To address the gender disparity in film criticism, producer-director Miranda Bailey is creating a website called Cherry Picks.
The film review aggregator will be exclusively devoted to female film critics, who are underrepresented in the industry: A recent report from the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative found that 77.8 percent of all critics are men, based on reviews of the top 100 films at the 2017 box office from Rotten Tomatoes.
Cherry Picks is set to be launched in time for this fall’s awards buzz.
One of the films that first inspired Bailey to create Cherry Picks was “The Zookeeper’s Wife,” the true story of a couple who used the Warsaw Zoo to save hundreds of Jews from the Holocaust. She cited the Jessica Chastain-led film as one “which women loved,” but “it didn’t do well” overall (it earned $23 million worldwide). Specifically, 78 percent of female critics liked “The Zookeeper’s Wife,” but only 61 percent of critics overall did.
To find out which movies have been similarly affected by the gender disparity, The Washington Post compiled data on the 979 movies over the past decade with at least 30 female and at least 30 male reviews on Rotten Tomatoes.
“The Zookeeper’s Wife” comes in at No. 6 on this list of the 10 films in our data set that had the biggest differences between how female and male critics responded to it.
When shown this list, Linda Cook, a film critic for the Quad-City Times in Davenport, Iowa, since 1987, noticed that many of the films have female leads, including “Sunshine Cleaning,” “The Zookeeper’s Wife” and “The Twilight Saga: Eclipse.”
“‘The Young Victoria’ also has a strong central character involved in romance,” Cook said. “It isn’t a fantasy per se, but it’s about a woman who lives a life about which most women only can dream.”
This pattern continues in the next set of 10 films, with titles such as “Letters to Juliet,” “Hannah Montana: The Movie” and “Tomb Raider.” But this is far from a hard-and-fast rule; films with male leads such as “The Karate Kid” and “Robin Hood” were also in the top 20.
Although it might be tempting to find some movies on this list that underperformed — such as Charlyne Yi’s quirky comedy “Paper Heart,” which earned $1.3 million worldwide — so many variables affect a film’s box office haul, including marketing and name recognition, that it’s hard to definitively attribute the box office results to reviews.
The second chart is the same but in the other direction, showing the movies that male critics like the most compared with female critics:
Cook said, “I think that ‘Observe and Report,’ ‘The Wolf of Wall Street,’ and ‘Red Sparrow’ appealed to male viewers because of the action, crime themes and their ‘hard-R’ rating. I have spoken with some women who shy away from excessive violence,” although, of course, it’s tough to make such assessments across all critics.
“The Wolf of Wall Street” was a particularly divisive film; it received five Oscar nominations but sparked a debate about whether it objectified women or was merely a “portrayal of misogyny,” as a Jezebel essay argued.
Cook added that “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” making the list also makes sense because of its “nostalgia factor.” “So many of the men who saw it were boys when the Turtles first were popular that they simply wanted to see these characters again.”
For many movies, critics of different genders don’t appear to disagree that much. Bailey predicts that “the pits on Cherry Picks and the splats on Rotten Tomatoes” — that is, the worst reviewed films on each site — “will probably be the same. Movies that are incredible will probably be the same. I think that the movies in the middle will differ.”
Judging from the Rotten Tomatoes data, her prediction is likely to prove correct. Movies with overall ratings closer to 0 or 100 are less likely to have a male-female disparity than movies with scores closer to 50.
Mathematically, this observation is unsurprising: If a movie gets a very high or very low score, there’s less room for disparity. For instance, if a movie has a perfect 100 overall, then it must have received a 100 from both male and female critics. But as a movie gets closer to 50 percent, there’s more room for a bigger disparity.
On the whole, male and female critics respond to most movies similarly: 45 percent of films have an average male score and an average female score within 5 percentage points of each other. Seventy-five percent of films are within 10 percent.
Bailey’s goals for Cherry Picks, the female review aggregator, go beyond just the data. For instance, the site is starting off with newsletters featuring profiles on individual critics. “I want to encourage the art of criticism to come back,” she said. She hopes her site can be “a place where women can learn about the female critics,” perhaps to encourage them to go into criticism.
Bailey confirmed that “women like a lot of things that men like, and men like a lot of things that women like.” But that doesn’t mean female voices shouldn’t be heard just as loudly as the male ones, she said. Fortunately, she foresees a new dawn of inclusiveness on the film criticism horizon: “It has always mattered, but I think now, people are paying attention.”