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Study Finds Films Directed By Women Suffer From Distribution ‘Trust Gap’

A new study reveals women-directed films receive 63% less distribution than male-helmed movies.

Ava DuVernay

“In my mind, it’s all about audiences. For independent film to ensure that it is here in 20 years, it needs to recognize, acknowledge and adapt to audiences that it has long ignored, refused and dismissed. Yes, I’m talking about audiences of color. Most established indie companies have a few films over the years to point to and say: “look, what we distributed!” But respectfully, it’s not enough to pick-up the film when you don’t know how to, or really even care to, cultivate to its unique audience. It’s not your audience that goes to all your other stuff without people of color. It’s an audience where people from other communities are catered to and invited into spaces where indie films play. Or better yet, by taking the films regularly and consistently to where those audiences are.

Because the bottom line is, picking up that beautiful Sundance or SXSW gem with the brown people in it, but not making sure that brown people see it, isn’t enough. Isn’t this a no brainer? Strong, authentic stories by and about Native American, Asian-American, Pacific Island, Middle Eastern, Latino, African-American and biracial people will be embraced by audiences that understand and celebrate those experiences. New audiences are the key. If they are nurtured, they will come.”

The fact that female filmmakers have limited opportunities when compared to their male contemporaries is unfortunately nothing new, though a new study conducted by online film-financing hub Slated and published on The Hollywood Reporter this morning is putting some frustrating facts and statistics into perspective.

First the the good news: The company spent six months analyzing 1,591 feature films released theatrically in the U.S. between 2010 and 2015 and found that movies produced by, written by and/or starring women had a greater average return on investment than those made by men. For female-directed films with budgets exceeding $25 million (like Sam Taylor-Johnson’s “Fifty Shades of Grey” or Ava DuVernay’s “Selma”), the movies nearly quadrupled their investment.

READ MORE: The Case for Female Filmmakers in 2015: Breaking Down the Stats

However, the same success could not be found in low-budget films directed by women. “Why are woman directors performing so low in low-budget films compared to everybody else?” asked Slated CEO Stephen Paternot, and it’s the question that sent his team to find a truly damaging statistic: low-budget, female-directed movies are released on only a third as many screens that male-directed movies are released on. For every 242 screens a female-led movie gets, for example, the male-directed one gets 646 screens.

What’s especially damaging about this distribution gap is how it only further stacks the odds of success against female directors. Not only is it a struggle for women just to secure financing and complete production (women are given 25 percent smaller production budgets than men on average), but those who successfully do so must face another roadblock with the distribution gap.

“This is the institutional bias, that you’ve somehow been taught as you’ve risen the ranks in the studio, that it’s a safer bet to go with a man,” Paternot adds. “That’s the trust gap. The women have given you better financial results, yet your gut’s still telling you to give them less money to work with. And the indie distributors are choosing not to take a risk on women’s movies.”

Given that female-directed films have a higher return on investment on larger-budget movies only makes these numbers more frustrating. Concludes Paternot, “Everybody thinks if you bet on women, you lose. But the data is saying, if you’re really in this just to make a return on your capital, you should be betting on women.”

For more stats and detailed graphs, head over to The Hollywood Reporter.

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