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Male Film Critics Still Outnumber Female Nearly 2 to 1 and ‘Continue to Dominate’ Conversation

In its latest "Thumbs Down" report, the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film finds small changes towards parity.

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Male film critics are still dominating the industry, a new study finds. Now in its second decade, the “Thumbs Down” study is the most comprehensive and longest-running study of women’s representation and impact as film reviewers available. The latest incarnation of the study finds that men comprise 66% and women 34% of film reviewers working for print, broadcast, and online outlets in the U.S. Last year, women made up 32% of reviewers, a slight uptick of note in a changing culture.

Sponsored by the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University and headed up by executive director Dr. Martha M. Lauzen, Ph.D. — also known for her work on the annual Celluloid Study and other reports about inclusion in the industry — the 2019 report found that “men account for 78% of individuals writing for general interest magazines and websites, 73% writing for trade publications, 72% writing for newspapers and wire services, 65% writing for movie/entertainment magazines and websites, and 58% writing for radio and television.”

Despite the slight overall rise in female film critics, a number of media outlets actually increased their percentage of male critics over the past year, including general interest magazines (70% in 2018, now up to 78%) and trade publications (70% in 2018, now up to 73%).

“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,” Dr. Lauzen said in an official statement. “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.”

The study also examines which kind of movies are reviewed by different critics — for instance, last year’s study found that female critics still mostly cover films about other women — and this year’s study found that “men write 73% of reviews about documentaries, 72% about action features, 69% about science fiction features, 68% about dramas, 67% about horror features, 67% about animated features, 62% about comedy/dramas, and 60% about comedies.” In short, they write the majority of reviews of the major genres.

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

This year’s “Thumbs Down” study found “female reviewers are more likely than men to mention the name of the woman directing the film,” as 31% of the reviews written by women (but just 16% of those by men) mention the name of the director in their reviews. The study also found that “male critics are more likely to note and discuss the filmographies of male directors than female directors in positive ways.” Per the study, “28% of male critics mention filmographies for male directors, but only 16% of them mention filmographies for female directors in positive ways.”

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

Since the initial study in 2007, “Thumbs Down: Film Critics and Gender, and Why It Matters” has considered over 21,000 reviews written by more than 1,300 reviewers. It is the most comprehensive study of women’s representation and impact as film reviewers available.

Last year, USC’s Annenberg Inclusion Initiative found that only 22.2 percent of 2017 reviews for the top-grossing films were written by women, while critics from underrepresented racial and ethnic backgrounds represented only 18 percent. The study sparked a wave of change around the industry, as film review aggregation site Rotten Tomatoes and film festivals — including TIFF, Sundance, and SXSW — enacted new steps to ensure that they hosted a variety of critical voices.

The Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University is home to the longest-running and most extensive studies of women working on screen and behind the scenes in film and television. You can read the full “Thumbs Down” report right here.

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