Where Are All the Female Movie Critics?
Since clueless adults only seem to ask children, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” I got that answer down and down fast. Veterinarian, duh. It’s the obligatory career desire of every young girl, and I was going to be no exception. Quickly, though, that answer morphed into trauma surgeon, mostly fueled by my favorite childhood program, Trauma: Life in the ER, a show I insisted watching while eating dinner much to my parents’ disgust. Not to spoil the ending, but in keeping with my childhood passions, naturally I chose to be an English teacher. But somewhere in between my fixation on all things surgery and completing my education licensure, if you asked me what my dream job would be, I would have answered–without pause–a writer, but more specifically, a film critic. To me, there was (and is) no better job than getting paid to watch and analyze movies.
But there’s a problem with female movie critics: There just aren’t many. In a 2013 study conducted by San Diego State University Professor Martha M. Lauzen, 78% of top critics were male and 22% female, an astounding inequality in the field. The study “tracked over 2,000 reviews penned by 145 writers” considered to be top critics for the movie review site, Rotten Tomatoes. Rotten Tomatoes defines the guidelines for “top critic” as someone “published at a print publication in the top 10% of circulation, employed as a film critic at a national broadcast outlet for no less than five years, or employed as a film critic for an editorial-based website with over 1.5 million monthly unique visitors for a minimum of three years.” Top male critics were responsible for 82% of the content shared by Rotten Tomatoes, while the top female critics were responsible for only 18%. While these figures clearly only represent some of the most popular writers in the field, the numbers do shed light on a yet another significant inequality in the film industry.
Not only are women making up less than a quarter of the film critic industry but they’re also employed by different mediums which ultimately draw different audiences. Another surprising contrast Lauzen found was that men comprised 91% of critics reviewing films for entertainment magazines/websites while women were most likely to be employed reviewing films for radio outlets/websites.
So there are few female critics, but what about the rest of the film industry? In 1998, 9% of directors were women. In 2012, that number remained unchanged. Other key roles show similar standings. In 2012, 15% of the top 250 films were written by women (up from 13% in 1998), 17% of films employed female executive producers (down from 18% in 1998), women comprised 25% of producers (no change from 1998), 20% of all editors were women (no change from 1998), and 2% of cinematographers were women (down from 4% in 1998). In a 14 year time span, there was surprisingly little marked progress in achieving equality in behind the scenes roles in prominent films.
Even with so few women in integral roles in the film industry, does it really matter how diverse the group of top critics is? Does it make a difference that fewer women reviewed films in 2013 than in 2007? There is some truth to female critics gravitating toward movies written and directed by women and male critics gravitating toward films written and directed by men, Lauzen found. But despite the initial appeal, the findings pointed to little bias in the film ratings for either gender. She did assert that though little favoritism is shown in the reviews, “films with male directors and writers receive greater exposure as male critics are more likely to review these films than films with female directors and writers.” If male critics are more inclined to write reviews for films written and directed by men, perhaps female critics, or lack thereof, play a greater role in the film industry than previously thought.
According to The Influence of Expert Reviews on Consumer Demand for Experience Goods: A Case Study of Movie Critics, a favorable review from top critics can influence audiences greatly—a positive review can bring as much as 50% more revenue to the table for dramas and limited release films. The study cited a Wall Street Journal survey which indicated a third of moviegoers picked their film based upon favorable reviews. The researchers found that “critics who have established high quality reputations exert the most influence” over audiences and, in turn, production companies. The seal of approval from top critics has the potential to determine what films become commercial successes and, in turn, what kinds of films will be made in the future.
If we want more female directors, writers, and cinematographers, we need more female film critics. At Audiences Everywhere, we fare slightly better than the top critic average; women comprise 35% of our writing staff and 33% of our editors. Analyzing the role female movie reviewers play in the industry and searching for a reasonable fix to this glaring inequality is a worthwhile endeavor. But having said that, while I regularly edit for AE, my own writing for the site has declined in quantity. For someone whose dream job was to be a film critic, I have to ask myself why I’m so reluctant to join the conversation, too.