female directors

In 2017, 11% of the top 250 top-grossing movies were directed by women. In 2018, even in the midst of societal discussions about gender parity, that percentage dropped to 8%.

That’s one of the unfortunate takeaways of a new study from the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University, who have been releasing “Celluloid Ceiling” reports for more than twenty years which track women’s employment in movies. Learn more below.

IndieWire pointed us to the new study, which, in addition to laying out that percentage drop in the top 250 films of 2018, also found that “the percentages of women directing films in the top 100 and 500 films declined as well, with women only directing 4% of the top 100 films (a decline of 4 percentage points) and 15% of the top 500 (a decline of 3 percentage points).”

When the Harvey Weinstein revelations hit Hollywood, it kickstarted a national conversation about sexual assault, harassment, and the biases against women in the workplace. It’s naive to think things would change overnight, but frankly, I expected those percentages to improve after more than a year of conversations. Hollywood seemed to be reckoning with the idea that maybe the entertainment industry hasn’t been treating women as fairly as it should. So why don’t the numbers reflect that?

Well, a cynical answer might be that no change is coming, people just love to talk, and that just some portions of the industry thought the mere appearance of acknowledging these inequities would be enough for them to skate by instead of actually taking action to change things for the better. A slightly less cynical answer could be that many of the movies that came out in 2018 were already in production in 2017, so those hiring decisions had already been made. (Though that’s not a valid excuse, since female directors have been searching for opportunities to play in the big leagues for years.)

“The study provides no evidence that the mainstream film industry has experienced the profound positive shift predicted by so many industry observers over the last year,” said executive director Dr. Martha Lauzen. “This radical underrepresentation is unlikely to be remedied by the voluntary efforts of a few individuals or a single studio. Without a large-scale effort mounted by the major players – the studios, talent agencies, guilds, and associations – we are unlikely to see meaningful change. The distance from 8% to some semblance of parity is simply too vast.”

The study also lays out several other number, including the fact that, of the top 250 movies:

92% had no women directors
73% had no women writers
42% had no women exec. producers
27% had no women producers
74% had no women editors
96% had no women cinematographers

And we’ll finish with one of the most depressing stats of the day: 8% of last year’s top 250 movies were directed by women, but 9% of the top 250 of 1998 were directed by women. (Yikes.)

But there’s potentially some good news on the horizon. Patty Jenkins is directing Wonder Woman 1984 this year, Cathy Yan is taking the reins on Birds of Prey, and Anna Boden is co-directing Captain Marvel – all three of those are high-profile comic book movies that will almost definitely end up in the top 250 grossers of 2019. (Not to mention Jennifer Lee is returning behind the camera for Frozen 2.) Hopefully the practically-guaranteed success of those films will convince Hollywood to open their doors to female directors wider than the tiny crack that’s currently ajar.

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