I was wondering what the ACLU is up to these days. You used to hear about the ACLU all the time when I was a kid, but now it doesn’t seem to come up much. But then I saw this letter to the editor in the New York Times:
Re “A.C.L.U. Pushes for Inquiry Into Bias Against Female Directors” (Arts pages, May 13):Oh, so that’s what the ACLU is up to these days: demanding that the government investigate and crack down upon freedom of expression. Well, of course …
The American Civil Liberties Union’s recent complaint makes clear what everyone in Hollywood (and many of us outside Hollywood) know: Social networks and implicit discriminatory processes privilege men over women and threaten equal opportunity for women in the film industry.
But the issue is not limited to who gets to direct the movies; it extends to how those movies are seen.Because we all know that that the words “feminine,” “sentimental” and “sweet” should apply equally to movies made by Michael Mann, Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, Stanley Kubrick, Clint Eastwood, Christopher Nolan, David Fincher, Ridley Scott, Spike Lee, David Cronenberg, Oliver Stone, and Darren Aronofsky.
I’ve just completed a yearlong quantitative and qualitative study of professional film criticism. I analyzed 131 reviews of 46 films that won audience awards at major film festivals to evaluate how a director’s gender affects reviews of films by critics.
Reviews came from four major domestic publications, including The New York Times. The study finds that words categorized by the codes “feminine,” “sentimental” and “sweet” are statistically more likely to be found in reviews of films made by female directors than in reviews of films made by men.
It also suggests that the language used to describe female-directed films tends to be more disparaging and stereotypically confining.
It is a positive first step for the A.C.L.U. to examine how stereotyping influences how films are made and by whom. The next step, a necessary one, is to understand how such thinking affects how films are consumed and understood.
The writer is a graduating senior at Colorado College.