Media Outlets Employ Twice as Many Male Critics as Female Critics, Study Finds

Movie Theater Interior - H 2012
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Movie Theater Interior - H 2012

The latest Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film study of Rotten Tomatoes reviewers found male film critics dominated in every job category and across all media outlets.

Though Hollywood stars are increasingly calling out the gender divide in film criticism, media outlets haven't significantly improved gender parity in the field since 2018, according to a new study released on Thursday.

Men made up 66 percent and women 34 percent of film critics working for print, broadcast and online outlets in the spring of 2019, the latest Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University study on film critics finds. That's a minute improvement over 2018, when men were found to make up 68 percent of film reviewers and women 32 percent; however, men still outnumber women in the field by a factor of 2 to 1.

The study, which was first conducted in 2007, examines all reviews aggregated from U.S.-based writers on Rotten Tomatoes in the spring of the year the study is conducted. In 2019, the study looked at over 4,750 reviews penned by over 380 writers. The researchers only looked at writers who had written more than three reviews included on the site in February, March and April 2019.

Male film critics dominated in every job category studied — film critics, contributors, editors, staff writers and freelancers — and in all media outlets, including in newspapers, wire services, general interest magazines and websites.

The worst outlets for women? General interest magazines, where men constituted 78 percent of reviewers. The most inclusive outlets were on radio and TV, where men were just 58 percent of critics.

Overall, men wrote 68 percent of all reviews and women 32 percent, a three-point percentage increase for women since last year. 

"Male film critics outnumber female critics by almost 2 to 1 and continue to dominate the conversation about film across every type of media outlet and about every film genre. In this gender-myopic movie world, not only do men comprise the majority of our filmmakers, they are also more likely to have the last word on the quality of our films," Dr. Martha Lauzen, executive director of the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film, said in a statement.

Like in previous years, the study examined the conclusions of each review studied, finding that women tended to write more favorably about films starring female protagonists than male critics did (women critics tended to award a film with a female protagonist a 78 percent rating, while men averaged a 68 percent rating). Female critics also didn't look as favorably on male-fronted films as men, though there was a smaller gap between the two genders when it came to male protagonists: Women gave the films a 70 percent on average, men a 77 percent.

Women were also found to be much more likely to mention a female director's name in their reviews than men: 31 percent of female critics name-dropped the director, while 16 percent of men did. For male-helmed films, men cited the director's name 81 percent of the time and women 61 percent.

When it came to Rotten Tomatoes' "top critics," who are specially featured on the aggregation site, the percentage of women in the category declined 6 percent from the previous year. Men constituted 72 percent of top critics and women 28 percent. Though the review aggregator no longer specifies criteria to be named a top critic, previously it had mentioned that a top critic "must be published at a print publication in the top 10 percent of circulation, employed as a film critic at a Thumbs Down 2019 six 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" in addition to being recognized for "influence, reach, reputation and/or quality of writing, as determined by Rotten Tomatoes staff."

Overall, the percentage of female film critics has pushed upwards in the last six years on Rotten Tomatoes, though not significantly. In 2013, the study (then only of "top critics") found that top male critics wrote 82 percent of reviews and female critics 18 percent of reviews on Rotten Tomatoes. In 2016, critics on the site were 74 percent male and 26 percent female.