A new study reaffirms that the majority of film critics are white males, but it also takes a deeper look at the content of minority reviews in the field.
Film criticism remains dominated by white male critics, according to another new study. Now in its second decade, the Thumbs Down study is the most comprehensive and longest-running study available on the representation and impact of women as film critics. Some of the study’s findings are predictable, such as that “across all types of media, male film critics outnumber female critics approximately 2 to 1”, while others, particularly news on the kind of movies that other reviews cover and the manners in which they write about them, are revealing.
Female film critics remain a minority in their field, but this latest look at the industry also reveals that they mostly cover films for and by women.
Sponsored by San Diego State University’s Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film and led by Executive Director Dr. Martha M. Lauzen, Ph.D. — also known for her work on the annual Celluloid Study and other industry inclusion reports – this year’s study, Thumbs Down 2018: Film Critics and Gender, and Why It Matters, focuses on critics working “for print , circulation and online outlets in spring 2018.” According to an official press release, this year’s study included 4,111 reviews written by 341 people, all available on Rotten Tomatoes.
The study found that “men made up 68% and women 32% of reviews in spring 2018. By medium, men made up 70% of those writing for trade publications, 70% writing for magazines and websites. of general interest, 69% wrote for a news website or news agency, 68% wrote for newspapers, and 68% wrote for film or entertainment publications. The new report also found that male writers outnumber female writers in every job title category. (Also in the report: findings that “83% of all female critics are white, 14% are minority, and 3% are of unknown racial/ethnic identity; while 82% of all male critics are white, 9% are minorities, and 9% have an unknown racial/ethnic identity.”)
Last month, the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative released a report which examined nearly 20,000 reviews of the 100 highest-grossing films of the last year. The report found that women wrote just 22.2% of the 19,559 reviews of the 100 highest-grossing films posted on Rotten Tomatoes. Later that week, Brie Larson told the crowd at the Women in Film Los Angeles Crystal + Lucy Awards that the Sundance and Toronto film festivals planned to provide 20% of press credentials to “underrepresented journalists.” , in order to fight against this imbalance on a festival level.
The new study also uncovered some interesting findings about the type films that film critics mainly cover in the course of their work. The report found that “a greater proportion of films reviewed by women than by men feature female leads”, as 51% of reviews written by women but 37% of reviews written by men are for films featuring scene at least one female protagonist. (Conversely, the reverse is also true, as “63% of reviews written by men but 49% of reviews written by women are for films featuring only male leads.”)
Additionally, female film critics tend to “give higher ratings than men to movies with female leads”, as the study found that “female writers give an average rating of 74% and men an average of average rating of 62% to films with female protagonists”. Notably, the divide is not the same when it comes to the reverse, since “women writers attribute an average of 73% and men 70% to films with male protagonists”.
With regard to films directed by women, “a greater proportion of films reviewed by women than by men are directed by women” and “25% of films reviewed by women but 10% of films reviewed by men have female directors”. (Also note, “90% of films reviewed by men, but 75% of films reviewed by women have male directors.”)
The study also found that when women review films directed by women, they are more likely to “mention the director’s name in their reviews and speak of the director in exclusively positive ways.” The report states that “female critics mention a female director’s name in 89% of their reviews and men in 81% of their reviews.” And that makes a difference, especially for the filmmakers in question.
According to an official statement from Lauzen, “These gender imbalances are significant because they impact the visibility of films with female leads and/or female directors, as well as the nature of reviews. …Something as simple as mentioning 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. For decades, many male directors have benefited from reviews in which they have been portrayed in larger-than-life, almost mythical ways. …While there are exceptions to these trends, female critics tend to rate female directors more favorably. Male critics tend to rate male directors more favorably.
The Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University is home to the longest and most in-depth studies of women working onscreen and behind the scenes in film and television. You can read the full Thumbs Down report here.