I’m a writer and female (in that order) and although I don’t consider myself a film critic—at least not a professional one—I have been known to spout profound and eloquent sentiments about cinema to both applause and jeers. That doesn’t bother me, since writing about film is the only writing I get to do for fun, but it made me consider what it must be like for women who have made a successful career out of film criticism.
As a female writer, I’m no stranger to throngs of abuse and harassment from strangers (mostly men) who feel my opinion is worth less because of my gender. I know a number of men, and women, who unintentionally end up listening to/agreeing with/believing a male over a female, even when both are saying the same thing. It’s an ingrained, societal issue, one that people are only now starting to slowly change. But in the meantime, it begs the question of whether women who write about film are treated differently than their male counterparts. I discussed this topic with Kiva Reardon and Anne Brodie, two of Toronto’s better-known film critics, who just happen to be women.
Reardon is the founder and editor of feminist film journal cléo (which is currently accepting submissions) and one of the programming associates at the Toronto International Film Festival. She has a hefty resume under her belt and is followed by hundreds of people on social media, who support, argue with and help spread her work. I asked how her audience—both on social media and in real life —react to her writing. “I’m very vocal about my views on gender equality and feminism,” she reveals.“But I also spend a lot of time tweeting about baseball. My views on both irk some, but more often than not, I’ve found likeminded folks through being honest — sometimes blunt — but, hopefully, never hostile.”
As a female writer, I’m no stranger to throngs of abuse and harassment from strangers (mostly men) who feel my opinion is worth less because of my gender. I know a number of men, and women, who unintentionally end up listening to/agreeing with/believing a male over a female, even when both are saying the same thing. It’s an ingrained, societal issue, one that people are only now starting to slowly change.
On the other hand, when posed the same query, Brodie responded that she “writes for herself and hopes for the best; it’s all you can do.” She went on to explain that she has received many positive comments about the quality of her work, but she doesn’t necessarily agree or disagree with them. “I like to inform and entertain, and let people know why something is worthy or not,” she says. “The exercise of crystallizing my response to a film is a total joy and maddeningly, delightfully tough, at times.”
Both women fell into film criticism: Reardon thanks to her life-long love of cinema and Brodie due to her already established profession as an entertainment TV news reporter. However, just because they fell into the career doesn’t mean they don’t take it seriously. “I had plenty of writing experience and film knowledge,” Brodie states. “Being a film critic gives me the chance to elevate my style from news to something higher, and it’s a way of ensuring connection to an art form I love and respect.”
“I’m very vocal about my views on gender equality and feminism,” Reardon reveals.“But I also spend a lot of time tweeting about baseball. My views on both irk some, but more often than not, I’ve found likeminded folks through being honest — sometimes blunt — but, hopefully, never hostile.”
“I always loved movies growing up, but it wasn’t until my early 20s that I really started seeing them not just as art and/or entertainment, but also socio-political documents,” Reardon says, giving crucial insight into her decision to write so openly about feminism in film. “I don’t think every film needs to be seen solely from a feminist point-of-view, but different writers with different life experiences make for different readings of films.”
While Reardon doesn’t consider herself an established film critic and Brodie’s previously-established career helped her break into her current one, both agree that there’s a difference between being a female film critic and being a male one, but for very different reasons. Brodie sees herself as “far less technical and hardcore encyclopaedic than [her] male colleagues,” while Reardon finds that she’s often “asked to write about female directors or ‘women-centric’ films.”
“My voice is shaped by things that are important to me, like characters being recognizably human and psychologically authentic, with lifelike naturalism,” Brodie elaborates when talking about her work versus that of her male colleagues. “It doesn’t matter to me what lens or frame speed was used or what seat I sat in or the byzantine history of the director; I just care that the story and art feed and fill me.” She talks about being on the sidelines of “fascinating, passionate wars of words on meaningless minutiae, like where to sit in a theatre,” but clarifies that she doesn’t “get involved in [her] colleagues’ reviews and responses,” not because she doesn’t care what they are passionate about and have to say, but because “comparisons are odious and it’s just part of keeping the voice clean and true.”
“I like to inform and entertain, and let people know why something is worthy or not,” Brodie says. “The exercise of crystallizing my response to a film is a total joy and maddeningly, delightfully tough, at times.”
On the other hand, Reardon faces different gender-related issues. She’s happy to talk about feminism and women in film, but, like any other person in the world, her interests aren’t solely in that realm. “I’m also very into things like action movies and wish there were more readings of those films from feminist and/or female voices.” While it seems like common sense that publications would want a female point-of-view on something female-centric, Reardon makes a crucial point when she says, “If editors are always asking the same folks to write about the same kind of movies, we’re all being forced into silos and no one wins.”
So, what did I learn from talking to these two women about a profession I may or may not end up pursuing more seriously? Nothing I didn’t already know, to be honest. On the one hand, I’m glad that I’m not alone, having faced the same issues on a much smaller scale. On the other hand, it’s depressing that things change very little from when you’re starting out as a female critic to finding your place to being established. The good thing is that there are groups of us working to change this for the better.