Thumbs down! Male film critics still far outnumber female – and too few are people of color

Men still overwhelmingly outnumber women among the shrinking ranks of the nation’s film critics – and that was before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down movie theaters (and furloughed journalists) throughout the land, according to a new edition of a recurring study.

Male film reviewers outnumbered their female counterparts by nearly 2-to-1, according “Thumbs Down 2020: Film Critics and Gender, and Why It Matters,” touted as the most comprehensive and longest-running study of women’s representation and impact as film reviewers.

If the gender statistics weren’t bad enough, the race and ethnicity numbers are worse: The study found that female and male reviewers of color remain dramatically underrepresented.

Some 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 study found only a slight increase in the number of film reviews written by women, compared to 2019. The report suggests the continuing imbalance is related to the lack of visibility for films with female protagonists and/or directed by women.

“The over-representation 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 those films by giving them greater visibility in the critical marketplace,” says study author Martha Lauzen, founder and director of the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University.

But Lauzen says the numbers on reviewers of color are moving in the right direction. For example, in 2019, women of color comprised 17% of top critics on Rotten Tomatoes, the website that aggregates film reviews. In 2020, that percentage increased to 33%.

“For men of color, the gains are much smaller,” she said. “In 2019, men of color accounted for just 7% of top critics. In 2020, only 10% of top critics are men of color. This is a rare example of the gains for women outpacing those for men.”

Lauzen predicts that as the film industry “reanimates” in coming weeks, “structural inequity will help to ensure that pre-pandemic inequities will remain in place in the pandemic and post-pandemic environments.”

In other words, it’s not likely to get dramatically better for female critics in the near future.

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Lauzen has been studying gender and diversity in the film industry since 2007; her latest report was released Wednesday and provides the most current data available on film reviewers in the U.S.

The findings include:

► In early 2020, men comprised 65% and women 35% of print, broadcast, and online film reviewers, the study says. Men wrote 66% and women 34% of reviews, an increase of women by just 2 percentage points, from 32% in 2019. The 2018 study also found that women comprised just 32% of reviewers.

► Male reviewers outnumber female reviewers in every job title category. Men comprise 83% and women 17% of “film critics.” Men account for 70% and women 30% of

“staff writers.”

► Female-driven films and films directed by women make up a smaller proportion of men’s reviews than women’s reviews: 54% of the reviews written by women and 45% of those written by men are about films featuring at least one female protagonist.

► More than twice as many of the films reviewed by female critics as male critics are directed by women: 33% of films reviewed by women vs. 14% of those reviewed by men. “While it is not clear whether these differences are due to reviewer preferences or to editorial assignments, they influence the amount of attention films featuring female protagonists and films with women directors receive,” the study found.

► Men continue to dominate as reviewers across every film genre and in nearly every type of media outlet. Men write 69% of reviews about action features, 68% about animated features, 68% about comedies, 66% about science-fiction features, 65% about documentaries, 63% about dramas, and 61% about horror features.

► The percentage of women only exceeds that of men at radio and television outlets (women 58% vs. men 42%), the report found.

Since her first report in 2007, Lauzen and her team considered more than 25,000 reviews written by more than 1,600 reviewers. This year’s edition examined more than 4,000 reviews written by more than 380 reviewers working for print, broadcast and online outlets in January, February and March of 2020.

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One positive number: Female reviewers are gaining some ground on Rotten Tomatoes, the study found. In 2020, women comprised 40% and men 60% of top critics.

“For women, this represents an increase of 12 percentage points from 28% in 2019,

and 6 percentage points from 34% in 2018,” the report found.

Do these findings matter to Hollywood? Maybe not as much now, in the middle of a pandemic and with tens of thousands of jobs lost and studios shuttered.

But in 2018, Oscar winner Brie Larson used her Women in Film award acceptance speech to decry the lack of diversity among film critics, eliciting applause when she said she didn’t need “a white dude to tell me what didn’t work for him about ‘(A) Wrinkle in Time.’ It wasn’t made for him! I want to know what it meant to women of color, biracial women, to teen women of color.”

Larson clarified: “Am I saying I hate white dudes? No, I am not. What I am saying is if you make a movie that is a love letter to women of color, there is an insanely low chance a woman of color will have a chance to see your movie, and review your movie.”

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