Film critics associations remain a boys club

Eight men and two women walk into a movie theater. They see an action thriller, a romantic drama and a slapstick comedy. After, they vote on the best film: the action thriller wins. That film goes on to make more money, receive more awards and boost the careers of the directors, screenwriters and studios who produced it.

But what if there were more than two women in that group? Would the outcome be different?

This hypothetical scenario is not so hypothetical, as women remain the minority members of film critics associations in every state and region throughout the United States. Although women make up half the country’s population (50.8 percent, according to the U.S. Census Bureau), they represent approximately 22 percent of film critics associations.

Members of these exclusive organizations are able to screen a film prior to its release and publish full-length critiques in print or online publications. Likening a film to a thumb up or down or a tomato fresh or rotten affects not only the film’s initial performance at the box office, but the residual revenue from film festivals and Hollywood’s prestigious, months-long awards cycle.

So who is the first group of people to judge if a film is “worthy” of such acclaim? The 78 percent male film critics associations located in Austin, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Detroit, Florida, Georgia, Kansas City, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Nevada, New York, Philadelphia, Phoenix, San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle, St. Louis and Washington D.C., along with broader organizations like the National Society of Film Critics and the Broadcast Film Critics Associations. They decide whether or not a film will have a successful run and decide the futures of directors, screenwriters, producers and studios.

Since the male majority has been a norm throughout entertainment industry history, the dawn of the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements have increasingly tried to tip the scale toward balance. Like FF2 Media’s all-female staff (who write reviews of every theatrical film written or directed by a woman), gender equality advocates like Women and Film’s Melissa Silverstein and Cherry Picks Reviews’ co-founders Miranda Bailey and Rebecca Odes have championed voices of female film critics.

“Cherry Picks came about because of the lack of representation that was happening across the critical landscape in media itself, whether it was film or television, music or video games or any of the above,” Bailey told FF2 Media’s Pamela Powell in an April interview. “And now that we’re doing these aggregated sites and scoring systems that consumers are using [and] not having an equal opportunity playing field, it was really skewing the score…skewing the scores as to whether something was worth consumers’ money or not. We started Cherry Picks to specifically cherry pick out the female critical voice across media to shine a light on it to support it.”

Director Niki Caro and screenwriter Angela Workman’s The Zookeeper’s Wife, Bailey recalled, did not yield big box office numbers or critical acclaim after being collectively panned by male critics. Starring Jessica Chastain as a woman who helped save hundreds of people and animals during the German invasion, the film was given higher marks by the small percentage of female critics – sparking Bailey’s idea for another all-female-staff of film critics, Cherry Picks Reviews.

As film critics associations continue to exclude women into their organizations, the more like-minded people determine the fate of a larger group of people striving for balance, and more importantly, representation.

Until then, moviegoers can read reviews on Rotten Tomatoes like those curated on Christopher Nolan’s 92-percent fresh film, Dunkirk, reviewed by “Top Critics:”

Rafer Guzman (New York Film Critics Circle), Richard Brody (New York Film Critics Circle), Adam Graham (Detroit Film Critics Society), Matthew Lickona (San Diego Film Critics Society Members), Peter Rainer (New York Film Critics Circle), Rex Reed (New York Film Critics Circle), Chris Klimek (The Washington DC Area Film Critics Association), Kenneth Turan (Los Angeles Film Critics Association), Michael O’Sullivan (The Washington DC Area Film Critics Association), David Edelstein (New York Film Critics Circle), Calvin Wilson (St. Louis Film Critics Association), J.R. Jones (National Society of Film Critics), Ty Burr (Boston Society of Film Critics), Brian Lowry (Los Angeles Film Critics Association), Joe Morgenstern (National Society of Film Critics), Cary Darling (Dallas-Fort Worth Film Critics Association), Mick LaSalle (San Francisco Film Critics Circle), James Berardinelli (Philadelphia Film Critics Circle), Bill Goodykoontz (Phoenix Film Critics Society), Peter Travers (New York Film Critics Circle), Matt Zoller Seitz (New York Film Critics Circle), Richard Roeper (Chicago Film Critics Association), Alonso Duralde (Los Angeles Film Critics Association), Bilge Ebiri (New York Film Critics Circle), Peter Debruge (Los Angeles Film Critics Association), Stephen Whitty (New York Film Critics Circle), David Ehrlich (New York Film Critics Circle), Alison Willmore (New York Film Critics Circle), Sara Stewart (New York Film Critics Circle), Stephanie Zacharek (New York Film Critics Circle), Katie Walsh (Los Angeles Film Critics Association), Moira MacDonald (The Seattle Film Critics Society) and Dana Stevens (New York Film Critics Circle).

© Brigid K. Presecky (8/29/18) FF2 Media

Photos: The Zookeeper’s Wife (2017; Focus Features) Dunkirk (2017); Warner Bros. Pictures; 2017-18 American Film Critics Associations graphic by FF2 Media

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Brigid Presecky began her career in journalism at Chicago's Goodman Theatre. In 2008, she joined FF2 Media as a part-time film critic and multimedia editor. Receiving her Bachelor of Arts degree in Communications from Bradley University, she moved to Los Angeles where she worked in development, production and publicity for Berlanti Productions, Entertainment Tonight and Warner Bros. Studios, respectively. Returning to her journalistic roots in Chicago, she is now a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and certified Rotten Tomatoes Film Critic.
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