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    Here’s a Working Female Film Critic!

    Jan Wahl

    By Jan Wahl–

    Recently there was a national study that found male film critics outnumber female film critics by more than 75 per cent. This came as no surprise to me since I have been making a living in this profession for well over 25 years and still feel the loneliness of my gender. I often wonder if it is the “men don’t like smart women” syndrome? “Just be quiet and be pretty.” “You look so much better when you smile.” Back in the seventies, I was among the first women Associate Directors at a TV network, and was told that no women ever got this prestigious job because men did not like to accept orders from a female. Perhaps it is the same with our opinions. 

    It is difficult today for me to find a young woman to mentor in the field of film criticism, though every time I find a woman of any age doing this work, I read or listen with special interest. One of the first books I devoured about movies was written by my favorite film critic Molly Haskell. Her seminal work From Reverence to Rape: The Treatment of Women in the Movies still sits proudly on my bookshelf. Rob Carver’s insightful documentary (2018) What She Said: The Art of Pauline Kael has us celebrate this controversial, but groundbreaking, critic. Of course, there have been many others whose shoulders I stand on, as far back as the 1920s.

    When the dismissive term “chick flick” became a part of our vernacular, I was outraged. Does that mean we can only appreciate romantic comedies, or that war or adventure films are off limits to us? Can men not find their emotional centers with dramas or “weepies”? I could not find anyone to go along with me on this, and to this day will not use this offensive category in my writing or broadcasting.

    The other night I was watching a Bette Davis classic, Now, Voyager. George Cukor directed the story of a woman who transitions from fearful to confident, falling deeply in love along the way. Her change from powerless to powerful is appreciated by both men and women. My husband, a war movie fan, sat down and joined me as the waves of great filmmaking swept over us.  Davis’ character crossed all gender lines, as does Auntie Mame or Norma Desmond. Will young men now only see a certain genre of film because it is a “chick flick” to see anything else? This idea is satirized in Nora Ephron’s Sleepless in Seattle, but the truth is not as funny.

    Good movies are good movies, and gender has nothing to do with it. From Field of Dreams to Saving Private Ryan, from I Remember Mama to Gigi, we all celebrate and appreciate great cinema. All of us who review movies have our special passions. If a film has an LBGTQ theme (Priscilla Queen of the Desert, Pride, The Celluloid Closet) I will do my best to bring it to everyone’s attention. When a movie is made, all too rarely, about an amazing female (Harriet, Frida Kahlo, Self Made: Inspired by the Life of Madam C. J. Walker, Harold and Maude, Madame Curie) I am front and center to critique it. There are powerful women in Hollywood today who have their own production companies. It is rewarding when someone like Reese Witherspoon reminds us that she is doing what she said in her Oscar acceptance, quoting June Carter: “I’m just trying to matter.”

    I would tell my sisters in any field of endeavor:  have opinions. Back up that critical thinking with reasoning and supporting arguments. Find a niche that makes you different and worth listening to; make it fun. I’m not a female film critic, I am a movie critic. A showbiz critic. I hope someday there will be more of us. 

    Emmy Award-winner Jan Wahl is a renowned entertainment reporter, producer, and teacher. A member of the prestigious Directors Guild of America, she is regularly featured on KPIX television (every Monday morning starting at 6:15 am) and on KCBS AM & FM and other media outlets. To read and listen to her reviews for KCBS, go to: For more info about her remarkable life and career: Check out her entertaining and informative videos at

    Spotlight Film for SF Pride 50: Brokeback Mountain (2005)

    By Jan Wahl–

    Brokeback Mountain was a film I championed and continue to watch at least once a year. It is unforgettable and brilliant. The year is 1963. Rodeo cowboy Jack (Jake Gyllenhaal) and ranch hand Ennis (Heath Ledger) are hired as sheepherders in Wyoming. There is an attraction and tenderness between them, forbidden yet powerful as only great love can be. Though both marry women, their longing for each other never ends. 

    They continue a sporadic, yet intense, love affair for many years, with an ending that is unforgettable and worthy of watching over and over. The acting by the two leads and direction by Ang Lee are among the best cinematic achievements. Anguish, sensitivity, desire … it is all there and absolutely breathtaking.   

    Published on September 24, 2020