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Male Film Critics Still Outnumber Female, All Critics of Color Remain ‘Dramatically Underrepresented’

This year's edition of the "Thumbs Down: Film Critics and Gender, and Why It Matters" study finds little movement in key areas of representation.

Interior view of the main hall of the Zoo Palast theatre in Berlin, Germany, 25 January 2014. After extensive renovation works and furnishing with the latest cinema technology, the Zoo Palast has become a venue of this year's Berlin International Film Festival again. Three galas of the Berlinale Specials are planned to be held at the traditional movie theater. Photo by: Jens Kalaene/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images

Jens Kalaene/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images

If the headline sounds familiar, it’s because it is. Last year, the annual “Thumbs Down: Film Critics and Gender, and Why It Matters” study from the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University found that “Male Film Critics Still Outnumber Female Nearly 2 to 1 and ‘Continue to Dominate’ Conversation.” Over a year later, the latest edition of the study finds the same thing to be true.

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 — “Thumbs Down 2020” finds that, before the pandemic shuttered movie theatres in the U.S. last spring, “male film reviewers outnumbered their female counterparts by nearly 2 to 1.” The latest study finds that “in the opening months of 2020, men comprised 65 percent and women 35 percent of print, broadcast, and online film reviewers in the U.S.”

The annual study also finds that “the data shows that female-driven films and films directed by women make up a smaller proportion of men’s reviews than women’s reviews,” suggesting that “this imbalance is related to the amount of visibility films with female protagonists and/or directed by women receive.” The study found similar evidence in last year’s study, examining which kinds of films are written about by different critics.

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

As the study posits, “While it is not clear whether these differences are due to reviewer preferences or to editorial assignments, they influence the amount of attention films featuring female protagonists and films with women directors receive.”

Said Lauzen in an official statement, “The overrepresentation of men as film reviewers coupled with the fact that a higher proportion of their reviews focus on male-driven stories and films directed by men advantage those films by giving them greater visibility in the critical marketplace. As the film industry reanimates in the coming weeks, this structural inequity will help to ensure that pre-pandemic inequities will remain in place in the pandemic and post-pandemic environments.”

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

Last year’s report found that “men account for 78 percent of individuals writing for general interest magazines and websites, 73 percent writing for trade publications, 72 percent writing for newspapers and wire services, 65 percent writing for movie/entertainment magazines and websites, and 58 percent writing for radio and television.”

Since the initial study in 2007, “Thumbs Down: Film Critics and Gender, and Why It Matters” has considered over 25,000 reviews written by more than 1,500 reviewers. It is the most comprehensive study of women’s representation and impact as film reviewers available.

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, along with the rest of the center’s latest reports.

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