AWFJ ROUND TABLE: Defining Feminist Film Criticism

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The term ‘feminism’ and the descriptor ‘feminist film criticism’ are used liberally these days, as the various voices representing the women in film movement call for change, and demand gender parity, diverisity and inclusion in the the movie business.

Women film critics are, like women working in all aspects of the industry, marginalized not only by the disparity in employment opportunities, but also in the overall attitude — the lack of seriousness — with which our reviews and commentaries are evaluated. Reputable reports support this assertion with stats, and women film critics feel it in our guts.

When Chaz Ebert (who is a member of AWFJ) graciously invited me to contribute an article for RogerEbert.com‘s much appreciated Women Writers Week, I thought it a good opportunity to delve into what women film critics — especially those who assert themselves as feminists — consider to be their critical criteria and credos, and what they want to accomplish with their work — — beyond the well-articulated demands for gender parity, diversity and inclusion.

To that end, I sent a set of questions to eight AWFJ members who are self-declared feminists to conduct an informal survey that would, when published on RoberEbert.com, engender further discussion about the goals of feminism in film criticism, and possibly push for much needed change for the better.

This turned out to be a hotter topic than I’d anticipated.

To my surprise, each of the AWFJ members surveyed responded to my questionnaire with passionate, compelling and complex comments that read like personal manifestos. Each is uniquely smart, discerning, perceptive and provocative. Each should be read in its entirety.

Needless to say, it was impossible to do justice to this outpouring of feminist wisdom and concerns in the space allotted to me on RogerEbert.com. So, with everyone’s agreement, we are publishing the complete collection of manifestos on AWFJ.org.

Respondents Marilyn Ferdinand, Roxana Hadadi, Alexandra Heller-Nicholas, Esther Iverem, MaryAnn Johanson, Loren King, Nell Minow and Martha P. Nochimson come from diverse backgrounds. Collectively, their responses represent a plurality of feminist perspectives, a sort of round table discussion that gets to the heart of what feminist film criticism is all about.
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Click on the names below to read the manifestos. Click on the names in the paragraph above for information about the feminist film critics who wrote them.

Marilyn Ferdinand

Roxana Hadadi

Alexandra Heller-Nicholas

Esther Iverem

MaryAnn Johanson

Loren King

Nell Minow

Martha P.Nochimson

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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. For her AWFJ archive, type "Jennifer Merin" in the Search Box (upper right corner of screen).