Film & TV

Do Female Film Critics Need a Safe Space?

Brie Larson in Marvel Studios’ 2019 Captain Marvel (Marvel Studios)
Some media women cry foul as male critics find fault with Captain Marvel.

Social media have been buzzing this week with anger and anguish about the gender breakdown of critics of the new movie Captain Marvel. Most are men. There is an excellent reason for this: Most movie critics are men. And there is an excellent reason for that: Men are much more willing publicly to express opinions than women. There is a natural experiment on the matter, which is the letters pages of newspapers. Anyone can write a letter to the editor; there are no barriers to entry. The vast majority of those who do so are male.

“All the negative reviews for #CaptainMarvel are from men,” declared a tweet by the feminerd site The Mary Sue. This assertion can easily be disproven, and it immediately was, as helpful readers appended to that ridiculous claim excerpts from negative notices by Stephanie Zacharek of Time, Mara Reinstein from Us, Kristin Lopez of Culturess, Lindsey Bahr of the Associated Press, Laura Clifford of Reeling Reviews, etc. The story linked by the tweet hedges a bit with the headline, “Captain Marvel Is Fun and Most the [sic] Negative Reviews Are Written by Men … Shocking” before going on to state, in the body of the story, “It is telling that every negative review of the movie was written by a man.” A bit of a waffler, this Mary Sue person. Somewhat of a flibbertigibbet.

Another popular tweet continued with the androgen-shaming:

Writer Alyssa Klein posted links to 17 reviews written by men for major publications, complaining along the way that “a few of these hardly even mention the words ‘woman’ and ‘women.’” This is the kind of person who sees Batman and wants to know why so many writers fail to point out that the title character is a man in a bat costume. Klein, who describes herself as a film journalist in her bio, pleads, “If you’re a publication or editor reading this thread, I’ll hope you’ll challenge yourself to commission women to write your #CaptainMarvel reviews.” I wonder if there is any female writer in particular she would like to see given more commissions?

The New York Times (the first of the publications to incur Klein’s damnation for assigning a man to review Captain Marvel) has two lead film critics, one a man and one a woman. The Times does not appear to have a policy of assigning female-centric films to Manohla Dargis and male-centric films to A. O. Scott, because that would be stupid. Critics review all sorts of material by and about people who don’t necessarily match their demographics. Quality is quality. Critics can, or at least should, be able to recognize it, regardless of whether they have a Y chromosome.

Where does Klein’s logic lead? Should culture be a Victorian dinner party at which the men and women separate, the men smoking cigars and talking politics while the ladies settle in a separate area to discuss lady issues? If a man’s opinion holds no value in women’s spheres of influence, maybe women should butt out when the discussion turns to sectors led by men? When it comes to capitalism, maybe all the female social workers and schoolteachers should zip their lips while the male stockbrokers and hedge-fund managers decide matters?

That wouldn’t be very democratic, but the world of blockbuster filmmaking is necessarily centered on the demos. Certain of the people involved in making such films seem not to understand the point. One of these is Brie Larson, the star of Captain Marvel. Last year Larson opined, “I do not need a 40-year-old white dude to tell me what didn’t work for him about Wrinkle in Time. It wasn’t made for him. I want to know what it meant to women of color, to biracial women, to teen women of color, to teens that are biracial.” A Wrinkle in Time cost well over $100 million to make and distribute. I doubt that the Walt Disney Company expected to turn a profit by selling tickets exclusively to biracial teen girls, any more than MGM’s marketing plan for The Wizard of Oz involved attracting only teen girls, scarecrows, talking lions, and metallic woodcutters.

VIEW GALLERY: Captain Marvel Premiere

Should A Wrinkle in Time be afforded a critical safe space in which only those deemed most demographically likely to praise the film would be invited to write about it? To me that sounds closer to publicity than criticism. Should Captain Marvel be reviewed only by women, or should only reviews by women be credited? Perhaps a distaff Rotten Tomatoes will spring up to shield delicate feminist readers from the views of any nasty boys out there and to provide female film critics a walled garden free of competition from the world’s males. That sounds awfully overprotective and patronizing. It certainly doesn’t sound like the view of someone who thinks women are as able as men when it comes to reviewing a film. It’s a bit like offering female military recruits twice as much time to complete the two-mile run. For a movie built around the concept of a super-woman who kicks butt more vigorously than any man and asks for no special favors from anybody, that would appear to be an ironic position.

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