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Gender disparity in film criticism can negatively impact visibility of female-driven movies, study finds

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Jul 17, 2018

A new and altogether unsurprising study has found that the field of film critics is still mostly dominated by men, and it's an imbalance that can often impact the amount of coverage and exposure given to female-driven movies.

"Thumbs Down: Film Critics and Gender, and Why It Matters" was first published back in 2007 and since then the exhaustive study has examined "more than 16,000 reviews by over 900 writers." The latest iteration, conducted by San Diego State University professor and researcher Martha Lauzen and published by the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film, looks at those reviews published by critics in spring 2018. This year's study reportedly focused on 4,111 reviews by 341 writers.

One of their key findings immediately jumps out: male reviewers outnumber female reviewers 2 to 1, whether their work is published in print, broadcast, or online.

What reviewers are choosing to spotlight, however, is just as revealing as other facets of the study. According to the Thumbs Down report, "a larger proportion of films reviewed by women than by men feature female protagonists" — 51% of reviews by women to 37% of reviews by men. Lauzen caveats this by adding that it is unclear whether these differences are the result of critic preference or editorial assignment.

In analyzing the language of the included reviews, the study also found "when reviewing films directed by women, female critics are more likely than males to mention the name of the woman directing the film in their reviews and to write about the director’s skills, work, and/or vision in exclusively positive ways."

As far as Lauzen is concerned, the way reviewers write about directors, especially female directors, and their abilities can have an impact in changing mainstream perception. "Something as simple as the mention of a director’s name in a review, and labeling that individual as a ‘master’ of the filmmaking craft can help shape the narrative surrounding that director," she said. "For decades, many male directors have benefited from reviews in which they have been described in larger-than-life, almost mythic ways. … While there are exceptions to these tendencies, women reviewers tend to evaluate female directors more favorably. Male critics tend to evaluate men directors more favorably."

You can read the Thumbs Down report in full here.

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