I’m going to give you a bunch of facts and statistics and maybe a personal anecdote, that will light a FIRE under your derriere to write a film review. Today, and I mean Today – whatever day it is that you are reading this – I challenge you to watch a movie and write about it – then post your review on the 7th day. That gives you one week, from now. Go!
If you are raring to go, then please stop reading and just start writing, but for those of you who would like me to hold up my end of the deal, the following will get you going.
A few months ago I was listening to this podcast on NPR while I was running. I think it was The Frame with John Horn. Yes, I realize I just mentioned a male radio journalist when I’m trying to encourage women to write, but I really like John because he is an ally and it’s important to have those too. He regularly invites female film critics on his show, like Los Angeles Times film writer, Jen Yamato; on April 12, 2019 he talked to Emma Thompson about her letter to Skydance Animation and why she quit that project (highly recommend a listen to that one); it’s how I know about Claudia Puig, President at Los Angeles Film Critics Association – which it is worth noting only has 13 female members out of 60; and, hearing that male film critics outnumber women 2 to 1 on The Frame is what inspired me to write this article.
Time for some nitty gritty science. I recommend you take a few minutes and read the actual study I’m about to site – it is written for the layperson and is only about 8 pages. Just search for Thumbs Down 2019: Film Critics and Gender, and Why It Matters by Martha M. Lauzen, Ph.D. in your browser. Or click HERE. You can also go back and read the information from previous years, it’s all posted online.
For your convenience, and to make this article cohesive, I’ll summarize: Men are responsible for two-thirds of the information we get about films. TWO-THIRDS! 2 out of 3! They seem to write more reviews, cover more male directed and male actor led films and tend to mention male directors more often and more favorably than women directors.
I know that you’re going to say, “Well that middle one is because there are more male directed and male actor driven films so of course there are more. More = More.” And I say, “Exactly!” If you don’t have an opportunity to even hear about the female led and directed films, or what you do hear isn’t as positive as the alternative, then those movies don’t make as much money and there are less opportunities for women to direct, act, write, edit, and every other job on a film.
As a citizen scientist I conducted my own extremely non-rigorous survey. I only looked at the Arts & Entertainment section of the LA Times, just out of curiosity. I assumed being in one of the largest US cities, and on the far-left side of the country, that it would do better than the average. Nope.
2 out of 10 of the Critics are Women.
13 out of 26 of the Staff Writers are Women.
5 out of 13 of the Editors are Women.
And according to this year’s study by Dr. Lauzen, it actually got a little worse since 2018, dropping from 34% of women reviewers on Rotten Tomatoes to 32% in 2019. There are other studies that back up this data, like the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative at USC which says it’s even worse for women who are any other color besides white – with only 8.9% of film critics who reviewed the top 100 films in the year of the study identifying in an underrepresented category. Eight Point Nine Percent! And it’s not just the US…this study released at Cannes’ inaugural “Women on the Move” event you’ll see that France’s female film critics have the same obstacles.
We could sit here and wallow in our misfortune, it’s a big industry, there are a lot of battles to fight and a lot of great causes that occupy the news cycle and are too easily dismissed as noise. We could complain to our friends. Nod our heads to the none too surprising data I laid out for you. Or you can accept my challenge and be heard.
The great thing about reviewing a movie is that we all do it already. We talk about it as we walk out of the theatre, poke holes in the plot, laugh about the twist ending, use phrases from the film so many times they become part of the lexicon. We give it a thumbs up or say things like, “It was meant for kids, but it had some pretty great moments so I enjoyed it too.” We are already film critics. I know, writing it down is different. Sharing it with the world is different.
So here are some tips to get you started:
- Start by watching a film on a streaming channel from start to finish and as soon as it’s over jot down your emotional reaction to it.
- Re-watch the film with an eye toward a specific detail, the dialogue, use of color or music, the pacing, editing style or whatever appeals to you. This time keep more detailed notes, pause the movie if you like.
- Research the film, who was the director, writer, producer, costumer, make-up artist, editor or casting director. What else have they done?
- Pretend you are the decider for the Academy Awards, does this movie have a chance?
- Read Reviews written by the pros. Here are a few to check out but definitely don’t stop here: Chaz Ebert, Kate Erbland and Deborah Young.
- Bring your personality to the party. Do you have a point-of-view or a style that people will love to read?
I could go on, but I think you get the idea and there are tons of other more thorough articles on writing reviews. Here is one.
The good news? You can start critiquing movies right now! You can post them to your social media that you already have – easy peasy. Or, if you really get into it, you can make a new website, twitter handle or even a podcast just for this purpose. Really, getting your voice heard is the most important thing so you have to follow-thru and share it with the world.
The bad news… Just like a lot of the jobs in the arts, there isn’t a lot of moolah. Many critics freelance and don’t have a regular paycheck or health benefits. Before you’ll get paid to review films you’ll have to build up a body of work and gain a following. You’re also competing against folks that went to school for it, so if that worries you then do your own studying. BUT you’re not doing it to make money (just yet anyway), you’re doing it to be heard and that was in the good news category!
In 2018 at the Women In Film Crystal + Lucy Awards, Brie Larson cited the USC Annenberg Inclusive Initiative study I mentioned above and announced that the Sundance Film Festival and the Toronto Film Festival will now give 20 percent of their press credentials to minorities. She said that this is important because “we need to be conscious of our bias and do our part to make sure that everyone is in the room.” and that “other people, besides white dudes, like Star Wars, and would love the opportunity to do a set visit.” She also talked about how important a good review is to the success of all movies, big and small…so important that they can be life-changing.
Don’t you want to change someone’s life for the better? Don’t you want to watch movies or TV? Don’t you want to help women make more films and more money? Heck yeah you do!! You feel that Fire I promised!
Maybe you’ll even become the next Chaz Ebert or B. Ruby Rich!
I’ll just assume I’ve convinced you to take my challenge.
You have seven days, starting now!
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