Film Forward

Move Over, Rotten Tomatoes. These Women Made A Film Review Site All About The Female Gaze.

"People have been hungry for a platform like this."

The ways we watch TV and movies have evolved, and it's time for the talent in front of and behind the camera to do the same. Film Forward speaks on the initiatives to diversify the film industry and the stories it tells. New articles premiere every second Thursday of — and throughout — the month.

While on the cusp between a "fresh" tomato and a "rotten" splat on Rotten Tomatoes, 2017's The Zookeeper's Wife would have earned two cherries from CherryPicks one of the site's co-founders explained. The average moviegoer might not put too much stock into what review sites say about new films hitting the big screen, but that doesn't mean what the critics say doesn't matter.

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Miranda Bailey (no, not the character from Grey's Anatomy) and Rebecca Odes recently started CherryPicks, a film review site that will be directed toward women by featuring female and gender non-conforming voices in an industry dominated by straight, cisgender, White men. This overwhelming male gaze often overpowers the female gaze in the mainstream pop culture zeitgeist, and the tag team of Bailey and Odes wants to do their part to fix that.

Courtesy of CherryPicks

"Hopefully, it will unite us all and remind us that we are all humans with the same feelings of awe and angst," Bailey said in regards to how the entertainment world would be different if all people had their voices heard. "And that we should respect and love each other even if we disagree with each other."

A Plus caught up with both Bailey and Odes to chat about CherryPicks — what it does, how it functions, how it scores movies, and what their hopes for it are, in addition to why their shared goal is something worth fighting for, if they think they can generate meaningful progress, and what the response to their idea has been.

What does CherryPicks hope to accomplish?

Miranda Bailey: The overall mission of CherryPicks is to create a place where women can find out what female critics think about media (film, TV, video games, music). We will be CherryPicking the female critical voice and aggregating to create our own scoring system and symbols for the work. A Bowl of Cherries = amazing, don't miss it; Two Cherries = good, worth a watch; One Cherry = worth seeing, but not necessarily worth going to see; The Pits = don't bother.

Rebecca Odes: CherryPicks is an aggregator and publishing platform for the female critical voice. We'll be culling reviews from existing publications and distilling those into a scoring system as well as creating our own internal rating that addresses specific concerns of a female audience. We'll also be publishing original content from female critical voices.

The film industry seems to be making strides to improve female representation in front of and behind the camera. Why is it important that this be done for critics as well?

Bailey: The only way to change what Hollywood makes is to change what the consumer buys. If the consumers are listening to the top critics only on Rotten Tomatoes, then they are getting a 7-to-1 ratio of male opinions. Therefore, we are being told what is good by what these men think is good. I'm sure it is most of the time, but we will never know if the female voice is not heard because it has been aggregated down to nothing. CherryPicks can affect female consumers and show what the female consumers want to see — and I can pretty much guarantee that is more female artists behind and in front of the camera. I'd be surprised if this wasn't the same in video games and music as well.

Odes: Criticism is a crucial part of the media cycle. It helps people decide what to see and what to spend money on, which, in turn, affects what gets invested in and what projects get made. When the voices that weigh in are all coming from a narrow point of view, the cycle gets skewed and films that speak to that specific audience have a critical advantage. This advantage translates to more opportunity for filmmakers whose work is aligned with these critical-financial successes and less opportunity for those with different kinds of work.

What’s the best way to fix the issue of most film reviewers being straight, cisgender, White men?

Bailey: Talk about it. Bring awareness. But don't put the current reviewers to shame because it's not their fault. Their contribution to art is necessary and oftentimes brilliant. We just need to make sure we are hearing all sexes and races when it comes to saying what is worth a consumers money because consumers make up all people.

Odes: What we're interested in is a diversity of voices. Maybe we'll get to a point where that's just the reality, but in the meantime, we believe it's about creating alternative forums where the voices are different than the mainstream by definition. The reason we're limiting voices on CherryPicks to people who identify as female (or gender non-conforming) is that we believe it's important to see these under-shared perspectives. Not just because there is an underserved audience who wants to know what non-straight White men think but because we believe that will encourage more diverse voices to speak up and speak out.

Do you think initiatives like CherryPicks will help create change within the film industry?

Bailey: Hopefully, but I do think we will be able to help female journalists for sure. We will be promoting them as individuals with one-on-one interviews of female critics, pulling their reviews for our site, paying writers for original content. We will also be showcasing up-and-coming young female journalists who are still in school. These will be our Cherry Blossoms. So, if on the off chance we don't end up elevating the film, music, or video game business for women, we know we will be giving a lift to women writers.

Odes: CherryPicks will be another angle through which the industry can view the media that's out there in the world. It will give voice to an audience people are just beginning to respect. Our hope is that this will shift the kind of content that gets made and increase the range of voices that critique it — which will translate to new ways of finding an audience and open up new avenues for different kinds of media to get made.

What are some of the positive — and negative, if any — reactions you’ve gotten from people about the idea of CherryPicks?

Bailey: We've gotten a ton of positive comments and reactions from women writers, male writers, and organizations like Film Fatales for female filmmakers. As for the negative, they are there.

Odes: The response from the female critical community has been really positive. People have been hungry for a platform like this. Diversity and attention to intersectionality are a real concern within the critical community. This has been a priority for us from the start, and we have been working hard to present a range of critical perspectives, backgrounds, identities, and experiences. We have had a bit of pushback from men who don't see the point of changing the status quo and/or don't want to lose the privilege of being the primary voice in the conversation. We expected this and see it as an inevitable part of making cultural change.

For more info about CherryPicks, check out its website here.

Cover image: CherryPicks

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