Female film critics still outnumbered by male critics almost 2 to 1

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Martha Lauzen

Female film critics writing for print, online and broadcast media in 2019 continue to be outnumbered by male writers by a nearly 2-to-1 margin, according to the latest annual study from Martha Lauzen, executive director of the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University, according to The Wrap.

Citing her report “Thumbs Down 2019: Film Critics and Gender, and Why It Matters,” women accounted for only 34 percent of all the reviewers out of the 380 individuals whose work is included on review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, and only 32 percent of the 4,750 reviews counted in the survey during spring 2019.

The number of female critics rose 2 percent compared to last year’s study, and women wrote 3 percent more of all the reviews published compared to the 2018 study, reports The Wrap. That’s movement in the right direction, but not much considering the size of the disparity.

“Male film critics outnumber female critics by almost 2 to 1, and continue to dominate the conversation about film across every type of media outlet and about every film genre,” Lauzen said in the study. “In this gender myopic movie world, not only do men comprise the majority of our filmmakers, they are also more likely to have the last word on the quality of our films.”

This year’s study also looked at the imbalance between male and female critics across types of media outlets and across reviews for each genre of film. The study found that men dominate the conversation in every type of media outlet and genre, The Wrap notes.

By media outlet, men account for 78 percent of individuals writing for general interest magazines and websites, 73 percent writing for trade publications, 72 percent writing for newspapers and wire services, 65 percent writing for movie and/or entertainment magazines and websites, and 58 percent writing for radio and television.

Plus, men write 73 percent of reviews about documentaries, 72 percent about action movies, 69 percent about science fiction features, 68 percent about dramas, 67 percent about horror films, 67 percent about animated features, 62 percent about comedy/dramas, and 60 percent about comedies.

“These gender imbalances matter because they impact the visibility films with female protagonists and women directors receive, as well as the nature of reviews,” Lauzen said. “This research expands our understanding of how reviews written by female critics differ from those written by men.”

On average, female critics award higher ratings to films with female protagonists than men, according to the study, and women are more likely to name and positively mention the filmography of a female director than men are.

Of the reviews written by women for female-directed films, 31 percent mentioned the name of the director, compared to 16 percent of reviews written by men. And if a man directed the film, male critics mentioned the director’s previous films more often – 28 percent of the time – compared to reviews of movies directed by women – 16 percent.

“The positive discussion of a filmmaker’s previous work helps establish the experience of that director,” Lauzen said. “A glowing mention of a director’s filmography positions that filmmaker as a known quantity with a respected track record, and provides a positive context for the current film under review.”

Among the female “Top Critics” listed on Rotten Tomatoes, a smaller percentage – 28 percent – were women, compared to the overall number of female critics – 34 percent – and the number of female “Top Critics” declined 6 percentage points compared to last year’s study, The Wrap notes.

“Thumbs Down: Film Critics and Gender, and Why It Matters” is a study that has been conducted since 2007 and has considered more than 21,000 reviews written by more than 1,300 individual critics.

Lauzen is the founder and executive director of the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University. She also conducts the annual “Celluloid Ceiling” study.

For a full look at the most current reports, visit the center’s website here.

Fortunately, film fans can find reviews by dozens of female film critics from across the United States and several other countries at www.awfj.org.




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