Film Critics Even Less Diverse Than Films, Study Finds

Courtesy of Annenberg Inclusion Initiative

USC's Annenberg Inclusion Initiative finds that 82 percent of reviews in 2017 were written by white critics, and 77.8 percent by men.

While more attention is starting to be paid to onscreen representation in film and television, diversity among the critics who review them is still largely an invisible issue.

For the first time, USC's Annenberg Inclusion Initiative has turned its eye to critics, analyzing the gender and race/ethnicity of the authors behind every Rotten Tomatoes review of 2017's 100 highest-grossing movies. Its new report, "Critic's Choice?" finds that out of 19,559 reviews, 77.8 percent were written by men and 82 percent were written by white critics. White men wrote 63.9 percent of reviews, compared with 4.1 percent penned by women of color. More reviews were also written by white women (18.1 percent) than by men of color (13.8 percent).

"The very individuals who are attuned to the under- and mis-representation of females onscreen and behind the camera are often left out of the conversation and critiques," AII founder and director Stacy L. Smith said in a statement. "The publicity, marketing and distribution teams in moviemaking have an opportunity to change this quickly by increasing the access and opportunities given to women of color as film reviewers."

A slightly larger share of white women (21.5 percent) was represented among Rotten Tomatoes' designated "Top Critics," but that select pool of 3,359 reviews saw even fewer written by underrepresented men (8.7 percent) and women (2.5 percent).

"Even among top critics, the words of white and male critics fill a greater share of the conversation than females and people of color," Marc Choueiti, the study's lead author, said in a statement. "Re-examining the definition of a top critic or simply casting a wider net can be the opportunity to open up and diversify the voices heard in the critic space."

Choueiti, Smith and fellow study author Katherine Pieper also analyzed critic representation for each film. Not one of the 100 movies was reviewed by an equal number of men and women — not even the 36 identified as female-driven pictures, where the reviews of all but eight failed to clear the benchmark of one-third female-written. (When looking at Top Critics only, the numbers improved. More than half of the critics who reviewed A Bad Moms Christmas, Everything, Everything, Girls Trip and My Little Pony: The Movie were women.) When it comes to movies featuring leads of color, the lack of corresponding critics is even more glaring: For most of the 24 films in this category, 80 percent or more of the reviews were written by white critics.

Forty-five of last year's 100 highest-grossing films were not reviewed by women of color at all, and over half of the female-driven movies lacked a single review by a top critic who was also an underrepresented woman. This is perhaps because out of the 1,600-plus individual authors in the study's sampling, only 8.9 percent were women of color. About half (53.2 percent) were white men, followed by white women (23 percent) and men of color (14.8 percent). White male critics were the most prolific, writing an average of 14.3 reviews a year, followed by 11.1 by men of color, 9.4 by white women and finally 5.6 by women of color.

"This report reveals the absence of women of color working as reviewers — especially on movies built around female and underrepresented leads," Smith said in a statement. "We have seen the ramifications of an industry in which the content sold to audiences is created and reviewed by individuals who are primarily white men. Creating inclusive hiring practices at every stage of the filmmaking and review process is essential to meeting business imperatives and ensuring that we see diverse perspectives reflected in society."

The study authors add that in order for the critic pool to reflect the U.S. population, media outlets and studios that grant access to them should strive for "30-30-20-20" — the breakdown for white men, white women, men of color and female of color, respectively. AII intends to make the case about why critic demographic matters in a series of reports, of which this is the first. The second study will examine differences in review content based on the critic's gender and/or race/ethnicity, and the third will look at how box-office performance is affected.

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