The most recent studies of 2020 (made on the American territory), demonstrated that male film critics outnumber female film critics by more than 65%. However the Women Film Critics Circle has always championed the work of female cinephile writers, by being an association of 80 women film critics and scholars from around the country and internationally, who are involved in print, radio, online and TV broadcast media. They came together in 2004 to form the first women critics’ organisation in the United States, in the belief that women’s perspectives and voices in film criticism need to be recognised fully. WFCC also prides itself on being the most culturally and racially diverse critics group in the country by far, and best reflecting the diversity of movie audiences.
This plight, powerfully echoes the ideas that Virginia Woolf conveyed in A Room of One’s Own. The title of the essay comes from Woolf’s conception that “a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write.” Here she explained the way women’s access to education in the late twenties was only possible for men — something women in the Western world might give for granted nowadays, but that is still not accessible in all parts of the world for both genders. The British writer further enhanced the contrast between women’s heroic portrayal in fiction (literature written by men), as opposed to the demure existence that was imposed in their quotidian early 20th century lives. To enhance the concept, she even creates a fictional character, Judith Shakespeare, whose talents are equal to her brilliant brother William, but her life does not turn out to be as successful.
As a female film critic, I feel that Virginia Woolf’s words resonate profoundly even in the 21st century, because it all comes down to representation. Who can the young girls, aspiring to be film critics, look up to in order to be inspired for this profession? The first names that come up are definitely those of men. In America without doubt it is Roger Ebert or Leonard Maltin. In the U.K. it is Mark Kermode or Geoff Andrew. In France the illustrious Cahiers du Cinéma, gathered the most prestigious male critics, from André Bazin, to François Truffaut, Robert Bresson, Éric Rohmer, Jacques Rivette, Claude Chabrol and Jean-Luc Godard — who later went on to become prominent directors. As an Italian I grew up and had the chance to attend press screenings and chat with Morando Morandini and Paolo Mereghetti.
But what about the female critics? The only one who gained public recognition was the American Pauline Kael. She actually left a lasting impression on several prominent film critics, that would follow in her footsteps; and the very Roger Ebert said that, “she had a more positive influence on the climate for film in America than any other single person over the last three decades.”
Working as a film critic internationally, I’m delighted to say that at festivals, as much as at regular press screenings all over the world, I am acquainted and I am friends with a variety of bright and talented female film critics. I don’t see us as a minority, although unfortunately the numbers say otherwise. And besides the data, the spotlight still shines on the male gender. The only contemporary female film critic who comes to my mind, who is widely known, is Manohla Dargis from The New York Times.
But film criticism is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to lack of female representation in the film industry. Whether it’s pay discrepancies between actors and actresses, the lack of diverse characters, or the paucity of female directors, the conversation has strongly underlined how women aren’t represented in the media to the degree that they exist in the world.
Now, we have learnt to apply the Bechdel-Wallace Test, to ensure women are properly represented in motion pictures. If a film has at least two women with a name in it, who talk to each other, about something besides a man, we have a green light: the film passes the Bechdel Test! And yet so many movies each year fail.
The journey for gender equality is still long, ever since Simone de Beauvoir enlightened us in 1949 with her book, The Second Sex. She thoroughly analysed women’s experience and life choices, as a consequence of patriarchal society, by telling us that “One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman.” Indeed, the ideas instilled since childhood, and then during adolescence, mark a strong demarcation between male and female behaviours and life goals. But de Beauvoir also encouraged women to raise their consciousness, question received ideas and routines, and seize control of their existence. And this is precisely what the Women Film Critics Circle is all about, and why every year, on the 8th of March, this organisation makes its voice heard, with an analysis and evaluation of the endeavours of the filmmaking industry.
On International Women’s Day 2021, the Women Film Critics Circle announced its 2020 Awards for the best movies this year by and about women — and outstanding achievements by women, who get to be rarely honoured historically in the film world.
Here are the winners:
BEST MOVIE ABOUT WOMEN
WINNER: Promising Young Woman
Runner Up: Never Rarely Sometimes Always
BEST MOVIE BY A WOMAN
WINNER: Nomadland – Chloe Zhao
Runner Up: Promising Young Woman – Emerald Fennell
Never Rarely Sometimes Always – Eliza Hittman
One Night in Miami – Regina King
BEST WOMAN STORYTELLER (Screenwriting Award)
WINNER: Never Rarely Sometimes Always – Eliza Hittman
Runner Up: Promising Young Woman – Emerald Fennell
Nomadland – Chloe Zhao
The United States vs. Billie Holiday – Suzan-Lori Parks
WINNER: Carey Mulligan – Promising Young Woman
Runner Up (tie): Frances McDormand – Nomadland
Runner Up (tie): Vanessa Kirby – Pieces of a Woman
Andra Day – The United States vs. Billie Holiday
WINNER: Chadwick Boseman – Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Runner Up: Anthony Hopkins – The Father
Riz Ahmed – Sound of Metal
Tahar Rahim – The Mauritanian
BEST FOREIGN FILM BY OR ABOUT WOMEN
WINNER: La Llorona
Runner Up: True Mothers
The Truth (La Verite)
Two of Us (Deux)
BEST DOCUMENTARY BY OR ABOUT WOMEN
WINNER: Stuntwomen: The Untold Hollywood Story
Runner Up: Time
I Am Greta
BEST EQUALITY OF THE SEXES
Runner Up: I Care a Lot
Malcolm & Marie
BEST ANIMATED FEMALE
WINNER: Fei Fei – Over the Moon
Runner Up: Mebh Og MacTire – Wolfwalkers
Libba – Soul
Robyn Goodfellowe – Wolfwalkers
BEST SCREEN COUPLE
WINNER: Kate Winslet and Saoirse Ronan – Ammonite
Runner Up: Tom Hanks and Helena Zengel – News of the World
Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti – Palm Springs
Barbara Sukowa and Martine Chevallier – Two of Us (Deux)
*ADRIENNE SHELLY AWARD – For a film that most passionately opposes violence against women: Adrienne Shelly was a promising actress and filmmaker who was brutally strangled in her apartment in 2006 at the age of forty by a construction worker in the building, after she complained about noise. Her killer tried to cover up his crime by hanging her from a shower rack in her bathroom, to make it look like suicide. He later confessed that he was having a “bad day.” Shelly, who left behind a baby daughter, had just completed her film Waitress, which she also starred in, and which was honoured at Sundance after her death.
WINNER: Promising Young Woman
Runner Up: The Invisible Man
I’m Your Woman
*JOSEPHINE BAKER AWARD – For best expressing the woman of colour experience in America: The daughter of a laundress and a musician, Baker overcame being born black, female and poor, and marriage at age fifteen, to become an internationally acclaimed legendary performer, starring in the films Princess Tam Tam, Moulin Rouge and Zou Zou. She also survived the race riots in East St. Louis, Illinois as a child, and later expatriated to France to escape US racism. After participating heroically in the underground French Resistance during WWII, Baker returned to the US where she was a crusader for racial equality. Her activism led to attacks against her by reporter Walter Winchell who denounced her as a communist, leading her to wage a battle against him. Baker was instrumental in ending segregation in many theatres and clubs, where she refused to perform unless integration was implemented.
WINNER: Miss Juneteenth
Runner Up: Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
The Forty-Year-Old Version
*KAREN MORLEY AWARD – For best exemplifying a woman’s place in history or society, and a courageous search for identity: Karen Morley was a promising Hollywood star in the 1930s, in such films as Mata Hari and Our Daily Bread. She was driven out of Hollywood for her leftist political convictions by the Blacklist and for refusing to testify against other actors, while Robert Taylor and Sterling Hayden were informants against her. And also for daring to have a child and become a mother, unacceptable for female stars in those days. Morley maintained her militant political activism for the rest of her life, running for Lieutenant Governor on the American Labor Party ticket in 1954. She passed away in 2003, unrepentant to the end, at the age of 93.
WINNER: The United States vs. Billie Holiday
Runner Up: Shirley
ACTING AND ACTIVISM AWARD
Regina King – The first celebrity to commit to the Time’s Up ‘4% Challenge’ which urges the industry to hire more women directors, the award winning actress has also pledged to have women make up fifty percent of the crews for her films.
LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD
**WFCC PAULINE KAEL SPECIAL JURY AWARDS 2020**
‘Criticism is the only thing that stands between the audience and advertising.’ – Pauline Kael
BEST FEMALE ACTION HERO
Janelle Monae, Antebellum
Jodie Foster, The Mauritanian
COURAGE IN FILMMAKING
Emerald Fennell, Promising Young Woman
Eliza Hittman, Never Rarely Sometimes Always
COURAGE IN ACTING
[Taking on unconventional roles that radically redefine the images of women on screen]
Janelle Monae, Antebellum
Elisabeth Moss, The Invisible Man
WOMEN’S WORK – BEST ENSEMBLE CAST
THE INVISIBLE WOMAN AWARD
[Supporting performance by a woman whose exceptional impact on the film dramatically, socially or historically, has been ignored]
Cicely Tyson, A Fall From Grace
Dianne Wiest, I Care A Lot
BEST KEPT SECRET – Overlooked Challenging Gems
WOMEN SAVING THEMSELVES AWARD
Claire Dunne: Herself
Elisabeth Moss: The Invisible Man
MOMMIE DEAREST WORST SCREEN MOM OF THE YEAR
SARAH PAULSON – RUN
HALL OF SHAME [Individual Member Picks]
Rudy Giuliani — For removing any doubt about the kind of creepy predator he is, in Borat Subsequent Moviefilm. Of course there were no consequences for his behaviour, even though it was captured on film and broadcast worldwide.
Dennis Harvey — In his Variety review for Promising Young Woman, stating Carey Mulligan is not ‘hot enough’ for the role. Not to mention perpetuating the lie that rape is about sex and not violence against women. And, why we need women film critics more than ever…
The Prom — For casting straight actors in queer roles in the most anticipated lesbian movie of the year, and making it seem like overcoming homophobia is as simple as singing a song.
Dallas Sonnier and Adam Donaghey — For sexual harassment and abuse at Cineaste Magazine, and the cover-up.