Male critics outnumber women nearly two to one, new study finds

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This year’s edition of the study “Thumbs Down: Film Critics and Gender, and Why It Matters” finds little movement in the main areas of representation.

If the title sounds familiar, that’s because it is. Last year, San Diego State University’s Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film’s annual “Thumbs Down: Film Critics and Gender, and Why It Matters” study found that “critics male filmmakers still outnumber females and ‘continue to dominate’ the conversation.” More than a year later, the latest edition of the study concludes that the same is true.

Led by Chief Executive Dr. Martha M. Lauzen, Ph.D. – also known for her work on the annual Celluloid Study and other industry inclusion reports – “Thumbs Down 2020” finds that Before the pandemic shut down movie theaters in the United States last spring, “male critics outnumbered their female counterparts by nearly 2 to 1.” The latest study finds that “in the early months of 2020, men accounted for 65% and women 35% of print, broadcast, and online movie reviews in the United States.”

The annual study also reveals that “data shows that films directed by women and films directed by women account for a lower proportion of male reviews than female reviews”, suggesting that “this imbalance is linked to the amount of exposure films with female and/or female-led protagonists receive.The study found similar evidence in last year’s study, examining Who types of movies are written by different critics.

Among the data used for the study – “4,000 reviews written by more than 380 people working for print, broadcast and online media in January, February and March 2020 and whose work is included on the Rotten Tomatoes website” – Lauzen found that “54% of reviews written by women but 45% of those written by men are for films featuring at least one female lead. Additionally, more than twice as many films reviewed by female critics as of male reviews are directed by women Thirty-three percent of films reviewed by women but 14% of those reviewed by men are directed by women.

As the study postulates, “While it is unclear whether these differences are due to critics’ preferences or editorial assignments, they do influence the amount of attention that films featuring female leads and films with female directors receive.”

Lauzen said in an official statement, “The overrepresentation of men as film critics, coupled with a greater proportion of their reviews focusing on male-led stories and films, benefits these films by giving them greater visibility in the critical market. As the film industry comes alive in the weeks to come, this structural inequity will help ensure that pre-pandemic inequalities remain in place in pandemic and post-pandemic environments.

The study also found that female and male reviewers of color remain dramatically underrepresented in all corners of the industry. Seventy-three percent of all male reviewers are white, while 70 percent of all females are white. Only 18% of male critics are people of color, while the numbers are only slightly up for female critics, 23% of whom are people of color.

Last year’s report found that “men make up 78% of people who write for general interest magazines and websites, 73% who write for trade publications, 72% who write for newspapers and news agencies, 65% writing for magazines and movie/entertainment websites, and 58% writing for radio and television.

Since the original study in 2007, “Thumbs Down: Film Critics and Gender, and Why It Matters” has examined more than 25,000 reviews written by more than 1,500 critics. It is the most comprehensive study available on the representation and impact of women as film critics.

San Diego State University’s Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film 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, along with the rest of the center’s latest reports.

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