Movie criticism is a field dominated by white men, according to a new study by researchers at USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.
White critics wrote 82% of the reviews of the top 100-grossing films of last year, while critics from underrepresented racial and ethnic backgrounds penned a mere 18% of the reviews of those movies. The study notes that doesn’t reflect the representation of these ethnic and racial groups in society — U.S. census data finds that individuals from these groups comprise nearly 39% of the population.
The situation wasn’t much better when it came to the gender breakdown in the critical community. Just over 20% of the 19,559 reviews evaluated were written by women. Nearly 78% of the criticism surveyed came from men. That came out to a ratio of 3.5 male critics to every female reviewer.
To get its data, the report culled through reviews of the 100 most popular films of 2017 posted on the site Rotten Tomatoes, examining the gender and race of critics penning the appreciations.
To be sure, some of the country’s most prominent film reviewers are women. Manohla Dargis at the New York Times, Dana Stevens of Slate, and Alison Wilmore of BuzzFeed are all considered to be top voices in their field and are regarded as major tastemakers. Ironically, given the study’s findings, the late New Yorker writer Pauline Kael still reigns as perhaps the most influential force in criticism, having inspired generations of cinephiles to take up the pen. Still, the USC Annenberg numbers make it clear that the voices sounding off on the quality of films today tend to belong to men.
Even films like “Girls Trip” and “Wonder Woman” that highlighted female protagonists and attracted audiences that were disproportionately female were still primarily reviewed by men. Women wrote 30% of the reviews of the 36 highest-grossing female-driven movies of 2017. Likewise, for 24 films with underrepresented leads, fewer than 20% of reviewers were from underrepresented backgrounds.
USC Annenberg has been examining the lack of inclusion in the entertainment and media business for several years, and has published several studies documenting the lack of representation of women and minorities in major studio movies, Grammy nominees, and speaking characters in the top Nielsen-rated television shows. Dr. Stacey Smith, the founder and director of the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative and one of the report’s co-authors, also helped popularize the idea of inclusion riders, contract provisions that require producers to make a good faith effort to hire more women and people of color. It’s a concept that Frances McDormand drew attention to when she mentioned it during her Oscar acceptance speech. Smith believes that critics need to shake up their ranks and provide a platform to more women and people of color.
“The very individuals who are attuned to the under and misrepresentation of females on screen and behind the camera are often left out of the conversation and critiques,” said Smith in a statement. “The publicity, marketing, and distribution teams in moviemaking have an opportunity to change this quickly by increasing the access and opportunities given to women of color as film reviewers.”