A new study by the academics behind the Inclusion Rider has found that movie critics are largely white and male.
Across 19,559 reviews from leading U.S. newspapers, sites and broadcast outlets, male critics authored 77.8% of reviews and female critics authored 22.2%. This translates into a gender ratio of 3.5 male reviewers to every 1 female.
White critics authored 82% of reviews whereas critics from underrepresented racial/ethnic groups authored 18%. This statistic is substantially below national demographics, which indicate that individuals from underrepresented groups clock in at 38.7% of the population.
The report, titled Critic’s Choice? is the first from the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative to investigate inclusion among film reviewers, and examines access and opportunity for film critics. The report uses reviews of the 100 top grossing films of 2017 posted on the site Rotten Tomatoes as its starting point for the research. More than 1,600 critics appraised the sample of 100 movies.
Researchers also found that white male critics wrote substantially more reviews (63.9%) than their white female (18.1%) or underrepresented male (13.8%) peers. Underrepresented female critics only wrote 4.1% of reviews included in the sample.
“The very individuals who are attuned to the under and misrepresentation of females on screen and behind the camera are often left out of the conversation and critiques,” said Dr. Smith, founder and director of the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative. “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.”
Similar results emerged when the researchers focused on individuals Rotten Tomatoes designated as Top Critics. Of the 3,359 reviews by top critics, 76% were written by males and 24% by females. Underrepresented top critics wrote 11.2% of the reviews compared to 88.8% by white top critics.
Across all critics, white males wrote the highest average number of reviews each year, at 14.3. Underrepresented male critics composed an average of 11.1, white females an average of 9.4, and underrepresented females only 5.6 reviews on average.
The study concludes that “on screen and behind the camera in film, Hollywood is predominantly pale and male. The findings in the current study reveal that this is true of film critics as well.”
“The consequences of this skewed representation must be considered—what are the ramifications of having cultural storytelling produced and evaluated largely by individuals from the same demographic group? How does this perpetuate a worldview that may not be shared by the more diverse ticket-buying audience at the box office? While these questions cannot be answered in this study, they highlight the necessity of further work to understand how critical reviews differ based on the reviewers’ demographic background.”
“This report reveals the absence of women of color working as reviewers—especially on movies built around female and underrepresented leads,” said Dr. Smith. “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 authors propose several solutions for groups that work with or educate critics. Most notably, they offer a set of target inclusion goals for the field. “Groups should think of the phrase 30/30/20/20—this is the U.S. population breakdown for white males, white females, underrepresented males and underrepresented females,” said Dr. Smith. “It sets a clear goal for groups who want to make sure that their ranks reflect the world in which we live.”
The report concludes with a call for Rotten Tomatoes to address disparities in critics’ representation, as well as solutions for intersectional change in the movie criticism space, journalism and film school training, as well as the entertainment industry.