23 Jul 2018 | BY Sarah Thomas - @SarahTtheWriter
In all the joyous buzz frolicking around Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, one voice on Twitter made a very pertinent point. “If a straight white man is writing your company’s “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again” review …. idk [I don’t know] what to say,” wrote @AnthonyBLSmith.
if a straight white man is writing your company’s “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again” review…… idk what to say
— Anthony Smith (@AnthonyBLSmith) July 19, 2018
This latest ABBA outing pulled in an audience who were 80 per cent women in the US, according to Billboard’s box-office-report. In Australia, its opening weekend brought in the top spot with a $5.9 million bounty.
It’s an interesting debate and one which sprung up again recently off the back of the perfectly passable Ocean’s 8, which was heavily laden down with negative reviews, but has still achieved more than $260 million to date. The cast attributed the poor feedback down to the prevalence of male critics. “If I had to base my career on what white men wanted I would be very unsuccessful,” said Mindy Kaling. “So there is obviously an audience out there who want to watch things like [Ocean’s 8], what I work on, what Sarah [Paulson] works on.”
It’s a fair point. It’s a sort of “read the room” approach – films aimed at a particular audience should be reviewed by critics with an understanding of how that movie might connect with its target market. So it throws up the question of whether a critic needs to be a particular gender or race/ethnicity to understand the perspective of a film. Surely it shouldn’t matter? Any professional critic worth their salt should come with an unbiased approach to any work. But, of course, unfortunately and unsurprisingly, it appears it does matter.
Let’s look the stats. A survey released last month by USC Annenberg School for Journalism and Communication assessed nearly 20,000 reviews of the top 100 grossing films on Rotten Tomatoes in 2017 and found that 78 per cent were by men, a ratio of 3.5 men to every female reviewer, while write critics wrote 82 per cent.
Another research project went a step further and not only looked into the make-up of reviewers but how gender influenced whether reviews were positive or not.
The Centre for the Study of Women in Television and Film assessed more than 4000 reviews written by 341 writers which appeared on Rotten Tomatoes between March and May this year. In its research, released earlier this month, it found that 32 per cent of reviews were by women writers. But, significantly, films with female leads were markedly different in critics’ views. Women awarded on average a 74 per cent rating, while men awarded 62 per cent. Films with male protagonists scored less of a divide, with women awarding a 73 per cent score, while men gave a 70 per cent score.
Also, when it came to female directors, 89 per cent of female critics mentioned the director by name, as opposed to 81 per cent of men. Furthermore, 52 per cent of female critics made positive comments about the women directors, while men came in at 38 per cent.
So what does this mean? Well, the evidence is clear. There’s a way to go, but like all aspects of the drive to improve diversity in front of and behind the camera, putting a continuing spotlight on the issues and having the conversation is the only way forward towards change.
Sarah Thomas is an entertainment writer and contributing editor at The FIERCE. @SarahTtheWriter