Film Website's Week-Long Focus on Female Voices Is More Necessary Than You May Think
When the film critic Roger Ebert passed away back in April, the legacy he left behind was enormous; this was a man who not only wrote some of the industry's most respected and widely-seen reviews, but who was also a huge force behind countless blogs, discussions, essays, and more. And so it was no surprise when Ebert's wife, Chaz, announced that she would be taking over RogerEbert.com and turning it into an online community for film criticism, all in the memory of her late husband. In the months since the new site's launch, it has become a hub for film criticism and commentary, featuring dozens of thoughtful, well-written articles, reviews, and blogs about movies each week. And now, the site's decided to go one step further in solidifying itself as a must-read — by publishing only female-written content.
The experiment, announced by Chaz in a blog on Monday, is for just one week, but it's certain to have major effects.
"There is, more times than not, a critical consensus that has nothing to do with race, or gender or age," Chaz wrote. "However, how do we know? Most of the reviews we read are by men, and usually of movies that are about men."
And so, "what if we had a week of articles and reviews by women?"
These pieces, Chaz said, will include highlights of female actors in film and TV during 2013, film reviews of movies like The Punk Singer and The Hobbit sequel, as well as reprints of some of the site's strongest female-written essays and reviews.
Chaz explained that the experiment is something Roger had expressed interest in doing, and that the couple had discussed several times before his death. The goal, she said, is to find out if there is an "appreciable difference between this week’s edition and our regular editions, and whether... gender makes a difference."
It's a fascinating experiment, and we applaud Chaz for trying something so innovative, especially on a site as gender-neutral as RogerEbert.com. If this week-long challenge was done on Glamour, Jezebel, or even Bustle, sites that are already female-focused, the results wouldn't be nearly as important. Yet for a site like Ebert's, where the content is not typically influenced by gender, the effects of the experiment will likely be eye-opening. Whatever the readers discover at the end of the week will be telling of how RogerEbert.com functions. If they find a major shift in the tone of the pieces, then it'll show that women and men have different voices in writing film criticism. And if they don't notice a change? Then it'll prove that criticism, at least on Ebert's site, is an area in which gender has little to no effect.
Either way, it'll be interesting to find out what readers think. Hopefully, the experiment will bring attention to the rampant gender inequality in film criticism, an area just as bad, if not worse, in representing women than acting, directing, and writing. According to the study "Gender @ The Movies: Online Film Critics and Criticism," 82 percent of the film reviews featured on Rotten Tomatoes in 2012 were written by men. Even more disturbingly, males make up 91 percent of entertainment magazine/website critics (i.e. Entertainment Weekly), 90 percent of trade publication website critics (i.e. Variety), and 80 percent of general interest magazine/website critics (i.e. Time). These are outrageous statistics, but as film criticism isn't nearly as visible an industry as directing or acting, not many people realize the extent of the field's gender inequality.
This is why Chaz Ebert's experiment is so important. It's a huge step in bringing readers' attention to a topic that's rarely discussed, and hopefully, no matter the result, it'll encourage the public to look more closely at the movie reviews they read every week. We're sure that's something Roger Ebert, a man who championed thoughtful commentary, analysis, and even feminism, would certainly have stood behind.