Thumbs Down: It’s Time for More Diverse Voices in Film Criticism

The Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University’s annual “Thumbs Down” report shines a familiar light on the damning homogeneity of the film industry—with a focus on the gender and race breakdown of the critics writing reviews.

Maurice Mikkers for PICNIC / Creative Commons

Thumbs Down 2018: Film Critics and Gender, and Why It Matters, was culled from 4,111 reviews by 341 people in spring 2018 whose reviews were also on Rotten Tomatoes. The latest release in the series, which launched in 2007, found that there are twice as many men as women reviewers in broadcast, online and print media—and that over 80 percent of reviewers across gender lines are white.

Percentages of Male and Female Reviewers by Genre, from study

All told, men wrote 71 percent of reviews in 2018. “This gender imbalance impacts the exposure and evaluation female-led films and/or films with women directors receive,” the center noted in a release.

According to the Thumbs Down study, women reviewers write more about films with female protagonists—over half of women’s reviews but only 37 percent of men’s reviews include at least one female protagonist. Those women also give those movies higher ratings: “women writers award an average rating of 74 percent,” the report finds, “and males an average rating of 62 percent to films with female protagonists.”

Women are also more likely to review movies from woman directors—a quarter of women’s reviews but only 10 percent of men’s reviews are about films directed by women, and more reviews by women say the name of the director than those by their male counterparts, use words like “master” or “impresario” to describe them, and forecast their future success. “Something as simple as the mention of a director’s name in a review,” Lazen said in a release, “and labeling that individual as a ‘master’ of the filmmaking craft can help shape the narrative surrounding that director.”

The study acknowledges that some of these statistics could have been impacted by which stories the reviewers were assigned by editors—but in the #MeToo era, there is no doubt that sexism is rampant in the film industry, and the criticism field is no exception.

“The study moves the discussion of gender and film criticism forward,” Martha Lauzen, Executive Director of the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film, said to Ms., “by documenting how women’s underemployment as film reviewers impacts the exposure female-driven films and/or films directed by women receive.”

Amy DePoy is a student at Yale University and an editorial intern at Ms. She loves feminism, reading and writing. She also loves all fruits, but especially strawberries. 

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