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Is Film Criticism Sexist?

Is Film Criticism Sexist?

It’s not my idea, but one worth exploring. A friend recently put forth the notion that most film criticism tends to fetishize female stars (and ignore sexy male actors) in ways that are essentially sexist. Critic as letch?

Why is it important to David Denby, for instance, that Jennifer Aniston is “looking great naked from the rear” (The Break-Up) or to point out that “the stunning Rebecca Romijn, as Mystique, in body-fitting blue scales [is] the most openly erotic image in recent mainstream cinema” (X-Men: The Last Stand), or that actress Kelly Reilly “engages each man she meets onscreen with her face, her body, her breathing” and “has a way of lowering her eyes in shame which grabs at your heart” (Russian Dolls).

Why, for instance, in review after review of Match Point, for instance, do critics identify Scarlett Johansson as “gorgeous,” “dazzlingly sexy,” noting her “carnality” and “soft beauty,” while Jonathan Rhys Meyers gets “frightening,” “Elvis of the moment,” and “rock-star lips.” I had to sift through a dozen reviews before finding someone — the L.A. Times’s Carina Chocano — who mentioned the fact that Rhys Meyers is just as “gorgeous” as Johansson.

In his criticism of the recent The Notorious Bettie Page, Andrew Sarris, author of “The American Cinema,” that famous canonical text of the movies, writes, “Even as a certified lifelong lecherous voyeur, I cannot report that Ms. Mol’s fleshy incarnation of Ms. Page turned me on in the slightest.” His basis for the film’s negative review seems to be that it was “smugly anti-erotic.”

“Would there be a different canon of films if most critics were female?”my friend wondered. It’s an interesting point. Okay, maybe film criticism is no more sexist than the film industry, which is no more sexist than American society, but you’ve got to wonder, if there were more Pauline Kaels around, might there be a better balance?

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