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Women Directors Are Finally Getting Higher-Profile Movies and Storming the Box Office Top 100

Dr. Stacy L. Smith, founder of USC’s Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, has made a major prediction when it comes to this year's box office receipts.




Every year for the past 10 years, Dr. Stacy L. Smith and USC’s Annenberg Inclusion Initiative has tracked representation in front of and behind the camera, resulting in the publication of a number of essential reports about the state of the industry. In recent years — and despite an uptick in discussion regarding the need for more diversity and inclusion in the entertainment industry — Smith’s studies have often found dismal results. Earlier this year, Smith’s signature “Inclusion in the Director’s Chair” report found that of the 112 directors behind the 100 top-grossing movies of 2018, only 3.6 percent were women. Still worse: that percentage was actually down from the year before, when 7.3 percent of the top films were helmed by women.

Now, however, Smith is prepared to offer some good, early news in a new interview with Variety about the changing face of Hollywood’s directing pool. While the year is far from over, Smith said that, based on the current year’s releases and the films still to be released, she’s prepared to offer a much sunnier outlook than years past. “It looks for 2019 like at least 12 movies — which is an all-time high — will be directed by women across the top 100 films,” Smith told Variety. She added that the number could even go as high as 14. It’s a welcome change.

This year, the box office has seen such major successes as Lorene Scafaria’s “Hustlers” (which is poised to break the $100 million mark in the coming days and has already earned Oscar buzz for star Jennifer Lopez) and “Captain Marvel,” co-directed by Anna Boden, which is currently the fourth-highest earner of the year at the domestic box office. Other films currently sitting in the top 100 include Tina Gordon Chism’s “Little,” Olivia Wilde’s “Booksmart,” and Lulu Wang’s “The Farewell.”

A number of other potential heavy-hitters are still to come during the busy fall awards season, including Jennifer Lee’s much-hyped sequel “Frozen 2,” Elizabeth Banks’ “Charlie’s Angels,” Greta Gerwig’s “Little Women,” Marielle Heller’s “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,” Kasi Lemmons’ “Harriet,” Alma Har’el’s “Honey Boy,” Chinonye Chukwu’s Sundance winner “Clemency,” and Melina Matsoukas’ “Queen & Slim.”

The upcoming batch includes not just high-powered sequels and reboots of profitable franchises, but awards contenders from a wide variety of filmmakers. While Gerwig is no stranger to Oscar chatter, thanks to her “Lady Bird,” bonafide legend Lemmons has been overlooked by the Academy during her decades-long career (perhaps her Harriet Tubman biopic will finally change that?). Heller continues to churn out unique spins on true stories, and her Mr. Rogers-focused fact-based drama has already earned big buzz on the festival circuit. And that’s to say nothing of filmmaker-centric offerings from Har’el, Chukwu, and Matsoukas, all of which signal a necessary uptick in female filmmakers in the often male-dominated awards space.

In January, Smith and the Inclusion Initiative’s annual “Inclusion in the Director’s Chair” report found that of the 112 directors behind the 100 top-grossing films of 2018, men accounted for 108 of them, leaving just four directed or co-directed by women filmmakers: Ava DuVernay (“A Wrinkle in Time”), Kay Cannon (“Blockers”), Abby Kohn (“I Feel Pretty”), and Susanna Fogel (“The Spy Who Dumped Me”). Just one year later, that number could be more than tripled.

The report also found that percentage of women directors has not markedly changed over time, despite strong calls for gender parity, and the introduction of various industry initiatives aimed at shifting historical trends. Launched over 10 years ago, the annual study also includes economic analyses on links between diversity and how well films do at the box office, and offers solutions to address ongoing racial and gender industry disparities. The full report can be found online.

“I’m happy to report that a new day has come,” Smith told Variety. “Hiring practices have changed. … 2019 won’t be a one-off. We’re moving — finally — in the right direction, toward more inclusion behind the camera.”

Read the full Variety article right here.

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