The upcoming book-turned-film, Ready Player One, a speculative fiction book-turned-film that includes a lot of 1980s pop cultures references to relatively male-centric fandoms and nostalgia, is set to be released this week. Via movie review site Rotten Tomatoes, it sits at around 83% of critics telling us that it’s “Fresh” or worthy of seeing. For most casual movie viewers, Rotten Tomatoes is, to say the least, influential. I use it myself often for a quick hit on a movie’s quality.
One criticism of Ready Player One, especially post-Gamergate, is that if the fandom elements were reversed to be woman-centric, would it be reviled as a genre “chick flick” unworthy of it’s currently good critic scores? Here’s an apt parody on Ready Player One for girls (think My Little Pony, Bridget Jones, Punky Brewster, and Legally Blonde).
The reason why this is relevant on a site like Rotten Tomatoes is that it has been criticized for its lack of diversity of gender and race within its critic community. It, unsurprisingly, skews white and male. And because of that, films that sit firmly in a male niche, but are equally as frothy, light, or “guilty pleasure”-skewed, don’t get the same level of criticism as might a movie with strong female interests.
In the video linked above, Meryl Streep can be heard commenting:
“[Men and women] like different things. Sometimes they like the same things, but their tastes diverge. If the Tomatometer is slided so completely to one set of tastes, that drives box office in the [United States,] absolutely.”
To answer this quandary, this year’s SXSW film festival revealed a new entrant into the film criticism portal sphere, CherryPicks, a film criticism site founded by filmmaker Miranda Bailey with a goal of putting a spotlight on the voices of women and minority film critics.
Here’s Bailey’s statement:
“For years now, our industry has been proclaiming that we need change to include more minorities and females on both sides of the camera,” she says. “This would be impossible to do in a speedy fashion, unless we can change the perceived desires of consumers. How can we possibly change what consumers consider good and worthy content if the majority of critics who tell them what to want are predominately older white males?”
It’s timely what with #MeToo and TimesUp being at the forefront of media coverage, especially around awards season for film and television.
CherryPicks will diverge from Rotten Tomatoes with a four-tier rating scale instead of just “Fresh” or “Rotten”:
Bowl of cherries: Great. Must see.
Pair of cherries: Good. Recommended.
Single cherry: Mixed. You might like it, you might not.
The Pits: Self-explanatory.
This four-tier system should, in theory, help to give amplification and recognition to genre films for women that don’t receive the acclaim and respect that similarly niche films for men might receive. If a guilty pleasure action film receives acclaim from a largely male critical audience on Rotten Tomatoes, we might see a guilty pleasure romantic comedy receive similar praise on a site that amplifies women in film criticism. At least that’s the idea.
In addition to reviews and aggregate ratings, CherryPicks will also include original content, podcasts, top lists, and interviews with women and minorities within the film industry. Bailey also noted that the site will promote upcoming women critics in a section called Cherry Blossoms, which will feature reviews from student journalists. They also plan to have less gatekeeping for their top critic designations since, as Bailey says, “…to be a ‘top critic’ the only way you could be a top critic is if you’re a white man because that’s who people hire.”
This bodes well in an era when a film like Ready Player One can easily succeed in a microcosm insulated from the same kind of criticism a similarly gendered film about women’s interests might incur by the general film critic community. Will it be a good movie? Probably. But giving other genre films a fair shake is a good thing, too.
If you want to get in on the action early, they’ve launched an email newsletter called Cherry Bites that will get you started.
Comments on CherryPicks, a Rotten Tomatoes competitor, is trying to amplify female voices in film criticism
I like the idea of having criticism from a more diverse group of voices and thus encouraging more diverse characters and view points in movies, however, I don’t think it is correct to imply romantic comedies as for women and sci-fi for men, which to me is what this does. With the whole brony thing not sure if calling my little pony a “female” thing holds any more for one.
I run a sci-fi book discussion with both men and women and we once got off topic on how relaxing it is to watch the Hallmark channels cozy mysteries as a way to unwind. Just because I’m a woman doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy hard science fiction and it doesn’t mean an older white male cant enjoy a film with romance and a strong female lead in it.
I think it a little shallow to say men and women like different things and that is why we need female critics; the issue for me as a woman is how are women depicted in a film and if women’s issues are considered. Some science fiction can be sexist and have no strong female characters which would be off putting to a lot of women and some romances treat men as muscular money bags who have no desires of their own but to worship a woman which can be off putting to men. Good sci-fi and romance however has full developed characters and a good critic to me is one who recognizes this distinction. I don’t think we should be encouraging fluffy derivative films for women any more than we currently are but instead discouraging them more from men than they currently might be.
I also question how relevant the idea of professional critics are. With blogs and review sites open to all, the traditional newspaper critics voice carries much less weight than it used to.
I stopped reading Rotten Tomatoes years ago when I noticed that they will sometimes mark a review by the same reviewer rotten in one paper and fresh in another. Although stars and other units are quick gages of opinion, why someone liked or dislikes something is more important to me. I have seen negative reviews of films that have made me want to see them because the reviewer clearly dislikes things I enjoy.
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