Weekly News

If cinema is to be truly representative, film criticism needs to include more women and writers of colour

July 23,2018 00:19

This term was developed by British theorist and filmmaker Laura Mulvey in the pages of Screen in 1975 to convey the objectification of women in Hollywood cinema by the director and his camera, the male protagonist and, in turn, the audience member.


Following a surge of comment pieces and research around the poor representation of women on screen and behind the camera, the debate around film industry diversity has now turned to film critics.
This has been fuelled by statements from Brie Larson, Sandra Bullock, Mindy Kaling, and Cate Blanchett, calling for more women and people of colour writing about films, arguing that female-led films can be misunderstood by male critics.
A number of recent studies support this need; the most cited reveals that nearly 75 per cent of film critics are men, and that a larger proportion of the films reviewed by women feature female protagonists. This is especially striking when we consider that more than half of cinema-goers are women, who may understandably be eager to see representations of themselves onscreen.
The debate around women directors has moved from the idea that “there just aren’t many”, to a more nuanced discussion of the funding and distribution mechanisms that prevent the development and exhibition of women’s film projects.
Read more
Mindy Kaling says white male critics are being ‘unfair’ to Ocean’s 8
Amy Schumer responds to sexist joke from teenage film critic
Cate Blanchett’s impassioned speech for gender equality at Cannes
Cate Blanchett leads Cannes protest after Hollywood sex scandal
But the lack of women film critics is also arguably a question of selective reading. The study takes as its source the film review aggregator site Rotten Tomatoes, itself a curated site to which outlets must be invited, meaning that many non-Anglophone and more marginal publications and websites aren’t included.
The problem is, women-led and feminist criticism has traditionally thrived in the margins. Publications including the US-based Camera Obscura and Jump Cut, and the German Frauen und Film, were founded within three years of each other (1974-6) with the dual aims of denouncing the patriarchal ideology they deemed present in much of mainstream cinema, and of highlighting the work of women filmmakers.
These journals, still active today, have influenced the way film is taught at universities, and have reached the public cultural sphere, being instrumental in the founding of several women-only film festivals and introducing notions like the “male gaze”.
This term was developed by British theorist and filmmaker Laura Mulvey in the pages of Screen in 1975 to convey the objectification of women in Hollywood cinema by the director and his camera, the male protagonist and, in turn, the audience member.
Criticised for its essentialism and heteronormativity, it nonetheless continues to have reach, with the counter-notion of the “female gaze” now used to front advertising and fashion campaigns.
Nowadays the distribution of these journals is limited, restricted to those belonging to an academic institution and who can afford the high subscription rates. And the writing isn’t accessible to everyone in tone, usually assuming some prior film knowledge and a grasp of academic language.

Read more
Sexism in Hollywood: The experiences of three generations of women
But their distribution is limited, restricted to those belonging to an academic institution and who pay the high subscription rates. The writing can also be somewhat inaccessible in tone, usually assuming prior film knowledge and a grasp of academic language.
The internet has addressed some of these issues with a plethora of open-access journals and blogs dedicated to a feminist critique of films by majority women and minority writers. These include cléo, SVLLY(wood), and the journal which I edit, Another Gaze.
The criticism in these rejects quantitative classification like stars, and is often retrospective, not aiming for a timely alignment with a film’s release. The publications’ writers are often young women who grew up on the web, seeking out and streaming films with protagonists that they found to resemble themselves, inadvertently creating their own filmic canon before they knew what they were doing was necessarily political or feminist.
In their somewhat utopic aim of providing free feminist criticism that doesn’t rely on funding or advertising, these publications are often unable to pay their writers a significant fee. Nor do they have the means to send a critic to the big film festivals, which remain an industry rite of passage.
While figures haven’t yet been published on this, critic Miriam Bale discovered that she was one of only three women of colour covering the Cannes film festival this year. My own experience at festivals has also been one of sitting in a cinema with rows of men.
 
Diversity among “top critics” is important, because a critical buzz at a festival will often inform what is bought and later shown in cinemas. Publications will often send their chief critic to the big festivals, who will get to choose what they watch and review, and they will probably be more likely to write about the new, anticipated film from a male auteur than the first film from a woman director.
At the Berlinale this year, Wes Anderson’s Isle of Dogs was beaten to the top prize, the Golden Bear, by the first feature of Adina Pintilie, Touch Me Not. As the festival drew to a close, Pintilie’s film had three reviews on Rotten Tomatoes, compared to 25 for Anderson’s. Isle of Dogs has been released worldwide while Touch Me Not still has no distributor in the UK or US.
25 new films to look out for in 2018 that aren't sequels

1/25 The Meg
Released: 10 August
Director: Jon Turteltaub
Cast: Jason Statham, Ruby Rose, Rainn Wilson
After escaping an attack by what he claims was a 70-foot shark, Jonas Taylor must confront his fears to save those trapped in a sunken submersible.

2/25 Skyscraper
Released: 12 July
Director: Rawson Marshall Thurber
Cast: Dwayne Jonson, Neve Campbell, Chin Han
FBI Hostage Rescue Team leader Will Sawyer is framed for setting fire to the tallest building in the world and must rescue his family who are trapped inside - at the top.

3/25 First Reformed
Released: 12 July
Director: Paul Schrader
Cast: Ethan Hawke, Amanda Seyfried, Cedric the Entertainer
A priest of a small congregation in upstate New York grapples with mounting despair brought on by tragedy, worldly concerns and a tormented past.

4/25 Disney's Christopher Robin
Released: 17 August
Director: Marc Forster
Cast: Ewan McGregor, Hayley Atwell, Jim Cummings (voice)
A working-class family man, Christopher Robin, encounters his childhood friend Winnie-the-Pooh, who helps him to rediscover the joys of life.

5/25 The Happytime Murders
Released: 17 August
Director: Brian Henson
Cast: Melissa McCarthy, Elizabeth Banks, Maya Rudolph
When the puppet cast of an '80s children's TV show begins to get murdered one by one, a disgraced LAPD detective-turned-private eye puppet takes on the case.

6/25 BlacKkKlansman
Released: 24 August
Director: Spike Lee
Cast: John David Washington, Adam Driver, Topher Grace
The film, produced by Get Out's Jordan Peele, is set in the early 70s and follows Washington's Ron Stallworth who, after becoming the first African-American detective on the Colorado Springs Police Department, sets out to infiltrate and expose the Ku Klux Klan while posing as a racist extremist.

7/25 Mile 22
Released: 27 August
Director: Peter Berg
Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Lauren Cohan, John Malkovich
An elite American intelligence officer, aided by a top-secret tactical command unit, tries to smuggle a mysterious police officer with sensitive information out of the country.

8/25 The Miseducation of Cameron Post
Released: 31 August
Director: Desiree Akhavan
Cast: Chloë Grace Moretz, John Gallagher Jr., Jennifer Ehle
In 1993, a teenage girl is forced into a gay conversion therapy center by her conservative guardians.

9/25 American Animals
Released: 7 September
Director: Bart Layton
Cast: Evan Peters, Blake Jenner, Ann Dowd
Four young men mistake their lives for a movie and attempt one of the most audacious heists in U.S. history.

10/25 City of Lies
Released: 7 September
Director: Brad Furman
Cast: Johnny Depp, Forest Whitaker, Rockmond Dunbar
The film tells the story of American hero and former LAPD detective, Russell Poole as he works the 1997 murder cases of rappers Tupac Shakur and The Notorious B.I.G.

11/25 A Simple Favour
Released: 21 September
Director: Paul Feig
Cast: Blake Lively, Linda Cardellini, Anna Kendrick
A rare thriller from Bridesmaids director following a mummy vlogger who seeks to uncover the truth behind her best friend Emily's sudden disappearance from their small town.

12/25 Fighting With My Family
Released: 28 September
Director: Stephen Merchant
Cast: Florence Pugh, Lena Headey, Dwayne Johnson
A former wrestler and his family make a living performing at small venues around the country while his kids dream of joining World Wrestling Entertainment.

13/25 The House with a Clock in Its Walls
Released: 28 September
Director: Eli Roth
Cast: Cate Blanchett, Jack Black, Kyle MacLachlan
A young orphan named Lewis Barnavelt aids his magical uncle in locating a clock with the power to bring about the end of the world.

14/25 A Star Is Born
Released: 5 October
Director: Bradley Cooper
Cast: Lady Gaga, Bradley Cooper, Sam Elliott
A musician helps a young singer and actress find fame, even as age and alcoholism send his own career into a downward spiral.

15/25 Venom
Released: 5 October
Director: Ruben Fleischer
Cast: Tom Hardy, Michelle Williams, Riz Ahmed
When Eddie Brock acquires the powers of a symbiote, he will have to release his alter-ego "Venom" to save his life.

16/25 Bad Times at the El Royale
Released: 12 October
Director: Drew Goddard
Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Dakota Johnson, Nick Offerman
Seven strangers, each with a secret to bury, meet at Lake Tahoe's El Royale, a rundown hotel with a dark past. Over the course of one fateful night, everyone will have a last shot at redemption - before everything goes to hell.

17/25 First Man
Released: 12 October
Director: Damien Chazelle
Cast: Ryan gosling, Claire Foy, Kyle Chandler
A look at the life of the astronaut, Neil Armstrong, and the legendary space mission that led him to become the first man to walk on the Moon on July 20, 1969.

18/25 Mowgli
Released: 19 October
Director: Andy Serkis
Cast: Rohan Chand, Benedict Cumberbatch (voice), Cate Blanchett (voice)
A human child raised by wolves must face off against a menacing tiger named Shere Khan, as well as his own origins in this live-action adaptation of Rudyard Kipling's novel.

19/25 Bohemian Rhapsody
Released: 24 October
Director: Bryan Singer, Dexter Fletcher
Cast: Rami Malek, Joseph Mazzello, Lucy Boynton
A chronicle of the years leading up to Queen's legendary appearance at the Live Aid (1985) concert in 1985.

20/25 Overlord
Released: 25 October
Director: Julius Avery
Cast: Wyatt Russell, Iain De Caestecker, Pilou Asbæk
The story of two American soldiers behind enemy lines on D Day that may or may not be another film set in JJ Abrams’ Cloverfield world.

21/25 Widows
Released: 9 November
Director: Steve McQueen
Cast: Viola Davis, Elizabeth Debicki, Liam Neeson
Set in contemporary Chicago, amidst a time of turmoil, four women with nothing in common except a debt left behind by their dead husbands' criminal activities, take fate into their own hands, and conspire to forge a future on their own terms.

22/25 White Man Rick
Released: 7 December
Director: Yann Demange
Cast: Jennifer Jason Leigh, Matthew McConaughey, Eddie Marsan
The story of teenager Richard Wershe Jr., who became an undercover informant for the FBI during the 1980s and was ultimately arrested for drug-trafficking and sentenced to life in prison.

23/25 Mortal Engines
Released: 14 December
Director: Christian Rivers
Cast: Hugo Weaving, Frankie Adams, Stephen Lang
Many years after the "Sixty Minute War," cities survive a now desolate Earth by moving around on giant wheels attacking and devouring smaller towns to replenish their resources.

24/25 Alita: Battle Angel
Released: 26 December
Director: Robert Rodriguez
Cast: Rosa Salazar, Jennifer Connelly, Ed Skrein
An action-packed story of one young woman's journey to discover the truth of who she is and her fight to change the world.

25/25 Holmes and Watson
Released: 26 December
Director: Etan Cohen
Cast: Will Ferrell, John C. Reilly, Ralph Fiennes
A humorous take on Arthur Conan Doyle's classic mysteries featuring Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson.

Columbia/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock
1/25 The Meg
Released: 10 August
Director: Jon Turteltaub
Cast: Jason Statham, Ruby Rose, Rainn Wilson
After escaping an attack by what he claims was a 70-foot shark, Jonas Taylor must confront his fears to save those trapped in a sunken submersible.

2/25 Skyscraper
Released: 12 July
Director: Rawson Marshall Thurber
Cast: Dwayne Jonson, Neve Campbell, Chin Han
FBI Hostage Rescue Team leader Will Sawyer is framed for setting fire to the tallest building in the world and must rescue his family who are trapped inside - at the top.

3/25 First Reformed
Released: 12 July
Director: Paul Schrader
Cast: Ethan Hawke, Amanda Seyfried, Cedric the Entertainer
A priest of a small congregation in upstate New York grapples with mounting despair brought on by tragedy, worldly concerns and a tormented past.

4/25 Disney's Christopher Robin
Released: 17 August
Director: Marc Forster
Cast: Ewan McGregor, Hayley Atwell, Jim Cummings (voice)
A working-class family man, Christopher Robin, encounters his childhood friend Winnie-the-Pooh, who helps him to rediscover the joys of life.

5/25 The Happytime Murders
Released: 17 August
Director: Brian Henson
Cast: Melissa McCarthy, Elizabeth Banks, Maya Rudolph
When the puppet cast of an '80s children's TV show begins to get murdered one by one, a disgraced LAPD detective-turned-private eye puppet takes on the case.

6/25 BlacKkKlansman
Released: 24 August
Director: Spike Lee
Cast: John David Washington, Adam Driver, Topher Grace
The film, produced by Get Out's Jordan Peele, is set in the early 70s and follows Washington's Ron Stallworth who, after becoming the first African-American detective on the Colorado Springs Police Department, sets out to infiltrate and expose the Ku Klux Klan while posing as a racist extremist.

7/25 Mile 22
Released: 27 August
Director: Peter Berg
Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Lauren Cohan, John Malkovich
An elite American intelligence officer, aided by a top-secret tactical command unit, tries to smuggle a mysterious police officer with sensitive information out of the country.

8/25 The Miseducation of Cameron Post
Released: 31 August
Director: Desiree Akhavan
Cast: Chloë Grace Moretz, John Gallagher Jr., Jennifer Ehle
In 1993, a teenage girl is forced into a gay conversion therapy center by her conservative guardians.

9/25 American Animals
Released: 7 September
Director: Bart Layton
Cast: Evan Peters, Blake Jenner, Ann Dowd
Four young men mistake their lives for a movie and attempt one of the most audacious heists in U.S. history.

10/25 City of Lies
Released: 7 September
Director: Brad Furman
Cast: Johnny Depp, Forest Whitaker, Rockmond Dunbar
The film tells the story of American hero and former LAPD detective, Russell Poole as he works the 1997 murder cases of rappers Tupac Shakur and The Notorious B.I.G.

11/25 A Simple Favour
Released: 21 September
Director: Paul Feig
Cast: Blake Lively, Linda Cardellini, Anna Kendrick
A rare thriller from Bridesmaids director following a mummy vlogger who seeks to uncover the truth behind her best friend Emily's sudden disappearance from their small town.

12/25 Fighting With My Family
Released: 28 September
Director: Stephen Merchant
Cast: Florence Pugh, Lena Headey, Dwayne Johnson
A former wrestler and his family make a living performing at small venues around the country while his kids dream of joining World Wrestling Entertainment.

13/25 The House with a Clock in Its Walls
Released: 28 September
Director: Eli Roth
Cast: Cate Blanchett, Jack Black, Kyle MacLachlan
A young orphan named Lewis Barnavelt aids his magical uncle in locating a clock with the power to bring about the end of the world.

14/25 A Star Is Born
Released: 5 October
Director: Bradley Cooper
Cast: Lady Gaga, Bradley Cooper, Sam Elliott
A musician helps a young singer and actress find fame, even as age and alcoholism send his own career into a downward spiral.

15/25 Venom
Released: 5 October
Director: Ruben Fleischer
Cast: Tom Hardy, Michelle Williams, Riz Ahmed
When Eddie Brock acquires the powers of a symbiote, he will have to release his alter-ego "Venom" to save his life.

16/25 Bad Times at the El Royale
Released: 12 October
Director: Drew Goddard
Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Dakota Johnson, Nick Offerman
Seven strangers, each with a secret to bury, meet at Lake Tahoe's El Royale, a rundown hotel with a dark past. Over the course of one fateful night, everyone will have a last shot at redemption - before everything goes to hell.

17/25 First Man
Released: 12 October
Director: Damien Chazelle
Cast: Ryan gosling, Claire Foy, Kyle Chandler
A look at the life of the astronaut, Neil Armstrong, and the legendary space mission that led him to become the first man to walk on the Moon on July 20, 1969.

18/25 Mowgli
Released: 19 October
Director: Andy Serkis
Cast: Rohan Chand, Benedict Cumberbatch (voice), Cate Blanchett (voice)
A human child raised by wolves must face off against a menacing tiger named Shere Khan, as well as his own origins in this live-action adaptation of Rudyard Kipling's novel.

19/25 Bohemian Rhapsody
Released: 24 October
Director: Bryan Singer, Dexter Fletcher
Cast: Rami Malek, Joseph Mazzello, Lucy Boynton
A chronicle of the years leading up to Queen's legendary appearance at the Live Aid (1985) concert in 1985.

20/25 Overlord
Released: 25 October
Director: Julius Avery
Cast: Wyatt Russell, Iain De Caestecker, Pilou Asbæk
The story of two American soldiers behind enemy lines on D Day that may or may not be another film set in JJ Abrams’ Cloverfield world.

21/25 Widows
Released: 9 November
Director: Steve McQueen
Cast: Viola Davis, Elizabeth Debicki, Liam Neeson
Set in contemporary Chicago, amidst a time of turmoil, four women with nothing in common except a debt left behind by their dead husbands' criminal activities, take fate into their own hands, and conspire to forge a future on their own terms.

22/25 White Man Rick
Released: 7 December
Director: Yann Demange
Cast: Jennifer Jason Leigh, Matthew McConaughey, Eddie Marsan
The story of teenager Richard Wershe Jr., who became an undercover informant for the FBI during the 1980s and was ultimately arrested for drug-trafficking and sentenced to life in prison.

23/25 Mortal Engines
Released: 14 December
Director: Christian Rivers
Cast: Hugo Weaving, Frankie Adams, Stephen Lang
Many years after the "Sixty Minute War," cities survive a now desolate Earth by moving around on giant wheels attacking and devouring smaller towns to replenish their resources.

24/25 Alita: Battle Angel
Released: 26 December
Director: Robert Rodriguez
Cast: Rosa Salazar, Jennifer Connelly, Ed Skrein
An action-packed story of one young woman's journey to discover the truth of who she is and her fight to change the world.

25/25 Holmes and Watson
Released: 26 December
Director: Etan Cohen
Cast: Will Ferrell, John C. Reilly, Ralph Fiennes
A humorous take on Arthur Conan Doyle's classic mysteries featuring Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson.

Columbia/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock

Of course, there are women writers who don’t identify as feminists, or who like films that are arguably misogynistic. And we mustn’t make the false assumption that every film by a woman or with a female protagonist is feminist.
But you can seek out and support the current writing of Manohla Dargis, Angelica Jade Bastién, Stephanie Zacharek, B Ruby Rich, to name only a few, and revisit the ever-pertinent Molly Haskell, Pauline Kael, Dylis Powell and Iris Barry.
CherryPicks – a “feminist Rotten Tomatoes” – is also launching this autumn, which will collate culture reviews only by women critics. 
Naturally you cannot assume that a woman or minority critic will be more likely to praise the work of a woman filmmaker, as to do so supports the flawed notion of the “objective” male.
Nor should publications commission tokenistically, assuming that women and writers of colour will write exclusively about “women’s films” and non-white cinema.
But for now, if we’re not to assume that a potential cinemagoer is a cinephile, or that they will seek out marginal publications for themselves, it’s the responsibility of mainstream publications to hire a range of writers representative of the population. 

film critics,2010s Cinema,female film directors,Cannes Film Festival,Voices

Share this article

Related videos

Vertigo - A Look at Color in Film
Vertigo - A Look at Color in Film
Color film was built for white people. Here's what it did to dark skin.
Color film was built for white people. Here's w...

DON'T MISS THIS STORIES