Gender Imbalance in Film Criticism Can Hurt Visibility of Female-Driven Films

Film criticism remains dominated by white male critics, yet another new study finds. Now in its second decade, the Thumbs Down: Film Critics and Gender, and Why it Matters study, 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, is the most comprehensive and longest-running study of women’s representation and impact as film reviewers available.

One of their key findings immediately jumps out: male reviewers outnumber female reviewers 2 to 1. Some of the study’s other findings are particularly eye-opening, such as insights into the kind of films that other critics cover and the ways in which they write about them. Female film critics remain the minority in their field, but this latest look at the industry also finds that they are predominantly covering movies for and by women.

The study moves the discussion of gender and film criticism forward by documenting how women’s underemployment as film reviewers impacts the exposure female-driven films and/or films directed by women receive. It also considers the nature of those reviews and how they tend to differ from reviews by men. The study reports the most recent numbers available (for 2018), and as far as I know, it is the only study to consider the relationship between the gender of reviewers and whether and how women directors are discussed.

For example, Thumbs Down found that when reviewing films with female directors, women reviewers are more likely than men to mention the director’s name and to make exclusively positive comments about that director’s skills and vision. Something as simple as the mention of a director’s name in a review, and labeling that individual as a “master” of the filmmaking craft can help to shape the narrative surrounding that director.

In spring 2018, women comprised 32% and men 68% of all film reviewers working for print, broadcast, and online outlets whose reviews also appear on Rotten Tomatoes. The study also breaks down the employment of reviewers by job title, type of media outlet, and film genre.

Lauzen’s center has been studying women in film and TV for years; the specific study of film critics began in 2007 and since then has examined a total of 16,420 reviews written by 919 reviewers.

To read more about the Thumbs Down study check out Variety, IndieWire, and USA Today.

And be sure to read the full report.