In its latest “Thumbs Down” report, the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film finds small changes toward parity.
Male film critics still dominate the industry, according to a 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. The latest incarnation of the study reveals that men make up 66% and women 34% of film critics working for print, broadcast and online outlets in the United States. Last year, women made up 32% of reviews, a slight increase in the rating in a changing culture.
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 – the 2019 report found that “men make up 78% of people writing for general interest magazines and websites, 73% writing for business publications, 72% writing for newspapers and news agencies, 65% writing for film/entertainment magazines and websites, and 58% writing for radio and television.
Despite the slight overall increase in the number of female film critics, a number of outlets have actually increased their percentage of male critics over the past year, including mainstream magazines (70% in 2018, now up to at 78%) and trade publications (70% in 2018, now down to 73%).
“Male film critics outnumber female critics nearly twice and continue to dominate the conversation about film in all types of media and across all film genres,” Dr. Lauzen said in an official statement. “In this myopic world of cinema, not only do men make up the majority of our filmmakers, but they are also more likely to have the final say on the quality of our films.”
The study also examines what kind films are reviewed by different critics – for example, last year’s study found that female critics still mostly cover films about other women – and this year’s study found that “men write Documentary 73%, Action Feature 72%, Sci-Fi Feature 69%, Drama 68%, Horror Feature 67%, Feature 67% animated features, 62% on comedies/dramas, and 60% on comedies, in short, they write the majority of reviews of the major genres.
As Dr. Lauzen explains, “These gender imbalances are important because they impact the visibility of films with female leads and female directors, as well as the nature of reviews. This research expands our understanding of how reviews written by female reviewers differ from those written by men.
This year’s ‘Thumbs Down’ study found that “female reviewers are more likely than men to mention the name of the woman directing the film”, as 31% of reviews written by women (but only 16% of those by men) mention the director’s name in their reviews. The study also found that “male critics are more likely to rate and discuss the filmographies of male directors than female directors in a positive way.” According to the study, “28% of male critics mention filmographies for male directors, but only 16% of them mention filmographies for female directors in a positive way”.
“Positive discussion of a filmmaker’s previous work helps establish that director’s experience. A director’s filmography commendation positions that filmmaker as a quantity with a respected track record and provides positive context for the film being reviewed,” said Dr. Lauzen.
Since the original study in 2007, “Thumbs Down: Film Critics and Gender, and Why It Matters” has examined more than 21,000 reviews written by more than 1,300 critics. It is the most comprehensive study available on the representation and impact of women as film critics.
Last year, USC’s Annenberg Inclusion Initiative found that only 22.2% of 2017 reviews for top-grossing films were written by women, while reviews from racial and ethnic backgrounds were under-reported. represented represented only 18%. The study sparked a wave of change in the industry, as film review aggregation site Rotten Tomatoes and film festivals – including TIFF, Sundance and SXSW – adopted new measures to ensure that they harbor a variety of critical voices.
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.