Generation M, and the lack of female film critics

I got a couple of seemingly unrelated emails recently. One alerted me to a trailer for Generation M, an upcoming documentary in which professor of philosophy Thomas Kieth explores how sexualized images of young women (teenagers in many cases) in pop culture have been rebranded as a form of feminism.

Along the way, Generation M forces us to confront the dangerous real-life consequences of misogyny in all its forms – making a compelling case that when we devalue more than half the population based on gender, we harm boys and men as well as women and girls.

Obviously, I can’t review a documentary I haven’t seen, so I’m just mentioning this to inform you in case you want to check it out.

The other email linked me to an article by Jennifer Merin about the lack of mainstream female film critics in the industry:

Lauzen’s impeccably researched report shows that women are still marginalized in the national discussion about film, arguably our country’s most influential cultural commodity — a medium of sweeping social, political and economic significance.

The more I thought about it, however, I realized there is a bit of a theme going on here. Women are welcome in front the camera – if they’re young, meet the insane beauty standard, and are willing to be depicted not as sexual beings but as objects intended to rally Our Boys into a frenzy of socially approved heterosexual lust. But the mainstream media doesn’t want to hear from women exercising critical thought about pop culture. Note we’re talking about “women”, not feminists. They’re not only ignoring women who might complain about the elements we criticize here; they’re ignoring women who might be totally oblivious to issues of gender, race, etc., and are as likely to be valued by the audience as male critics.

Merin reveals another wrinkle with a quote from Stephanie Zacharek suggesting there’s also a decrease in mainstream media’s willingness to hire full-time critics at all, male or female. According to Merin, the future of movie criticism lies with bloggers. This is true: online, your chances of finding a critic who mostly shares your point of view is much more likely than in print. I don’t completely share Merin’s concern about bloggers being marketers or studio employees in disguise, though I think that’s very possible: I just don’t think the practice of bribing critics began with the internet. If Hearst and Pulitzer could drag the US into war through unethical journalistic practices, I think it’s safe to assume the people who once helped make or break movies were sometimes subject to undue influence.


  1. Katherine Farmar says

    Interesting that you mention a lack of woman film critics. I’m a sometimes critic myself — mostly of comics — and earlier this year I attended my first critics’ screening of a film. There were eleven people in the audience, counting me; the other ten were all men. This baffled me at the time, because it had never occurred to me that film criticism would be male-dominated. I hate being the only woman in the room. I’m used to it in comics, even though it still annoys me; I had thought that something as mainstream as film criticism would be a bit more gender balanced. How naive of me…

  2. says

    Richie over at Crimitism has a new post up about his filmmaking classmates. It’s depressing but illustrative of the problem.

    Oh, and I have a movie pitch – it would be something like “You’ve Got Mail!” but with a darker, edgier tone. Maybe the title would be “Flamez” or something like that, something to hint at the content/outcome but not give it away. Our main characters are 1) the wholesome-but-sexy, perky/spunky Heroine (prolly not Meg Ryan b/c she’s overused and it would be a retread role for her anyway) who has some high-powered career that leaves her life empty (of course) so she fills it with – blogging; 2) her Galpal, you know, the one who exists to make cute comments about her looks, her self-esteem, and her boyfriends – she could also be the Black Best Friend, just to make it even more 21st century; 3) the Male Lead, who could either be a Loveable Schlub type (though again prolly shouldn’t be Tom Hanks, but someone like him) or else a Suave & Debonair Ladies’ Man, like George Clooney; 4) the male lead’s Best Bud, who is the opposite physical/personality type from however the Male Lead is cast.

    The plot goes thusly: Heroine and Male Lead simultaneously engage in furious online arguments, as he constantly puts her online persona down with all kinds of Evolutionary BS arguments about the Nature of Men & Women, and IRL entirely unbeknownst to each other, fall for each other and enter into a relationship (don’t know how far it gets, would depend on dramatic necessity) b/c Male Lead is a Chivalrous type IRL, and seems like the perfect gentleman – because he’s a Nice Guy, see.

    Meanwhile the flamewars get more and more furious between them, as Male Lead’s online persona (of course) accuses the Heroine of being an ugly lonely loser and she brags of her wonderful modern boyfriend – but offline, our Heroine’s Galpal and Male Lead’s Best Bud try to figure out who their best friends’ respective nemesises are, both of them worrying (for different reasons) about this flamewar that is consuming their friends’ online lives. (“Dude/Sweetheart, you missed the raid!” – for extra irony/topicality, they might both be part of the same MMO but prolly not the same guild, that would likely break the charade too soon.)

    Galpal in particular worries about stalkers and violence and notices similar turns of phrase in Male Lead’s emails and in #1 Flamer’s posts and comments – perhaps her day job involves either police work (conveniently coincidental) or academic forensics (even more convenient & coincidental) – and becomes convinced that Male Lead is really the Online Nemesis, but of course Heroine doesn’t believe her, and thus is set up our Crisis… (Best Bud isn’t as shrewd, but amusingly more inuitive (ie less logical) in that he keeps saying that he just doesn’t think they’re *right* for each other…he thinks that Heroine is just too “radical” for the Male Lead, no matter how much she says she’d like to quit her job and stay home and have kids with some loving, caring guy…

    Of course, this being a *dark* romantic comedy, there’s not just the Reveal of their respective online identities and differences, but a major Plot Twist (or Twisted Plot) leading to an at-the-altar rift and a completely unexpected (but totally foreshadowed) runaway conclusion…

    …In which the Heroine ends up with her Galpal as OTP, and the Male Lead ends up crying into his beer as they go to a JP, and setting up an online haven for Rejected Nice Guys (“”) as Heroine and Galpal head off for a Greek Isles honeymoon…

    (No, honest, I’m NOT Evil, I’m Chaotic Good! There’s a difference!)

    A romantic dark comedy – that Liberal Hollywood would *never* dare to touch these days, right?

  3. says

    –BTW, when I say “Black Best Friend,” I don’t mean that strictly to be limiting, just to point up the use of “ethnic” friends as a way of giving the white main characters progressive “street cred” for the purpose of subverting it: the actress could be black, or Latina, or Asian (East or South), any actress who doesn’t mind reading for a role in which she plays a femme lesbian with a major role who Gets The Girl in the end. (It’s key that up until the key Reveals, the audience not realize that she *is* queer, but in retrospect it’s there all the time – along with the fact that she’s been silently in love with the Heroine for years.)

    While there is suffering involved for this character, there’s nothing Tragic about the role in the end: the intelligent, virtuous, female, queer, character of colour saves the Princess from the Dragon, which is what Prince Charming turns out to have been all along.

    (And yes, my major inspiration for this wild fancy is Gaslight.)

  4. says

    @Katherine, wow! 1 in 10? That’s telling, isn’t it?

    @Bellatrys and Patrick, LOL. If you pitched that to a producer, they might option the idea just to keep it from getting produced. I think you should write it! An option can be in the 5 digits, easy. (Option = buying the rights to a script for a specified period of time, during which time they decide whether they want to buy it. There are scripts out there that have been getting optioned over and over for years.)

  5. says

    I had thought that something as mainstream as film criticism would be a bit more gender balanced. How naive of me…

    Katherine, I was noticing the disproportion just the other day on the Rotten Tomatoes review aggregator page for some movie – but since it’s about that bad in Op-Ed at mainstream newspapers and magazines, I’m not surprised. It’s just symptomatic of the state of American culture.

    I would totally see that movie. But try getting a producer to believe that.

    *G* Well, I’ll see if I can get anything more than an outline together – if nothing else, it might be the first mainstream film to have a realistic representation of computers and internet use! (Dr. Scully. Googling for technical medical info. Sheesh.)

  6. firebird says

    I thought of this today when I was watching DVD extras for season 1 of Supernatural, and noticed that almost everyone interviewed for the ‘making of’ thingie was male. The only women were two writers, and interestingly, they were interviewed together (in the same frame, talking in turn) while even the male actors had separate interviews.

  7. says

    As much as I love Supernatural, that is definitely one show that could do with a bit less sexism, so I’m not terribly surprised.

    Good catch, though. It makes me wonder about some of the other DVD sets I own, and what kinds of glimspes they give to behind the scenes in more ways than they meant to.

  8. MaggieCat says

    I still haven’t gotten around to watching all the extras on my first season SPN DVDs, but assuming that the women in question are Sera Gamble and Raelle Tucker I’d assume that it has something to do with the fact that during the first season they were writing partners. The only other teams were people who wrote just one episode. So they’d both have input on the same things.

    No idea whether or not they were interviewed separately (or at all) for the season 2 release, when they both wrote their episodes individually, though.

  9. Jennifer Kesler says

    And what about the men who were interviewed separately? Did they always write solo, or did they occasionally partner with other writers for an ep?

  10. firebird says

    @Jenn: As I remember it, the men who were interviewed were producer, director, creator, visual effects supervisor, etc. Although naturally all of them worked together, I could not from a casual viewing know for sure what combination of the men interviewed would be on an equal footing as far as being interviewed together as the two women writers were. The creator guy (Eric Kripke) discussed being involved with or actually doing the writing, but naturally it would seem reasonable that he should be interviewed alone. Really, what disturbed me was more the level of maleness of the people involved – just the proof of what I keep hearing, as for me who is not particularly involved with or aware of directors/producers/writers credits, it is not always as obvious. That, and that the two actors who naturally are on a similar level of sharing responsibility and working together, were interviewed separately, meaning that the editor had to cut them together in order to make things have both their viewpoints, when at least I would have preferred to see them together. Okay, maybe that’s just me.

    But anyways, I guess the short answer is that I really don’t know. 😉

  11. MaggieCat says

    From what I can find, one of the male writers (John Shiban) interviewed co-wrote one episode in addition to his individual ones. The other writer on that was a first timer with an episode that was both important to set up the final two and was the first to heavily feature non-flashback John Winchester for any length of time. (Shiban was the only person who’d written present day John other than the show creator or Tucker and Gamble, who were all off writing the next two episodes.) He was also an executive producer from nearly the beginning.

    Gamble and Tucker on the other hand had never written solo for SPN at that point and consistently referred to each other as writing partners when discussing their work in individual interviews. That’s why I wondered about season 2 — Tucker and Gamble were both writing alone then, and Gamble had moved to executive story editor as well.

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