SXSW Pledges to Increase Diversity in Press Corps, Aided by Rotten Tomatoes Grant — Exclusive

The spring festival joins TIFF and Sundance in the initiative, as both festivals recently revamped their own press corps with assistance from Rotten Tomatoes.
The Paramount TheatrePreparations, SXSW Festival, Austin, USA - 08 Mar 2018
The Paramount Theatre
Michael Buckner/Variety/REX/Shutterstock

The SXSW Film Festival has become the latest festival to pledge to increase diversity in its press corps, with Rotten Tomatoes aiding the initiative by contributing $25,000 of its recently established $100,000 grant program to the program. The grant program was created last year to assist critics in gaining access to key film festivals, and SXSW plans to distribute stipends to critics to assist with travel and lodging expenses associated with festival attendance.

While the festival has already selected the journalists for the 2019 event that will receive financial stipends from the Rotten Tomatoes grant, it is continuing to review press credential applications, and will announce this year’s press corps demographics at a later time.

“SXSW has long accredited smaller niche outlets, newer media platforms, and student publications, and we continue our commitment to cultivating the next generation of critics serving underrepresented groups,” said Jody Arlington, SXSW Public Relations, in an official statement. “We are so grateful to Rotten Tomatoes for providing this needed support to critics.”

For 2019, SXSW Conference and Festivals have programmed 185 sessions, workshops, meet ups, featured sessions, mentor opportunities, and book readings across 25 Conference Tracks that promote diversity, inclusion, and intersectionality. SXSW also plans to provide the participants in the press inclusion initiative with opportunities to engage with each other at these and other film festival events. Rotten Tomatoes will host a SXSW Happy Hour reception for critics and film festival attendees, promoting networking among the entertainment criticism community.

“SXSW has a long history of promoting diversity and inclusion, and Rotten Tomatoes is proud to be supporting SXSW’s efforts to increase this year’s representation of critics serving underrepresented groups,” said Jenny Jediny, Critic Relations Manager, Rotten Tomatoes, in an official statement. “We look forward to meeting the critics attending SXSW and to brainstorming more ways we, as an industry, can further inclusion in entertainment criticism.”

After a recent study by 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 Rotten Tomatoes and other popular film festivals enacted new steps to ensure that the site housed a variety of voices.

In June of last year, announcements from both the Toronto and Sundance festivals pledged to increase underrepresented critical voices at their festivals by 20 percent. In August of last year, Rotten Tomatoes also announced that its just-created grant program would contribute $25,000 to the American Friends of TIFF fund for the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival. Rotten Tomatoes also contributed $25,000 to the Sundance Press Inclusion Initiative for this year’s festival as part of its $100,000 grant program, which was established earlier this year to help critics gain access to key film festivals. Over the next year, Rotten Tomatoes will also provide grants to organizations that help critics with travel expenses associated with festival attendance.

Last year, Rotten Tomatoes also debuted new criteria for its Tomatometer rating system, which allowed for more than 350 new critics to be added to the platform. The new guidelines focus more on the merits of individual critics than of publications. The site also expanded its definition of reviews to include podcasts and video reviews. 

This year’s SXSW Film Festival runs March 8 – 17 in Austin, Texas.

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