New IMDb Study Shows Men Deflate Scores for Women’s Entertainment.
Yesterday, our friends at Women and Hollywood highlighted a FiveThirtyEight article we’d missed about the link between IMDb user reviews and female-driven television. New research from Walt Hickey revealed that male users on the popular movie website are artificially deflating the scores of women’s entertainment. Didn’t like Private Practice or Gossip Girl? Turns out that a large portion of the internet thinks you should take off and nuke the entire site from orbit. It’s the only way to be sure.
As is common with FiveThirtyEight research, Hickey does a wonderful job of breaking down a complex system of data into interesting (and fairly damning) results. The math reveals a lot of what we already suspected: some male audiences are not only uninterested in consuming media not directly aimed at them, they will often go back and salt the earth to ensure others don’t accidentally support television deemed unworthy of their interest. In her summary of the article, Casey Cipriani, the News Editor for Women and Hollywood, wrote that she wasn’t exactly shocked to find out that IMDb users were facilitating these kind of entertainment double standards. “So next time you notice one of your favorite female-skewed shows or movies has a crappy rating on IMDb,” Cipriani said, “it’s probably safe to agree with this report, and conclude, ‘Yeah, it’s men.’”
The demographics behind IMDb user ratings are a constant source of intrigue to me, but the timing of this particular piece by Hickey couldn’t have been any better. Not only did this research point out some flaws in the accepted system of television rankings, it also helped me wrap my head around the ways that IMDb scores might be failing non-white audiences as well. Every time I look at the Rotten Tomatoes leaderboard for 2016 – which has been surprisingly often, given the incredible output of this past May – I’ve been reminded that Barbershop: The Next Cut currently ranks alongside critical darlings like The Witch, Green Room, and The Lobster. This is despite the fact that those films simply obliterate Barbershop in the IMDb user rankings. I’m certainly no Walt Hickey, but here’s a chart that offers a quick snapshot of the rankings.
To date, Barbershop has grossed northwards of $52 million dollars in 2016, meaning that it has taken in nearly double the combined box office of The Witch ($25m) and Green Room ($3m), both films that also received a wide release. Neither the Rotten Tomatoes score nor the box office numbers are meant to suggest that Barbershop is an objectively better film than any of the others on this list, but it certainly suggests that it belongs in the conversation. And yet, look at that IMDb user score. Just as Hickey suggests, we see a deep divide between the female and male audiences who rated Barbershop. Here the results are more pronounced, though. If we accept the results of a 2009 study of IMDb user ratings and agree that an average score is 6.38, then not only is Barbershop: The Next Cut well behind its contemporaries, it is also mathematically below average.
So let’s be charitable – because we’re generally charitable people, you and I – and grant the premise that IMDb users have certain biases that play out in the scoring of individual films. What’s the big deal? The wisdom of crowds will always be fraught with ignorance and misguided campaigns to lower everything towards the lowest common denominator. Besides, what kind of true cinephile uses crowdsourcing platforms like IMDb, Rotten Tomatoes or Cinema Score to make up their mind about movies? Haven’t we as an audience evolved beyond these types of things?
Yes and no! The problem is, these types of scores do matter. They matter to people trying to decide whether to rent the new release or the old favorite. They matter to writers and analysts like myself who do not have access to proprietary market research and have to draw general – and often misguided – conclusions from faulty IMDb user data. And, perhaps most importantly, they matter to people who love these stories and want to carve out a spot in the cultural consciousness for movies that aren’t about white men with guns and anxiety issues. It’s tempting to shrug off issues with IMDb scores as a non-story in a slow news week, but if we cannot even give movie audiences a fair shake in an anonymous online metric, what hope do we have when the time comes for us to really make a case about the type of movies that audiences want to see?
And maybe that’s the silver lining to this disappointing news item. The critical community has spent a fair amount of time in 2016 clutching our pearls about the future of the industry. If nothing else, the research done by FiveThirtyEight suggests that we need smart and diverse film critics more than ever. A weighted average of 6.1 isn’t going to convince a lot of people not already interested in Barbershop: The Next Cut to go see the film in theaters or rent it on-demand, but an insightful review that sheds light on the culture and community depicted in the film? That’s the sort of thing that can make a difference for movies that dare to cast women or people of color as their leads. As Hickey notes in his wrap-up, there is a need to go deeper than the numbers to offset the “passionate and vociferous dudes on the internet” who have the power to sabotage movies they do not enjoy. Let’s hope we can all rise to the task we’ve been given.
Related Topics: Racism