It’s no longer news, and maybe it never was, but the entertainment industry is dominated by men. Gender equality is top of mind in Hollywood now, especially with the Time’s Up initiative and the rising popularity of inclusion riders.
The latest effort to champion women in media comes from filmmaker Miranda Bailey (no relation, Grey’s Anatomy fans) who started CherryPicks, which will aggregate movie reviews the way Rotten Tomatoes does, but without the heavy male bias.
“I think it’s a boys’ club,” Bailey told Mashable on the phone this week, referring to film criticism. “I think journalism itself has been a boys’ club for a long time and the parameters to be a hoity-toity film reviewer or whatever, in certain newspapers – it was hard to get that job unless you were a Caucasian man.”
CherryPicks will offer original content in addition to aggregate reviews, but its most unique offering is the CherryCheck: A score for each movie based on how present women are behind and in front of the camera, as well as appropriate content warnings.
Mashable spoke to Bailey just after South by South West about women in film, gender bias in criticism, and the importance of female-led projects in Hollywood.
You effectively debuted CherryPicks at South by South West, is that correct?
Our plan was to kind of announce it at South by South West and then I also had a film at SXSW so it kind of worked out perfectly that way.
And what was the immediate reaction like to CherryPicks itself?
I think it’s overwhelmingly positive. One of the things that I get a lot is “I can’t believe that doesn’t exist already.” Which, I know, I couldn’t either! Before it became official I was like, ‘That’s a great idea’ and I looked to see if it already existed and it didn’t. So there was a real need for it.
What prompted you to move forward with this project?
There was a bunch of things, but basically in September or August when I was releasing a film called I Do Until I Don’t – it was Lake Bell’s second film – and at the same time there was another film that was coming out around that time called The Zookeeper’s Wife. With The Zookeeper’s Wife particularly, I noticed a difference between men not liking it and women liking it. But it ended up with the splat, so the regular film going public who would want to see that movie, they go to Rotten Tomatoes or Fandango whatever and they see a splat and they just don’t bother to go because they think it’s just overwhelmingly bad.
The problem is that there were so many males that didn’t like it that kind of the female voices championing it got washed away or aggregated down to nothing. And so I thought that was a real bummer for the people who missed out on the movie and also that movie itself. And with Lake Bell I noticed specifically that a lot of the reviewers were kind of – not every movie is for every person, but I noticed that a lot of the male reviewers were kind of criticizing Lake for what they expected her to make or what she should’ve made, almost like a weird kind of mansplaining review. There were women who reviewed it as well, who didn’t like it, but at least they could actually talk about the film.
I think there’s a real difference between the way women and men digest art and digest media and I just want to make sure that women who are journalists or young girl who want to go into film criticism or art criticism or video game criticism in any way feel like they have a place and have a voice to do it, and I want to be able to encourage that. And of course I also would really just like to have a place for myself where I can go, “Hey, I want to go see this movie, what did everyone think of it?” Meaning my peers, not 70-, 60-year-old Caucasian men who went to Stanford or something.
What’s been your experience with this as a filmmaker, working with and interacting with critics?
[As a filmmaker], everywhere we go is guys, pretty much. I’m always like the only woman in the room, so I can’t say I’ve noticed specifically with film reviewers or not – I don’t have my own direct interaction with film reviewers. But you notice it when you’re reading the magazines and the newspapers or just when a review comes out. A lot of people aren’t reading reviews anymore, they’re just looking at a score. I personally really like reviews as long as they’re interesting and dissect the film down to its elements and they talk about things like the cinematography – they talk about what makes it good or what makes it bad, not just those ones that trash it or praise it for no reason.
I’m a filmmaker, so of course I want to know about the sweeping shots or the composer and the music and what it does or the tension and all that stuff. I think also they’ve kind of become a lost art a little bit. And so I’m hoping to kind of get girls and women back into that idea of looking at art and media from a critical lens, not necessary criticism like being mean, but looking at it and breaking it apart and talking about it – writing about it.
How many women were behind the camera, how many were in front of the camera? Does it have things like objectification? Could it have things like triggers …like a rape scene?
Gender equality is a hot topic in production as well. How have you noticed, especially recently, efforts to even things out?
I’ve been seeing it mostly this summer on a film that I worked on in New York [You Can Choose Your Family, starring Jim Gaffigan, above]. We ended up with almost 38 percent women on the crew. Our camera department, our A.D. was a woman – these are places that normally you wouldn’t find women. You see them more in like wardrobe and makeup and stuff that’s pretty standard, but they were in everything. They were in props, they were the producers, there was the director. It was really quite exciting. But again, it wasn’t necessarily like that was like this big strong effort, it’s just that the second A.D. was like the best girl, the best for the job. There’s a lot of women out there that can do really great work.
What other effects have you noticed, especially from Time’s Up?
I think people are really stoked. I think that Time’s Up and the #MeToo movement and the whole Weinstein thing that happened really blew the lid off of Hollywood, really. It’s something women, all of us have known for a really long time and been saying for a really long time, like, “Hey, you have to pay us the same amount!” “Hey, no we don’t need to get naked on every single film!” We’ve been saying those things for a long time. Definitely something happened, the floodgates for sure opened, and I think because it wasn’t just Harvey – it was Harvey, and then all of a sudden this landslide of other people, from Matt Lauer to whoever, Kevin Spacey – I think everyone is just hyperaware of it right now.
And I think that good news about that is that the studios and the television people and the people who can hire women are actively looking to find projects that are helmed by women. I know that I’ve been requested, do I have any female-driven stories, comedies with leads of women? Two-three years ago when I was out pitching female comedies, everyone was like “Meh, no one really cares about a woman lead.” Three-four years ago! Now everyone’s like “Who’s got the next Bridget Jones’ Diary?”
I wonder if it’s related to the old conversation about how female-led movies don’t perform well – do media outlets think reviews by women won’t perform as well?
I think it’s just inherent sexism, I really do. I think it’s a boys’ club. I think journalism itself has been a boys’ club for a long time and the parameters to be a hoity-toity film reviewer or whatever, in certain newspapers – it was hard to get that job unless you were a Caucasian man. I think it just kind of ended up that way. Now, with the internet…there’s Latinas that are specifically focused on Latina art, there’s African Americans focused on their art – there’s so many websites now that are generating reviews for specific audiences, which never happened before.
With CherryPicks I want to be able to open it up to those bloggers and to those filmmakers. We’re not just going to take any Joe Blow off the street who decides to – my mom’s not going to write about what movies she hates so much – but something like Red Carpet Crash, that’s been around for a long time, it’s not Rotten certified. There’s Film Snob, same thing, not certified. But these are legitimate sources where people go to read about media and they have great writers and we want to show – even though I just mentioned two that are guys, of course. Remezcla, that’s one that’s a Latino one that we met with.
Right now we’re building the website and we started our newsletter which goes out every other Wednesday. In the newsletter we feature female critics every month, so this month we feature Claudia Puig from the Los Angeles Times and we also feature Ann Powers, who’s a music critic from NPR. And we get to talk to them about why did they go into film criticism, what are their special gems, what’s their favorite album, what’s their favorite film. It’s a great way to get to know the critics themselves as people, and ideally CherryPicks will be a place where women can go and find the certain women that they identify with, that they have a similar voice to, and you can be like, “Oh, I really relate to this person and these are the people I want to listen to.” You can make sure that you’re hearing what the people you like are recommending.
In the Hollywood Reporter piece about CherryPicks you mention Bad Moms specifically. Are there any other movies that you’d like to review or re-review through CherryPicks?
CherryPicks itself will have its own scoring system, but that’s a little different from a film review. Essentially we’re going to be just aggregating. For instance, Bad Moms will end up on the site, but it will pull from all the female critics that have already written about it.
I think that’s going to be really interesting to see certain films where we’re like “Sorry, no score,” because zero woman have reviewed this.” That’s impossible to put a cherry on it because there are no female reviewers. I think for those it may be a good idea what you just said – thanks so much – to go in and be like, “Okay, this didn’t have any female reviewers, so we’re going to add our own.”
We’ll be hiring critics here and there to write individual pieces and stuff like that, not necessarily criticism but just kind of having our own content. For instance, we have a reporter that wants to write about the three documentaries focused on women that were missed this season, overlooked by the Academy, and that’s a great idea. So people will be actually pitching us stories for our own original content, but the reviews will be aggregated from legitimate review news source outlets.
We’re going to have something called the Cherry Check, and that will be our own kind of internal review system that we will be reviewing. We’re going to give it a check mark, similar to that of Common Sense Media but focused on female issues. How many women were behind the camera, how many were in front of the camera? Does it have things like objectification? Could it have things like triggers that you might want to know about before you watch it, like a rape scene or something with children that can make you uncomfortable? Just to have our own Bechdel-type of test, in a way, attached to certain films to kind of also encourage more people to you know maybe you want to cherry check that you get enough people behind the scenes or have enough female-focused content out there.
That’s awesome. You can’t see me, but I started nodding vigorously during that.
We will do that, we’ll have that. At the bottom of the newsletter you can kind of see, we did it at SXSW. There’s little pie charts at the bottom of the newsletter. That was specifically a Cherry Check for SXSW.
Whenever stuff like this happens, men feel threatened. What would you say to audiences, critics, or anyone asking why we need this?
Yeah. I don’t want men to feel bad, I love men! Men are great! I love male critics. Scott Mantz is one of my favorite critics, I love him. I grew up watching Siskel and Ebert. So it’s not to take anything away from it.
I kind of look at it like this: There’s GQ magazine, and there’s Vogue magazine, and most of the time men pick the GQ and women pick the Vogue magazine. Essentially this is just an online magazine for women who want to read about media. I hope that men will read it and I hope that they’re interested also. When I go to the movies and bring my husband, often times it’s me picking it, and I think it’s the same with a lot of women who are like, “We’re gonna go see this movie!” So maybe the husbands or boyfriends will be reading this as well.
We’ll see what happens. It could be a complete shit show. But it could also be really awesome!