Amid conversations about the lack of gender diversity in film criticism, the influential movie review site is making some major changes.
By now, we all know that the world of film criticism is seriously lacking in gender and racial diversity. Long seen as a niche concern, the issue became a mainstream talking point this year, with major women-led films being drawn into the debate. Mindy Kaling and Cate Blanchett suggested that male critics didn’t appreciate Ocean’s 8 as much as women viewers, while Ava DuVernay has said that most Caucasian reviewers didn’t take A Wrinkle in Time seriously. In June, Brie Larson cited the tepid critical response to DuVernay’s film as an example of why the world needs more female film reviewers, particularly women of colour.
“I don’t need a 40-year-old white dude to tell me what didn’t work about A Wrinkle in Time,” said Larson. “It wasn’t made for him! I want to know what it meant to women of colour, biracial women, to teen women of colour, to teens that are biracial.”
Kaling, Blanchett, DuVernay and Larson’s concerns are justified. Research by USC Annenberg in LA shows that only a fifth of film critics are female – and of those women, only 4.1% are women of colour. Another recent study by the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, which looked at reviews on Rotten Tomatoes of the most popular films of 2017, found that men made up nearly 80% of critics featured on the aggregator site.
The desire to raise the profiles of female film critics was what motivated Stylist to launch our Under Her Eye initiative, which seeks to discover three new reviewers to write for the magazine.
Now, Rotten Tomatoes has announced its own plans to diversify its pool of film critics.
In a statement, Rotten Tomatoes said it was expanding the criteria required to be a “Tomatometer-approved critic”. Previously, the “fresh” or “rotten” rankings on the site have always been created by aggregating reviews from various pre-approved written publications.
Now, however, those rankings will include reviews from smaller new media platforms such as blogs, podcasts and streaming shows.
The company said this would bring in more reviews by women and people of colour, rather than allowing the viewpoints of white men working at prominent publications to be prioritised. Over 200 new Tomatometer-approved critics have already been added to the site’s roster of reviewers.
Rotten Tomatoes also said it would be giving $100,000 (£76,870) to non-profit organisations to help women and people of colour offset the cost of attending film festivals. The first $25,000 (£19,220) will go towards sending diverse critics to the prestigious Toronto International Film Festival in September.
The gender imbalance at Rotten Tomatoes has been under scrutiny for some time. Meryl Streep called out the dearth of female critics featured on the site in 2015, arguing that the imbalance was negatively affecting the success of women-centric films.
“I submit to you that men and women are not the same, they like different things,” she said. “Sometimes they like the same thing but sometimes their tastes diverge. If the Tomatometer is slighted so completely to one set of tastes, that drives box office … absolutely.”
After announcing the new changes to the site, the president of Rotten Tomatoes’ parent company told Variety that he thinks the company benefits from featuring a range of critical voices.
“It creates a better product,” said Fandango boss Paul Yanover. “More reviews means we’re including more points of view and more platforms… By opening the aperture wider, we’re being more reflective of where film criticism is going.”
However, the solution for redressing the imbalance in film criticism can’t only be solved by websites like Rotten Tomatoes featuring reviews from personal blogs and podcasts. It’s also imperative that major legacy platforms – the world’s biggest and most influential newspapers, magazines and broadcasters – start hiring more women and people of colour to review movies for them.
To find out more about Stylist’s Under Her Eye initiative to raise to profile of women film reviewers, click here.
Images: Atsushi Nishijima / Disney / Getty Images