Movie Criticism: Profession Dominated by Men

Meryl Streep made headlines last year for decrying the lack of female critics at major news organizations.

The Oscar winner’s survey of Rotten Tomatoes revealed that there were more than seven times as many men reviewing films as women, potentially causing problems for movies made for, by and about females.

“Men and women are not the same,” Streep said during a press conference in London.  “They like different things. Sometimes they like the same things, but their tastes diverge.  If the Tomatometer is slided so completely to one set of tastes, that drives box office in the U.S., absolutely.”

Variety reports the results of this interesting study:

Men comprise 73% of top critics on Rotten Tomatoes, outnumbering females, who make up 27% of reviewers, according to study by the Center for the Study of Women in TV and Film at San Diego State University.

However, Male and female critics tended to agree about the quality of movies with female protagonists.

The center looked at 5,776 reviews written by 247 critics over 3-month period this year

Lack of diversity in film

Women comprised just 9% of directors and 23% of producers on the 250 highest-grossing films of 2015.

They accounted for 22% of leads in films and 34% of major characters in movies released last year.

Only two of the seven biggest studios have a woman running things — Universal’s Donna Langley and Fox’s Stacey Snider.

From movie sets to corporate suites, men enjoy much greater representation. That’s trickled down to film criticism, Martha Lauzen, the author of the study, argues.  “It reflects the biases within the industry,” she said. “This doesn’t exist in a vacuum. There are larger cultural biases at work and those favor males.”

There is no evidence that men are more interested in movies than women.  Studies show that women comprise more than half of ticket buyers.

The New Yorker’s Pauline Kael was arguably the most influential critic, and her style influenced many reviewers, the so-called “Paulettes” including the likes of David Denby, David Edelstein, Owen Gleiberman, and James Wolcott.

There are several female writers at the highest profile posts, including the New York Times’ Manohla Dargis and Slate’s Dana Stevens, but they are the exception to the rule.

In every type of publication, film criticism remains is dominated by men. They accounted for 80% of reviewers writing at entertainment trade publications.  Variety‘s two full-time movie critics are men.

Most (76%) critics writing for general interest publications, 74% of individuals writing for movie and entertainment magazines and websites, and 71% of those writing for the biggest U.S. newspapers.

Lauzen believes that the dearth of female critics stems from a lack of women in top editing or leadership roles.  “Men hire men,” she said. “It’s human nature to hire people who look like us. It’s not an excuse, but it’s an explanation.”

The gender imbalance in newsrooms could be coloring critics’ decisions about which films to review. A greater portion of the films reviewed by women had female protagonists, while men were more likely to write about films featuring male leads. Some 34% of reviews written by women centered on a female lead, whereas 24% of reviews written by men featured at least one female protagonist.  And 76% of reviews written by men featured a male protagonist whereas only 66% of those written by women had men in leading roles.

Many of the movies made by women or focused on women are produced at the indie level. They’re not the kind of superhero movies or special effects driven blockbusters that arrive with a lot of promotional support from studios.

“Independent features rely on critical chatter to give them a boost,” said Lauzen. “If they’re not getting reviewed, they could remain invisible.”