What do Roger Ebert, Peter Travers, David Edelstein, Glenn Kenny, Owen Gleiberman and Mark Kermode all in common? Well, three things: firstly their occupation, secondly their gender and lastly their ethnicity. A recent study conducted by USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, entitled ‘Critic’s Choice’ has confirmed something that I have been aware about for most of my (amateur) film criticism career…film criticism is a male dominated world.
The study consisted of an analysis of over 19,559 film reviews written for the top 100-grossing films of 2017, and it was discovered that a shocking 82 per cent were written by white critics, and nearly 78 per cent of the same reviews were written by men. It was also discovered that for every single female film critic, there are 3.5 male ones (although how one can have half a film critic is puzzling me slightly, but that’s not the point). This is a stat that is very biased, considering the fact that in America (where the study took place) there is 39 per cent of the population that isn’t white and 51 per cent of the population which are female. A massive chunk of the audience attending the cinema is not being represented fairly.
Marc Choueiti, the study’s leading author, said: “Even among top critics, the words of white and male critics fill a greater share of the conversation than females and people of colour. Re-examining the definition of a top critic or simply casting a wider net can be the opportunity to open up and diversify the voices heard in the critic space.” Something that I can agree on, we need fresh opinions and voices in criticism, I honestly believe that mainstream criticism has become stale.
During the study it was noted that even blockbuster hit films with female leads like Wonder Woman and Girls Trip (which attracted a majority of female audiences) were still overwhelmingly reviewed by male critics. In fact, if you type in Wonder Woman into Google Search, the only female film critic whose review appears is Ann Hornaday with the remaining three being male film critics.
A more recent example is Tully, which has no female film critics listed under the critic reviews section and instead has David Sims from The Atlantic commenting the following; ”As a portrayal of postpartum depression, Tully is a success—simplistic at times, but an admirable gut-punch nonetheless.” My issue with this section of Sims’ review being used in the Google search is that men don’t experience postpartum depression like women do, therefore the film might have had more of an impact on a female film critic rather than a male critic who, of course, hasn’t had a first-hand experience with the subject matter. It sticks out to me, and I can’t help but think why is there not a single quotation from a review done by a female critic?
That’s not to say that female critics should be restricted to reviewing films made by women, for women, but rather that we should have equality in voices being heard. I tire of hearing the same big (male) names being mentioned time after time. And yes, I value their opinion, but often I don’t feel they can connect with the text because of their gender. I know many of you may disagree with me, and state that women do get equal opportunities, but why haven’t we seen another ”Pauline Kael” or ”Anne Billson” or a ”Molly Haskell” emerge with the surgence of film critics over the last decade or so? Instead there seems to be an abundance of male critics dominating every film site out there, and there seems to be an absence of a female voice; that’s not to say that female critics don’t exist, but they are quite rare to find.
When I mentioned my concerns over Twitter somebody replied back to me with a statement along the lines that ”males are more obessive” than females and that’s the reason why there are more male film critics. The comment actually made laugh out loud. I asked for studies to back up this claim and, of course, there weren’t any that the individual could find. I don’t believe that drive, obsession and determination are solely male characteristics, if they were then, well, I wouldn’t be here. Maybe the reason that there is a lack of female critics is that they are faced with this attitude, and the comment posted at me in response could be read as women not being as driven, which could discourage some people.
The only element that should matter when it comes to criticism is talent. There should be more opportunities for new talent to emerge, whether that be more female voices and/or voices from people of colour. How, do we achieve this? The report has called for the adoption of what they termed “30/30/20/20”, a set of percentages to correspond with the gender and ethnic makeup of the US population. The target would be for white male critics to drop from 63% to 30%. Should well established film critics lose their jobs in order to make room for new talent? I don’t think so, but maybe there could be an even distribution of the films being given out for reviewing — surely there’s enough for everyone.
We should be encouraging new talent and not dismissing a writer because of their gender. My advice would be that if you have read a great review or a well written article, then promote it and get the word out. If you want to be a film critic, then make sure to get your work out there and don’t give up. Perhaps one day we will reach the point where we only ever judge a film critic on their talent, not their gender, race or sexual orientation. I welcome the day where we can read several different reviews of the same film and be able to see a different opinion which doesn’t just echo everyone else. As they say, variety is the spice of life. At the end of the day, it’s like the great film critic – and my inspiration – Pauline Kael said, ”In the arts, the critic is the only independent source of information. The rest is advertising.”
I highly recommend you checking out this fantastic article by the BFI about female film critics: http://www.bfi.org.uk/news-opinion/sight-sound-magazine/features/pantheon-one-s-own-25-female-film-critics-worth