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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

why did that study about female film critics on the Internet ignore most of the Internet?

A fuller summary of Martha M. Lauzen’s study is now posted at the Alliance of Women Film Journalists. (FYI, I’m a member of the AWFJ, and Lauzen is on its Board of Advisors.) It does not address my concerns about why the study was limited to examining the Top Critics on Rotten Tomatoes, which seems even more mysterious in light of what the study does say:

The following summary discusses three perceptions about gender and film critics/criticism, followed by the reality.

Perception #1: In recent years, the decline of newspapers and the rise of the Internet have democratized popular film criticism. More women now review films than ever before.

Reality: Film critics appear to have become less, not more gender diverse over the last six years. In Spring 2013, top male critics wrote 82% and top female critics 18% of the film reviews featured on the film review aggregator site. (In Fall 2007, men penned 70% and women 30% of reviews written for the top 100 U.S. daily newspapers.)

This is simply bizarre. The study specifically excluded itself from looking away from declining newspapers and toward the parts of the Internet where women might possibly have a better chance of making their voices heard as critics: that is, outside the corporate realm. So how can it possibly pretend to have refuted the perception that the Internet has democratized film criticism? It hasn’t even considered this! It looked mostly at corporate sites, many of which are in decline, laying off staff, consolidating, cutting budgets. Corporations get even more conservative under such pressure, which makes them less likely to “risk” hiring a supposedly “nontraditional” critic (that is, anyone not white or male).

Now, I don’t know that the percentage of female film critics outside of Rotten Tomatoes Top Critics would be any better than it is within that group. But it’s certainly worth exploring… particularly when the aim of the study was to determine if the Internet had leveled the field for women. And if there is a big difference between the two groups, then perhaps there’d be some exploring to do around the idea that Rotten Tomatoes is biased against women critics: that could relate to the question of whether the Internet has democratized criticism or not.

Frankly, I don’t know where that perception about film criticism getting democratized came from at all. It still seems overwhelmingly like a boys’ club to me. Why there are so few women critics — on Rotten Tomatoes or not — is a mystery worth looking at. This study seems to miss the boat completely on offering even the beginnings of an understanding about this.


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Rotten Tomatoes

Just what I needed on a rainy Friday. From TheWrap:

Study: Women Movie Critics Fewer Than 20% on Rotten Tomatoes

According to a new study titled “Gender @ the Movies” obtained by TheWrap ahead of its Friday release, film criticism has become even more male-dominated in the age of online news than it was six years ago.

The study tracked review activity by top Rotten Tomatoes critics this spring and found that top male critics wrote 82% of film reviews featured on the aggregator site during a two-month period, with top female critics accounting for less than 20%. By comparison, men wrote 70% of reviews for the top 100 U.S. daily newspapers in 2007.

This is extra depressing because the study apparently failed to notice me because I’m not a Top Critic on Rotten Tomatoes (though I am on the Tomatometer, of course). I’ve been lobbying RT for years to make me a Top Critic to no avail.

RT is generally biased toward corporate publications… which are biased toward male critics.

I understand why the study focused on RT. I’ll look forward to reading the actual study to see if it looked at RT’s biases as well.


  • RogerBW

    It would be interesting to see absolute numbers. How many newspapers still have a film critic who isn’t doing it as an adjunct to some other job?

  • PJK

    I just saw an article of Film.com (one of MaryAnn’s old places of work according to her website) called “Seven Female Film Critics You Should Be Reading” and they also seem to concentrate on the corporate critics. No mention of MaryAnn, but at least they acknowledge the existence of Female critics.

  • PJK

    Note to self: don’t forget to include the link to the article: D’oh!

    http://www.film.com/movies/great-female-film-critics

  • You can imagine just how special it felt to be ignored by Film.com. I was even one of their founding writers. :-(

  • PJK

    And it is not like they don’t acknowledge one of their other former writers. Was there bad blood when you left?

  • Not at all.

  • singlestick

    This is shameful. And I have no idea what the supposed standards of Rotten Tomatoes could possibly be that would exclude Maryann from the ranks of Top Critics.

    The sad thing is that this problem will only get worse as newspapers and magazines struggle to survive. You have the terrible example of the Village Voice dumping a range of senior writers, all cultural or theater critics, in a futile attempt to save money. On top of all this, there is inane notion that social media and the Internet makes professional critics either unnecessary or unimportant.

    Still, the larger issue is the noxious belief that somehow, for some reason, the opinions of women are just not as important as whatever men want to bloviate about. Doubly ironic that in film criticism, Pauline Kael and other noteworthy writers, are examples of excellent women critics who encouraged men women, by action and by example, to become critics themselves.

  • RogerBW

    To do the study properly, first one would have to define a critic. There are certainly people worth reading who have nothing by way of visible credentials (just a free blogspot or wordpress site). There are also people not even slightly worth reading who write for big glossy print publications. So how does one set a threshold? I agree that “all on RT” would be better than “Top Critics on RT”, but that’s only a start.

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