The great Carrie Rickey published a piece in the New York Times this past weekend with the depressing headline ‘Female Directors Gain Ground, Slowly’. The piece reported that in 2012, by their count, women directors hit a recent high of 9% of the 250 top grossing films. That number is up from the 2011 number of 5% reported by Martha Lauzen from the Center for Study of Women in Television at Film at San Diego State. The number is the highest since 2000 when 11% of the top grossing films were directed by women.
If you look at the list of the films you will easily see — as the article shows — that women are still mostly making small independent films. The big Hollywood films make the serious money and women still don't have access to those films. Digging in a bit deeper there is only one female directed film in the top 10 — Brave directed by Brenda Chapman at number 8. The next female directed film is all the way down at 92 — The Guilt Trip — directed by Anne Fletcher which came out over the holidays. Rounding out the top 100 is Kathryn Bigelow at 94 with Zero Dark Thirty (which will make most all of its money in 2013.)
And looking back at 2011, the top grossing female director was Jennifer Yuh Nelson with Kung Fu Panda which came in at number 15. The next woman after her is Catherine Hardwicke at number 80 for Red Riding Hood.
What the piece does show is what every female director knows all too well is that progress is slow going. Women are making inroads in a variety of areas in the business and in our world, but directing is still a man's world as evidenced by the Oscar nominations for best director. It's still going to take some serious time before we can look at box office stats and not count on one hand the number of women who make top grossing Hollywood films. I love indie films, I especially love the ones that come in under the radar and surprise people. Women have been making these types of movies for years. But we still desperately need to make inroads into the multiplexes. Maybe as more women direct commercials, horror films and other genre films they will get bigger films and bigger opportunities to be seen.
As the entertainment business switches its focus from the Oscar nominations of 2013 to the films that could have potential nominations next year (ie Beast of the Southern Wild) at Sundance we will hear much news about women directors since they are equally represented in the US dramatic and documentary competitions. I look forward to seeing Lynn Shelton's new film Touchy Feely. She's been making great movies for several years now and her last film Your Sister's Sister has won awards and made her biggest splash yet. But she wants to operate in her own way. I totally respect that. Why would you want to play in the Hollywood system when you won't get to tell the stories you want in the way you want to tell them. We will be keeping watch about who gets deals and how the reaction to this landmark year for the Sundance competition.
But, even though women made a couple of percentage point gains, I having a hard time shouting with excitement we're almost at 10%. It just seems so pathetically low.
Female Film Directors Gain Ground, Slowly (The New York Times)
The List of Women Directed Films 2012 (The New York Times)