and recommendations of feminist film critics should be considered by film festival programmers.

Disagree

  • Studies revealing Hollywood’s static gender percentages accurately reflect the breadth of feminist concerns about today’s cinema production
  • Equal opportunity and exposure are the primary goals of feminist film critics
  • We need more female-centric blockbusters to reach gender parity in filmmaking
  • Re-structuring male-centric plots with female characters counts towards gender parity in moviemaking
  • Gender quotas in film festival programming are drawing attention to otherwise overlooked films that meet feminist criteria and standards.
  • Gender parity by numbers and percentages would sufficiently fill feminist expectations and satisfy feminist demands for change in today’s cinema scene.
  • All female film critics should be considered feminists simply because they are women

At present, are narrative films or documentaries most effective in delivering diverse and laudable women’s stories to the movie-going public?

Documentaries

Assuming that greater exposure of your feminist critical writings — and those of others whose approach rises to your definition of feminist film criticism — can and will effect change in film production, what would you like to see changed in the industry — other than the requisite gender parity?

More public funding and means of distribution so that not only the wealthy or connected can complete and widely distribute films.

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Esther Iverem

Esther Iverem is a multi-disciplinary writer, author, producer and curator. Her diverse body of work, which includes radio, three books, two digital media projects and several visual art exhibits, is about social justice and human existence—its history, current state and possible futures. It is also about the environment, including its mysteries extending into the universe. She is creator, producer and host of ‘On the Ground: Voices of Resistance From the Nation’s Capital’ (www.onthegroundshow.org) on Pacifica Radio, founder of the pioneering website SeeingBlack.com and a founding member of DC Poets Against the War/Split This Rock. She is a recipient of numerous awards and honors, including a National Arts Journalism Fellowship at Columbia University. Her most recent book is We Gotta Have It: Twenty Years of Seeing Black at the Movies (Hachette Book Group).