Earlier this summer, I wrote an editorial on the subject of women in filmor rather the glaring lack thereof, both in front of and behind the camera. Primarily, the main points I drew attention to were the shortage of leading female characters, let alone well-written ones, and the stunning domination of male storytellers, who account for some 96% of directors in Hollywood films according to recent DGA stats. That article examined the content of films and the people making them, but here I want to look at the complimentary angle: the people receiving them and quantifying them. Okay, first up, let me just get a few things out of the way. You, the person reading this, are most likely a guy, like me. Most likely, you would rather be reading about whats happening with a potential Batman 3 than some pseudo-feministic rant on the internet. But I think you ought to consider reading the rest of this article instead, and not just because most of the rumors about Batman 3 are bunk right now. This is an article that may very well make you re-evaluate your outlook on the profession of film criticism. Let me tell you what this article is not going to be about. Its not going to be about how chauvinistic men keep women in their place; its not going to be about how you, as a guy, should feel guilty about supporting a male dominated industry; and its not going to be about how the world would be so much better if women were in charge. Just to re-assure those who already are getting the itch to hit that back button. What it will be doing, however, is shedding light on a subject that, for some very strange reason, seems to have never really been acknowledged and properly studied before in the mainstream press. What it will be doing is examining how the media, the critics and the scholars who tell us the perceived value of a film in artistic, historical, cultural and personal terms, have pressed upon the world a deceivingly skewered perspective that does not properly account for women, not because the aforementioned groups are a bunch of stuffy old chauvinists but simply because, for reasons that are beyond my understanding and the scope of this article, women as an audience group are not really represented by those making the quantifications in the first place; they do not account for a significant margin of critics, scholars and filmmakers. This means that our entire history of film criticism has a very large piece of its mosaic missing. I present this argument not in the attempt to invalidate the cultural value of our film history but simply because I find it a fascinating angle to consider, and one that will give us a better overall understanding of this magical medium we all love and our worlds relation to it. My inspiration for considering this re-evaluation of history was brought to the fore by a study that was conducted recently by the Center for the Study of Women in Film and Television at the San Diego State University. (See: Link) The study found that:1) Men write 70 percent of film reviews, and 2) Among newspapers that publish movie reviews, 47 percent had no reviews written by female critics, writers or freelancers. Alliance of Women Film Journalists president Jennifer Merin stated,
This important study shows in concrete and shocking terms that women more than 50 percent of the population are still being left out of a national discussion of sweeping cultural and financial significance".This, I realized, was absolutely true, but it only seems so obvious in retrospect. Women simply dont write and comment on film that much. Open a newspaper and go to the film reviewshow many women do you see writing? Maybe one or two; like the token minority, you will often find a token female writer in the mix. But, by and large, almost all of them are men. Can you name me one well-known film commentator thats not a man and doesnt have the name Pauline Kael? Amazon.coms top 50 best-sellers in its Movie History and Criticism section, there are 7 women authors (accounting for 14%). Expanding to its top 100 books, there are still only 17. To take a more personal view of things, take a look at this website: theres one woman on a roster of close to a dozen writers (actually, it seems Kate is now inactive). When you look elsewhere you find things equally slanted; on most film comment sites where theres only four or five people doing the writing, there arent any women at all, let alone one. This is key to understanding the main issues I will be distinguishing here. We further quantify our films not just by those writing about them, but by those within the industry who advocate their merits. Filmmakers like Peter Bogdonavich and George Lucas helped make John Fords 1956 film The Searchers into a classic because they would rave about how much of a masterpiece it was; outside of this circle of influence, the film was not perceived or remembered quite as fondlyit didnt win any Academy Awards and many people, even today, dont see what the big deal is. Certainly though, it is a well-made film, and because of the reputation that spiked up in the 1970s, it is nonetheless treated with respect by students of cinema, even if they dont really like it in personal terms. So here we see how certain key individuals can be of such influence in pushing a film that the weight of their personal appraisal continues on long afterwards, because now it is written in books and considered part of the cinematic tradition. Another crucial element to consider, related to the previous one, is not only those within the industry publicly preaching about certain films, but those giving awards. There are many awards committees but for expediencys sake I am going to be focusing on the largest and most influential one: The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. The Academy Awards guys. This is a body of over 6,000 professionals and scholars, ranging from executives and producers to actors and directors to film scholars and popular artists in other fields. The Academy does not release information on who is voting or who is actually a member. However, every year they send out just over 100 invitations for new members, which have been publicly released since 2004. I decided to examine them myself, and I found they show a very telling trend. In 2004, only 34 of the 127 newly invited members were womenaccounting for 27% of the new inductees. In 2005, 38 out of the 112 invitees were women34%, the highest percentage on record. In 2006, there were only 27 women out of 120 invitees, accounting for only 23%. In 2007 it was even worse, with 24 women out of 114 inviteesa paltry 21%. This year has recovered a bit, at 31%. The 2004-2008 five-year average is 27%even worse than womens representation in the media. What is even more alarming is that this is seen as a progressive trend compared to eras prior, when women accounted for an even less proportion of the Academy. Thus, if the current enrollment stream of women in the Academy is less than 30%, it is very likely that the total female representation in the Academy is somewhere around 15-20%. In its earliest times in 1927, there were only two women among its 36 founders, accounting for just 5%. Since 1927, only one of the 29 Academy presidents has been a woman (Fay Kanin from 1979-1983)Bette Davis controversially became president in 1941, but the rest of the committee members did not want her on board, viewing her as a radical, and they forced her to resign after only two months. What Ive been trying to highlight here is how our perception of the medium, and our history, scholarship and criticism of it, is shaped by the people actually writing it; they reflect the tastes, beliefs, and perspectives of the people who are in view of the public and actively shaping our culture. Let me start by example to better illustrate this process. What is the greatest film of all time? MaybeCitizen Kane? Star Wars? Godfather? Taxi Driver? Seven Samurai? These seem likely candidates. But why are these considered the greatest films? Im not trying to get into the philosophical argument of illustrating that all opinion is subjective and thus nothing is true. What Im trying to draw attention to here is: why do we usually leap to the same short list of films when asked about great films? Personal preference, of course. But alsobecause these are what scholars and critics have taught us are the best. Film scholarship functions on its own legacy in a lot of waysscholarship becomes tradition and tradition becomes part of culture. Which is why many people who wish to be taken seriously in film buff circles are afraid to admit they think 2001 is boring, or that Star Wars doesnt interest them, or that they dont find Seven Samurai all that exciting. What? you often hear cineastes exclaim. 2001boring?? Well, that person often thinks, this guy obviously has no taste; maybe theyd prefer a Michael Bay film. No, its not that we are all robots and simply repeat what our teachers tell us, and its easy to fall into this fallacy. But certainly a films reputation is directly related to those quantifying itcertain films are studied more than others, certain films are deemed better than others; that the characters are interesting, the plot compelling, the themes fascinating, that the film is significant in some way. Our cultural perception of a films worth in many ways is colored by how the intelligentsia views it and what they have to say about it, and whether they say anything about it in the first place. A way to illustrate this in easier to understand terms is the case of Wizard of Oz. Why did Wizard of Oz become considered a classic? The root cause is because it was shown on TV. When it came out in 1939 it fizzled. It was not a huge success, and certainly not considered a classicin fact, it just barely made back its budget. Then, in the 1950s, it began airing on TV every Christmas; families watched it together and grew to love it, year after year. Those fathers began writing about what a great family film it was; then, in the 1970s, those children became adults and started writing about what a masterpiece it was, what a classic it was. The results of these now-grown-up 1950s viewers were the 1975 Broadway production The Whiz, the 1978 motion picture adaptation of The Whiz with Michael Jackson, and the 1985 movie sequel to the original film, Return to Oz. In 1977, influential film journalist Aljean Harmetz wrote The Making of Wizard of Oz. By the time of that book, those now-grown-up kids were firmly in control of the media and cemented its status as a new classic of cinema. Today, it is in the top 10 of AFIs Top 100 American films of all time. So, you see, the cultural and historical value we attach to films is entirely dependent on the people quantifying them as such. In short, certain films are considered great because certain people say they are. This is a simplistic way of putting it, of course, but this is largely the relationship between a films status and the media. To give another example, why is Akira Kurosawa considered one of the great filmmakers of all time? Well, he would be appreciated in any context by anyone with a firm grasp of filmmaking mechanics because he did things on a technical level that no one ever had before. But films arent appreciated for sterile technicality, otherwise we would all be worshipping music videos. We praise and honor films mainly because they speak to us, because they thrill us, excite us, move us, have characters we identify with, present ideas that provoke us; I consider Kurosawa great, not because I respect his films in historical context, but because I love them as films. IMDB. A lot of you probably just snickered when you read that. Understandable. But hear me out first. Its often been said that that IMDB is the furthest from an accurate population cross-section as you can find, that it often represents only the opinions of white, male film nerds, like anything movie-related on the net. This is true. Its also why its perfectly suited for our comparison. Or did you think that film scholars and journalists werent white, male film nerds? Sarcasm aside, if you actually examine a lot of the IMDB viewer ratings, many of them eventually come close to approximating the general consensus among the rest of the professional film community. Yeah, comic books and fantasy films have more representation than you find in the professional communitybut, for our purposes, this is not inapt because its equally true for the female side as well (I discovered that the Lord of the Rings trilogy has the highest number of votes for any three movies in the female IMDB community). When you look at the Top 250 list, as voted by IMDB viewers, a lot of it comes close to the critical consensus, if not in ranked order than at least in terms of general recognition. Godfather and Star Wars are near the top; Seven Samurai, Casablanca, Pulp Fiction and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly follow. North by Northwest, Lawrence of Arabia, M and Treasure of the Sierra Madre are in the middle section. And just making it onto the list is stuff like Manhattan, Planet of the Apes, Young Frankenstein and Casino Basically, this is a rough approximation of the critical consensus, with some variation and some exceptions. It is not a greatest films of all time list, merely a great movies list, so there are quite a lot contemporary films as well, and they are not necessarily ranked according to historic value. But if you go through it, theres not as many wild cards as IMDBs reputation suggests. And when attempting a study of viewing habits, its the best resource availablea collection of votes from millions of individuals. No other internet collection is so vast, and neither is any professional study. And, since it is mainly film nerds that vote in these things and not just your typical viewer, it crudely approximates film scholarshipas if your average Joe has seen Seven Samurai and 12 Angry Men, two of the top 15 films listed that have a combined 150,000 individual votes. Its a list that comes close to the specialized tastes of film scholars. IMDB also has a very useful statistic for our purposes: voters must release their gender information, and their Top 250 list can be broken down into male and female preferences for the Top 50 films. You can see the womens list here, and the mens list here, and the final total here. When we do this, we see what should, by this point, be obvious: the male demographic is more in line with the common critical consensus, while the female demographic has much bigger deviation but hardly any influence in the total consensus. This is due to the fact that female IMDB voters make up only 14 percent of the total IMDB vote, not all dissimilar from real life. Female voters felt that Amelie was such a good film that it ranked at number 11 on their list of Top 50 films; but because the female vote was so small, Amelie plummeted all the way down to number 48 when combined with the male vote.
And here are the exclusivesthe films that only appear in each gender. The films couldnt be more different; like sixty-year-olds and thirty-year-olds, despite common agreements, there are remarkable differences of opinion. And, unsurprisingly, the male exclusives are films that we very frequently hear discussed as masterpieces in the scholastic tradition.
EXCLUSIVES:WOMEN (rank in bold) MEN (rank in bold) Pirates of Caribbean (2003) 25 Pulp Fiction (1994) 6 Eternal Sunshine (2004) 27 Matrix (1999) 26 Amélie (2001) 11 Saving Private Ryan (1998) 46 The Notebook (2004) 29 Memento (2000) 28 Little Miss Sunshine (2006) 44 Se7en (1995) 29 Princess Bride (1987) 35 Goodfellas (1990) 13 Finding Nemo (2003) 22 Terminator 2 (1991) 49 The Prestige (2006) 45 Clockwork Orange (1971) 43 Lion King (1994) 39 Apocalypse Now (1979) 32 Pans Labyrinth (2006) 19 Alien (1979) 44 Gone with Wind (1939) 15 Shining (1980) 48 Wizard of Oz (1939) 46 City of God (2002) 16 Monty Pyth Holy Grail (1975) 33 Dr. Strangelove (1964) 24 Pianist (2002) 23 Good Bad Ugly (1966) 5 Beauty and Beast (1991) 38 Taxi Driver (1976) 33 Life is Beautiful (1997) 16 Citizen Kane (1941) 30 To Kill A Mockingbird (1962) 17 Seven samurai (1954) 11 Stand by Me (1986) 42 WALL·E (2008) 27 Sound of Music (1965) 49 Lawrence Arabia (1962) 39 Some Like It Hot (1959) 40 Chinatown (1974) 50 Singin' in the Rain (1952) 26 Once Upn Tm Wst (1968) 18 All About Eve (1950) 48 Sunset Blvd. (1950) 36 Rebecca (1940) 37 Paths of Glory (1957) 45
Here is also where we see the representational differences. Every single movie that men and only men voted for made the total listalways in ranking very near to how the men ranked them. In contrast, the movies that women and only women voted for hardly made any show of representation at allonly two of them made the total list, Amelie and To Kill a Mockingbird, and they are in the last ten total rankings at 42 and 46 respectively. In other words, only the two top exclusively female-voted films showed up in the final list, and they were at the very end, while every single exclusively male-voted film showed up in the total list, pretty much exactly how the males ranked them. Since the male:female ratio here is close to the professional world, it really sheds light on how skewered our scholastic tradition actually is.
Here is the top fifty list. Normal text are films that both genders voted on, though the ranking itself reflects mainly the male perspective. Bolded titles reflect male exclusivesmovies that men and only men voted for. Italicized titles represent female exclusivesmovies that women and only women voted for.Rank rating Movie (rank with women at right) # Total votes # Female votes 1. 9.1 The Shawshank Redemption (1994) 1 358,321 37, 140 2. 9.1 The Godfather (1972) 7 307,318 26, 652 3. 9.1 The Dark Knight (2008) 2 222, 220 29, 394 4. 9.0 The Godfather: Part II (1974) 34 174,440 13, 847 5. 8.9 Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (1966) - 102,174 - 6. 8.9 Pulp Fiction (1994) - 303,251 - 7. 8.8 Schindler's List (1993) 3 201,192 24, 264 8. 8.8 One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975) 8 152,611 16, 293 9. 8.8 Empire Strikes Back (1980) 20 212,242 18, 490 10. 8.8 Casablanca (1942) 9 129,420 17, 208 11. 8.8 12 Angry Men (1957) 28 73,658 7, 685 12. 8.8 Seven Samurai (1954) - 73,076 - 13. 8.8 Star Wars (1977) 18 252,778 23, 153 14. 8.8 The Return of the King (2003) 4 269,708 35, 368 15. 8.7 Goodfellas (1990) - 165,579 16. 8.7 Rear Window (1954) 5 86,956 10, 923 17. 8.7 Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) 21 190,059 18, 804 18. 8.7 City of God (2002) - 108,094 - 19. 8.7 Once Upon a Time in the West (1968) - 49,966 - 20. 8.7 Fellowship of the Ring (2001) 6 299,969 39, 950 21. 8.7 The Usual Suspects (1995) 12 204,151 19, 414 22. 8.7 Psycho (1960) 24 106,375 13, 838 23. 8.6 Fight Club (1999) 30 270,973 32, 356 24. 8.6 Dr. Strangelove (1964) - 121,974 - 25. 8.6 Silence of the Lambs (1991) 14 181,929 22, 343 26. 8.6 WALL·E (2008) - 56,764 - 27. 8.6 North by Northwest (1959) 32 70,005 7, 471 28. 8.6 Citizen Kane (1941) - 109,913 - 29. 8.6 Memento (2000) - 196,916 - 30. 8.6 Sunset Blvd. (1950) - 37,826 - 31. 8.6 The Two Towers (2002) 13 248,734 35, 117 32. 8.6 The Matrix (1999) - 285,349 - 33. 8.6 It's a Wonderful Life (1946) 43 77,507 12, 383 34. 8.6 Se7en (1995) - 199,169 - 35. 8.5 Lawrence of Arabia (1962) - 61,239 - 36. 8.5 Apocalypse Now (1979) - 131,559 - 37. 8.5 Taxi Driver (1976) - 111,213 - 38. 8.5 American Beauty (1999) 50 222,078 30, 479 39. 8.5 Léon (1994) 41 137,401 13, 176 40. 8.5 Vertigo (1958) 47 68,109 7, 980 41. 8.5 American History X (1998) 10 157,267 17, 865 42. 8.5 Amélie (2001) 11 132,431 23, 761 43. 8.5 Paths of Glory (1957) - 31,785 - 44. 8.5 The Departed (2006) 36 177,973 20, 855 45. 8.5 M (1931) - 28,216 - 46. 8.4 To Kill a Mockingbird (1962) 17 62,266 10, 929 47. 8.4 Chinatown (1974) - 56,933 - 48. 8.4 The Third Man (1949) - 37,674 - 49. 8.4 A Clockwork Orange (1971) - 142,412 - 50. 8.4 Alien (1979) - 132,349 - It should be kept in mind that, while this is only one specific group of peopleIMDB votersit nonetheless is a crude approximation of the tastes and opinions of our professional scholars, of our film critics and journalists, and even our filmmakers themselves. And we see here that they reflect the male perspective, not the female, and not anything approaching balance between the two. So, then, our cinematic traditionour common consensus about filmsis in fact simply a disguised male consensus. The above example merely confirms what was already established earlier in this article: 70 percent of newspaper critics and film journalists are men. Roughly the same figure applies to scholastic authors. 96 percent of Hollywood directors are men. And at least 80 percent of the major awards committee is made up of men. Those IMDB figures are not just the fallacy of a false analogythey are disturbingly applicable, even if they shouldnt be considered accurate. They give us a very crude idea of what the real picture actually looks like; they are there for example, to roughly illustrate how the common consensus undergoes significant shift when under the domination of the male demographic, and how that shift ends up arriving close to our traditional perspective of the cinema. In conclusion, what we consider a scholastic or critical artistic-cum-historical tradition is an illusion. Its simply a male one, with the odd female voice tempering things. Cinema is in its infancy, and scholastic criticism on it has really only been widely and seriously practiced for sixty years or so in America; what we consider to be history or tradition cannot possibly be anything close to that, for we are only a few generations removed from the birth of the medium itself. In 100 years from now, when a greater distance from its origins allows a wider view, and when the playing field is hopefully more leveledwhen 52 percent of directors are female, when 52 percent of film critics, scholars, and teachers are female, and when awards committees are 52 percent femalewe will see not only a totally different common critical consensus among contemporary films of that time, we will discover an entirely different one for the films made thusfar. Much like how Wizard of Oz became a classic only in the post-50s culture, the reputations of films ebb and flowcertain ones come in and out of fashion, and earlier ones are re-appraised whether for better or worse as new viewpoints and perspectives enter the scholastic stream. In this hypothetical century of the future, those scholars may look back on the first 100 years of cinema scholarshipour time as a narrow and limited one that was shaped and influenced by a select number of individuals and by almost no women at all. And in that time, an entirely different history book of cinema will emergebecause it cant not emerge. The female perspective will change things. Heres hoping a wider scope of our art emerges faster than we expect it to. [Addendum: one issue I have chosen to ignore here: WHY is it that women dont write about and make films? I honestly cant give an answer right now. Its true that men are more enthusiastic about cinema; but it is as I said in my first articlethe only movie with women in the lead this summer are House Bunny and Sex and the City; every other film has women as girlfriends, wives and side-characters. If you were a woman, would this make you get enthusiastic about movies? My feeling is that it is partially a self-perpetuating cycle. But this is a large and complicated issue that I cannot even begin to get into here. All I can say is, if you are a woman with a passion for cinema, get out there and start making a differencethe world needs you.] Michael Kaminski