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

Male film critics outnumbered female critics two to one, an imbalance San Diego State University researcher Martha Lauzen argues can negatively affect the exposure and evaluation of female-led features.

Lauzen’s conclusions are part of a study published Tuesday by the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film, which found that men comprised 68% of film reviewers across print, broadcast, and online outlets whose work appeared on RottenTomatoes.com. Women comprised just 32% of film critics in spring 2018, the study said.

“These gender imbalances matter because they impact the visibility of films with female protagonists and/or women directors, as well as the nature of reviews,” Lauzen said in a statement.

The study, titled “Thumbs Down: Film Critics and Gender, and Why It Matters,” analyzed the language used by male and female film critics when reviewing films by male and female directors. Reviews written by women were more likely than those written by men to mention the name of the woman who directed the feature and use positive comments when discussing her skills, work, and/or vision. Slightly more than half of reviews written by women about a female director’s movie featured exclusively complimentary comments compared with 38% of reviews that were written by men.

In reviewing the work of male directors, male reviewers were more likely to include only positive comments about the director’s work: 32% of reviews written by men about male directors contained only praise compared with 23% of reviews written by women.

“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 shape the narrative surrounding that director,” Lauzen said.

The study also examined gender breakdown by type of media outlet: Men accounted for 70% of those writing for trade publications and general interest magazines and websites. Men made up 69% of those writing for news websites or wire services, while 68% wrote for newspapers and movie or entertainment publications.

The study examined 4,111 reviews written by 341 individuals working for print, broadcast, and online outlets in spring 2018 whose work is included on RottenTomatoes.com.

The study from San Diego State University comes a month after a similar study by the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, which examined reviews of the top 100-grossing films of last year which found that critics from underrepresented racial and ethnic backgrounds wrote just 18% of reviews for top films. When it came to gender, the USC found that just over 20% of the 19,559 reviews were written by women.

The study published Tuesday is the latest iteration of the report, first conducted in 2007. Over the years, it has considered more than 16,000 reviews written by over 900 reviews.

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