The arena of film criticism continues to look like a man’s world.
A new study shows that in early 2020, male film reviewers outnumbered their female counterparts by nearly 2 to 1, before the coronavirus pandemic interrupted the film business and movie theaters closed worldwide this spring.
Female film critics contributed 35% of the film reviews across print, broadcast and online outlets, up 1% from 2019, according to the report, titled “Thumbs Down 2020: Film Critics and Gender, and Why It Matters.”
Though the increase in numbers of female film critics seems marginal, the numbers show a marked improvement from the 73% male to 27% female breakdown in 2016.
Since 2007, the study has been conducted annually San Diego State University’s Center for the Study of Women Film and Television. Researchers, led by Dr. Martha Lauzen, analyzed more than 4,000 film reviews by over 380 individuals working for print, broadcast and online outlets from January through March 2020.
The researchers also profess to consider the potential “impact of the gender imbalance” through their analysis of the representation among the population of film reviewers — “reporting on the relationship between the gender of film reviewers and the gender of protagonists; the relationship between the gender of reviewers and their quantitative assessment of films (i.e., assignment of stars, grades, etc.); and the relationship between the gender of reviewers and the gender of directors.”
Lauzen’s team explains: “The overrepresentation of men as film reviewers coupled with the fact that a higher proportion of their reviews focus on male-driven stories and films directed by men advantage these films by giving them greater visibility.”
For example, the report indicates that female-driven films or films directed by women were more often reviewed by women than men. In a film with at least one female protagonist, women wrote 54% of the reviews, while men wrote 55% of the reviews of films with male protagonists. As noted in the study, “it is not clear whether these differences are due to reviewer preferences or editorial assignments.”
When it comes to the type of media outlet film critics work for, women outnumber men in radio and television; female critics make up 58% of the reviewers on those platforms. But men vastly outnumber women when reviewing for newspapers, news websites and wire services; men account for 69% of the film critics in those arenas.
Regarding race and ethnicity, film critics of color remain underrepresented. The 2020 study shows that 70% of female reviewers are white, 23% are women of color, and 7% have an unknown racial/ethnic identity, while 73% of male reviewers are white, 18% are men of color, and 9% have an unknown racial/ethnic identity. The 2019 report detailed the racial and ethnic breakdown of film critics as a whole — showing 50% of writers were white males, 23% were white women, 10% were minority males, 6% were minority women and 11% of the men and women were classified with “an unknown racial/ethnic identity.”
The study goes on to break down the genres of films reviewed by male and female critics, the job titles they hold and the average scores given to films, as well as the gender makeup of “Top Critics” as designated by Rotten Tomatoes.