For many years now, Dr. Martha Lauzen and San Diego State University’s Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film have been a reliable source for sobering statistics on the industry’s treatment of women, both in front of, and behind, the camera. The Center issues annual reports on female representation in acting, directing, writing, and, periodically, the film critics who analyze and recommend media to others. The latest of these “Thumbs Down” reports came out this week, and while there are a few mildly encouraging trends—namely, the increasing number of women in veteran positions in the field—it’s also a stark reminder that film criticism remains not only a male-dominated world, but of why it’s important for those numbers to be pushed in the direction of change.
As reported in The New York Times, the report shows that 68 percent of film reviewers—per data collected from Rotten Tomatoes—are men, with only 32 percent reporting as women. (Both populations were also reported as being overwhelmingly white.) Male critics wrote more reviews over a three-month period, and dominated fields like action and horror. (Comedy, the closest split, still favored 59 percent men.)
Further, the study shows that female writers were not only more likely to review a film by a woman director or featuring a female protagonist, but also to give it a positive review, including mentioning the director by name. Female reviewers gave movies with a woman as the protagonist an average rating of 74 percent (standardized from various star-based and percentile systems) while male reviewers average at 62 percent. (The discrepancy on male protagonist films was far smaller, with just a 3 percentage point difference between male and female reviewers.) The paper doesn’t go out of its way to draw direct conclusions about why it might then be incredibly important—both for its own merits, and for increased representation and diversity—to thus have more women reviewing films, but the implications for the impact of the critical discourse for female filmmakers are pretty easy to tease out. You can read the full report here.