Whither Women Film Critics? Study Says 78% of Film Critics Are Male, 22% Female

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by Anne Thompson and Beth Hanna
May 24, 2013 2:44 PM
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Pauline Kael
Yet another fascinating if depressing report from Martha M. Lauzen looks at, among other things, the percentages of women film critics as compared to their male counterparts. The numbers don't lie: In Spring of 2013 (i.e. right now), 78% of top critics (as defined by guidelines laid out by Rotten Tomatoes, below) are male, with only 22% female. The essay goes on to look at three perceptions about gender in popular film criticism, and then the realities. Highlights below.

The purpose of the study:

In an effort to better understand how gender may influence popular film criticism, this study tracked over 2,000 reviews penned by 145 writers designated as “top critics” on the film review aggregator site Rotten Tomatoes over a two-month period in the spring of 2013. The study examined the percentages of male and female critics, the numbers of reviews they wrote during that period, and the length and nature of their reviews.

What constitutes a "top critic"?

According to the Rotten Tomatoes website, writers considered 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.”

On the assumption that the rise of internet film criticism has brought a rise in women critics:

Film critics appear to have become less, not more gender diverse over the last six years.  78% of the top critics writing in Spring 2013 were male, 22% were female.

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.

"The bottom line":

Popular film criticism remains a predominantly male activity. Films with male directors and writers receive greater exposure as male critics are more likely to review these films than films with female directors and writers. However, while film critics tend to review higher proportions of films directed and/or written by individuals of their same sex, on average, critics do not privilege those films by writing longer reviews or awarding them substantially higher ratings. (Statistics here.)

We have lost some of our best women critics to attrition in journalism. Carrie Rickey left The Philadelphia Inquirer, and while Karina Longworth left Village Voice Media's LA Weekly, The Voice's Scott Foundas was replaced by Stephanie Zacharek. In the end, it was Owen Gleiberman, not Lisa Schwarzbaum, who stayed on staff at EW. Luckily, the fab writers Manohla Dargis (The NYT) and Ann Hornaday (The Washington Post) are still filing, and long may they do so.

Who are some of your favorite women critics?
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1 Comment

  • rgm | May 24, 2013 4:13 PMReply

    What is the current status of Molly Haskell?

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