A recent ‘Thumbs Down’ study has found that male film critics still continue to dominate the industry. According to the study, men comprise 66% of film reviewers working for print, broadcast, and online outlets in the U.S, while women only comprise 34%. Last year, women made up 32% of reviewers.
The study was headed by executive director Dr. Martha M. Lauzen, Ph.D. and sponsored by the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University. Since their initial study in 2007, “Thumbs Down: Film Critics and Gender, and Why It Matters” the institute 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 that is currently available.
According to Dr. Lauzen “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. 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.”
Despite the slight overall rise in female film critics, a number of media outlets have actually increased their percentage of male critics over the past year. The study found that general interest magazines have increased the percentage of male critics (70% in 2018, now up to 78%) and trade publications (70% in 2018, now up to 73%). Men continue to outnumber women in every job title category considered in film publication. Men comprise 71% of film critics, 69% of editors, 60% of staff writers, 60% of contributors, and 60% of freelancers.
These results are slight concerning when considerinng that 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. The film review aggregation site Rotten Tomatoes and film festivals such as TIFF, Sundance, and SXSW prepared new steps to ensure that they hosted a variety of critical voices. However, it would appear that not all media outlets are implementing the same level of change in their work environment.
To those who may be wondering why it matters about the gender imbalance in the world of film criticism, it might be worth noting that the success of certain films and directors does depend on those who have access to review their work. The 2019 “Thumbs Down” study found that female reviewers are more likely than men to mention the name of a female director of 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.”
Dr. Lauzen went on to state that “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 known quantity with a respected track record, and provides a positive context for the current film under review.”
The report also found that men comprise the majority of those writing reviews about films in every genre. For example, men write 78% and women 22% of reviews about horror films. Men write 70% and women 30% of reviews about dramas. It is also worth mentioning that on average, women reviewers award higher ratings than men to films with female protagonists. Female critics will award an average rating of 74% and male critics will award an average rating of 62% to films with female protagonists.
There is also a racial bias in film critique as the study found that 83% of all female critics are white, 14% are minorities, and 3% have an unknown racial/ethnic identity. 82% of all male critics are white, 9% are minorities, and 9% have an unknown racial/ethnic identity. This imbalance can impact filmmakers from minority backgrounds in the same way that female filmmakers are impacted.