Defining Feminist Film Criticism – Nell Minow comments

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EDITOR’S NOTE: Nell Minow 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?

Feminism is the belief in justice and equality regardless of gender. If you apply it to film criticism, I believe that means making sure that women’s voices and women’s stories and women’s perspectives are reflected in every aspect of film and writing about film.

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

I have to bring everything I am to viewing and writing about a film. So I write not just as a woman but as a cisgender white woman born in the 1950’s, along with all of my other experiences and aspects of my identity. That requires both confidence in the legitimacy of my voice and humility in recognizing the extent to which my own experience and perspective are formed by privilege. I think that’s a nice balance to strive for.

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

I am more impatient with films that relegate the female characters to under-written stereotypes. Other than that, my preferences are just a matter of personal taste.

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 feminist point of view is reflected in my standards for female characters. For example, the dreadful Book Club starred four of Hollywood’s greatest actresses playing characters of significant professional achievement and yet still didn’t pass the Bechdel test. It is also reflected in the way I write about female filmmakers, as for example, Band-Aid, a film made with an all-female crew.

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

Anyone can be a feminist. Everyone should be a feminist. But only a woman knows what it feels like to live in the world as a woman and evaluate the way our experiences are portrayed.

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

I loved RBG, the documentary about Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. I liked the feature film about her, On the Basis of Sex, but thought it did not do as well as the documentary in portraying her feistiness and determination.

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

I’ve never refused to review a film for that reason. I’d relish the opportunity for a takedown.

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. When I recently reviewed What Men Want, I figured I might get some blowback to this: The smartest choice this movie makes is recognizing that women do not need help figuring out what men think because men are very good at telling us, through “mansplaining.” And media. And porn. Wisely, What Men Want is about a woman who needs to understand her own thoughts and feelings. And I did! Fine with me.

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

  • 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
  • Gender quotas in film festival programming are drawing attention to otherwise overlooked films that meet feminist criteria and standards.
  • The opinions and recommendations of feminist film critics should be considered by film festival programmers.
  • Studies revealing Hollywood’s static gender percentages accurately reflect the breadth of feminist concerns about today’s cinema production
  • Gender parity should be measured not only by numbers/percentages, but also by the presence of feminist themes, stories, aesthetics and technical accomplishment.

Disagree

  • All female film critics should be considered feminists simply because they are women
  • Feminist film critics have to work harder to make their opinions, points of view known
  • 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 parity by numbers and percentages would sufficiently fill feminist expectations and satisfy feminist demands for change in today’s cinema scene.

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?

Inclusion riders beyond gender — race, disability, etc.

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Nell Minow

Nell Minow is assistant editor at rogerebert.com. She reviews each week’s releases on radio stations across the country and her reviews and interviews are also found at moviemom.com, thecredits.org, and medium.com. She is the author of several books, including The Movie Mom’s Guide to Family Movies and 101 Must-See Movie Moments.