A new report from USC’s Dr. Stacy Smith on the race and gender of film critics is urging the major studios to press news organizations to create a more diverse pool of critics to review their movies.
The report, based on the reviews of the 300 top-grossing films from 2015 to 2017 as posted on the Rotten Tomatoes, found that only 21.3% of 59,751 reviews were written by female critics, while 78.7% were penned by male critics – a gender ratio of 3.7 male reviewers to every 1 female reviewer. Critics from underrepresented racial and ethnic backgrounds, meanwhile, accounted for 16.8% of those reviews, compared to 83.2% by white critics. Minority female critics were found to have only written just 3.7% of the reviews – a ratio of nearly 31 to 1 compared to their white male counterparts.
The report, the second in as many years from the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, makes a strong case that women and minorities remain underrepresented within the ranks of movie reviewers, but goes on to argue that the remedy may lie in the reviewed having greater sway over who’s assigned to review.
“The major distributors appear to be operating according to an invisible quota system that does not reflect the audience for film,” Smith says in the report. “If the studios believe that critics’ reviews play a role in the box office performance of their films, they must do better – and that includes asking publications to do more to create a diverse pool of critics.”
But asking the studios to help shape the pool of reviewers is an odd request coming from an organization that operates under the umbrella of a major journalism school – in this case, the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. For it’s a widely accepted journalistic practice that no studio – or for that matter, no corporation, governmental agency or any other entity – should have any say in which reporters or reviewers are assigned to write about them. Certainly, the First Amendment gives the USC School of Journalism the right to ask the studios to make such a request, but journalistically, it’s sketchy, to say the least.
The report includes “an analysis by distributor to examine whether any of the major studios have achieved a balanced or proportional critic’s pool. Whether among all reviewers or top critics, films released by the major motion picture companies were still reviewed primarily by white male critics.” The report found that films released by Paramount had the highest percentage of white male reviewers (71%), while Universal had the lowest (64.1%). The average among all the major studios was 67.7%.
“Overall, these findings reveal how far these companies have to go until their critics’ pools reflect their audience,” the report said. “While organizations may be cautious about the idea of setting target inclusion goals, these results speak to what we earlier referred to as an invisible quota system that clearly continues to operate. By engaging in the same or similar practices to recruit critics for every film in their slates and across years, the major entertainment companies are already acting to maintain an unbalanced ratio of white male reviewers to other groups. By setting target inclusion goals, these corporations can choose to act intentionally and seek out opportunities to include critics who might be overlooked if they merely continue on with ‘business as usual.’ Given the results mentioned above, this may be vital to ensuring that money is not left on the table and that films with underrepresented female leads can reach their full revenue potential.”
Arguing that the race and gender of reviewers matters, the report found that white male reviewers rated films with female leads “lower than any other group.” On a scale of 1-10, the average white male reviewer gave films with female leads a score of 5.9, while the average minority female reviewer gave those same films a score of 6.9. Minority female reviewers, however, also gave slightly higher marks to films with white male leads than their white male counterparts – 6.2 compared to 6.1.
The report found that 65% of the reviews by the “top critics” at 10 “notable daily newspapers” were written by white males; that 19.5% were written by white females; that 13.2% were written by minority males, and that only 2.3% were penned by minority females. Those papers include The Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times, Minneapolis Star Tribune, New York Daily News, New York Post, New York Times, Newsday, USA Today, Wall Street Journal, and the Washington Post.
At the entertainment trades, which were lumped into one category, the report found that 67.8% of their top critics’ reviews were written by white males; that 22.7% were written by minority males, and that 3.3% were penned by minority females, and that that only 6.1% were authored by white females – by far the lowest percentage of white females among all the news outlets. Overall, 67.5% of the reviews surveyed were written by white males; 20.5% by white females; 9.6% by minority males, and 2.2% by minority females.
The report also found that individual male critics are assigned to review films more often than individual women. The report, which sampled the work of 2,413 critics, found that 67.1% of those individuals were men, and that 32.9% were women – a 3-1 male-to-female ratio.