Do we need more women movie critics?

Natalieportmanboleyn_lThe San Diego Union-Tribune found itself apologizing to readers last week for running a review of The Other Boleyn Girl whose first sentence was a disparaging remark about Natalie Portman’s lack of cleavage. The review was written by a male critic, prompting the section editor to wonder why there aren’t more female film critics (including at his own paper — the review was a syndicated article written for a wire service). It’s a good question, but it should be part of a bigger question.

A diverse set of viewpoints is good, but do male and female critics see films differently? I’m glad we have both Owen Gleiberman and Lisa Schwarzbaum here at EW, but when it comes to so-called "chick flicks" or more male-oriented action fare, both of our film critics are able to see past gender and review them positively if they’re good, negatively if they’re bad. Their differences in taste seems (to me) to have more to do with who they are as individuals than with sex. Still, the film industry is more clearly male-dominated than any other realm in showbiz (quick, how many female directors, screenwriters, and studio executives can you name?) and caters more blatantly to male ticket-buyers. So I’m glad there are women writing about film who’ll take notice of that imbalance, who’ll recognize the way the camera often objectifies women (and sometimes men), and who’ll argue that a more varied and well-rounded set of female characters would be good for movies in general, so that the other half of the population can find someone on screen to identify with. Of course, I’d like to see more men arguing these points as well.

The larger problem here isn’t just that there aren’t enough women critics — there aren’t enough critics. I’ve been writing for some time in this space about the war on film critics, the campaign by many publications to fire their local critics and build their coverage from syndicated reviews. The Union-Tribune situation shows why this is a bad idea. I don’t know whether readers in other cities where the article ran complained as loudly, but clearly, this review didn’t serve the needs of the San Diego paper’s hometown readership. The ongoing conversation about film isn’t served by having only a handful of critical voices who are unaccountable to moviegoers. Among critics, there should be a diversity of gender (and ethnicity, and sexual orientation, etc.), but right now, I’d be happy to see some geographical diversity.


Comments (94 total) Add your comment
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  • Laura

    The shortage of women in the film industry really baffles me, but I guess I never thought about the shortage of female film critics – surprising, given that I’d like to become one. I don’t think the field of film critics NEEDS to be more diverse, but I definitely think it would help to create more varied discussion of what makes a film good or bad.

  • Dtom

    Gary, I couldn’t agree more. Our local paper uses only wire services, and there’s definitely something missing in the reviews. I grew up in Rochester, New York, and I always looked forward to reading the reviews of Jack Garner, our local critic. Not only did he add local flavor to his reviews (never failing to mention Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s Rochester roots in his reviews of PSH’s movies), but he could also be heard regularly on local radio, becoming a sort of local celebrity. The wire service reviews lack that local flavor, and certainly don’t interest me as much.

  • Snarf

    Well said Gary, well said.

  • Eric Friedmann

    Okay, but while we’re on the subject, why DIDN’T Natalie Portman have more cleavage???

  • Juliet

    At least Natalie’s lack of cleavage was historically accurate. By the time Anne became queen she had lost an enormous amount of weight due to stress. Maybe film critics should do a bit more research?

  • Dave

    The SD U-T’s long time movie critic, David Elliot, (who may not be there anymore, I don’t live in SD anymore so I don’t know), wrote, in my opinion, absolutely appalling movie reviews which gave away far too much of the plot and penalized movies for not being enough like movies made when he was young.
    That said, replacing one bad staff reviewer with one bad syndicated reviewer is a step backwards.
    Why not find someone with a great film review blog and give them a job writing for a paper? There are enough of them out there.

  • josher

    While I don’t think Qwen or Lisa are gender biased when it comes to “chick flicks” or “action movies”, there is a clear difference in their reviewing style/language/etc., that I do think stems at least partly from their genders. If I don’t look to see who is writing which review, I can always tell which one of them wrote it. I’ve tried this many times and I’ve always been right. Owen’s viewpoint is usually more “masculine” and Lisa’s, more “feminine”, very broadly speaking.

  • T-Rex

    I agree with everything said about Natalie Portman’s lack of cleavage

  • Laura M

    Thanking you for bringing this issue up, Gary. Yes, we do need more female movie critics. In general, we need more women in Hollywood – from writers, to directors, to even the AMOUNT of female characters in a script. Most scripts only have about 2 or 3 female roles, if that, and then about 15-20 male roles. And trust me, I’ve worked in Hollywood for several years – that is not an exaggeration.

  • Jason

    Forget “chick-flicks” and think about how many movies with female protagonists exist. Female critics would champion female-centric movies, which unfortunately is necessary in a sea of male critics who think they are unbiased, but cannot help responding more positively to movies with the male point of view because they are men. I think if there was research done on how many men gave good reviews to movies with female protagonists compared to female reviewers, we would find that men don’t respond as favorably to these films as women. Equity in the world of reviewers may help equity in the world of film production.

  • Kay

    YES YES YES WE DO. The lack of female critics ALWAYS strikes me, particularly when watching Ebert & Roeper. On that show, it’s sometimes like a guy’s only club where exchange smug smiles and pat each other on the back. I love Lisa’s EW reviews, but really… where are all the rest of the women!?!?

  • donner

    I always wanted to be a film critic too…but I figured no one would hire a chick…and based on the lack of women reviewers, i suspect I’m probably right…

  • Becca

    the film industry is really dominated by women. how many films have female nudity? how much of the female audience wants to see that? how much comparative MALE nudity is there? i hate to say it, cuz i know it makes me sound like a huge feminist, but our whole society is geared towards men. not just the film industry, but thats where is prevalent right now. maybe its not so much that more women are needed in critic posts, but that more OBJECTIVE people are needed. sex shouldnt matter, but really, do chick flicks ever get as many great reviews from the male critics as the horrible, hum-drum, same old same old action flicks, especially from the male critics?

  • Julie

    Seems to be two different topics here: lack of local critics due to staff cuts at papers around the country, and lack of female film critics. Solving one problem will not necessarily solve the other, since one is systemic and pervasive and the other is a wrong-headed reaction to the way the internet has altered reading habits. Our paper cut its local critic because “people can get reviews from rotten tomatoes” or whatever. Umm. Ok. And the way to draw readers away from that venue is to…cut one more reason the paper is NOT like rotten tomatoes, and leave no other option but to go to that venue instead of your paper for film reviews? Riiiiight. Brilliant strategy!

  • Darma Boy

    Owen’s pretty good, but I can’t stand Lisa’s reviews!
    Hire film critic Allison Bailes. She’s Awesome

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