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Female Movie Critics’ Influence Shrinking, Says Study

Male film reviewers write about fewer female-directed movies than women reviewers

With more online movie sites than ever, it might seem like women have more chances to get into film criticism. But a study released Friday by San Diego State professor Martha Lauzen finds that among top critics, fewer films were reviewed by women in spring 2013 than in fall 2007.

The study uses Rotten Tomatoes’ Top Critics category for purposes of comparison, which filters out the legions of bloggers and lesser-known websites where critics might not have established reputations. More than 2,000 reviews from 145 writers were tracked over a two-month period this year. Rotten Tomatoes says its Top Critics “must be 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.”

Gender can play a role in film criticism, Lauzen notes, mentioning the flap over Rex Reed’s comments about Melissa McCarthy’s weight in his review of “The Identity Thief” as well as the viral letter from a male editor at the Niagara Falls Reporter who ordered a critic not to review films with strong female characters. “While such anecdotal stories are attention getting, they reveal little about the relationship between gender, film critics, and movie reviews,”  wrote Lauzen, who is executive director of the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film. She concluded that “Popular film criticism remains a predominantly male activity.”

Fewer femme critics: While the perception is that the Internet has made film criticism more democratic, in reality film critics appear to have become less, not more gender diverse over the last six years. Top male critics wrote 82% and top female critics 18% of the film reviews on Rotten Tomatoes in spring 2013, while in fall 2007, men wrote 70% and women 30% of reviews for the top 100 U.S. daily newspapers.

Radio and newspapers had the highest percentage of female critics while entertainment and trade outlets had the lowest: Males accounted for 91% of critics writing for movie/entertainment magazines/websites such as Entertainment Weekly, 90% of those writing for trade publication websites such as Variety, the Hollywood Reporter and The Wrap, 80% of critics writing for general interest magazines and sites such as Time and Salon, 72% of those writing for newspaper websites, and 70% of critics writing for radio outlets/sites such as NPR.

Female critics focus on female helmers/writers: The study also found that female critics do tend to gravitate towards writing reviews of films directed and written by women, while male critics are more drawn to films with male directors and writers. 36% of the reviews written by women were of films directed or written by women, while just 21% of reviews written by men were for films directed or written by women.

All’s fair? However, the report didn’t find that females gave female-directed films higher ratings, although they did write longer reviews of male-directed films. Male reviewers, too, were fairly objective about rating films whether helmers were male or female, and wrote reviews of about the same length for both sexes.

Of course, there are fewer outlets for paying critics of both sexes, while younger filmgoers are relying less on critics while they get movie opinions more from their friends and social networks. But with many bizzers saying that Hollywood should make more films for older auds and females, it could still be useful to look at the influence of female critics.

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