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For Female Directors, 2019 Marked a Major Change in Hollywood Representation

For the first time in a decade, two long-running reports note a rise in women directing the top films, though dismal numbers still emerge elsewhere.

BTS:  Jo March (Saoirse Ronan)  Director/Writer Greta Gerwig on the set of Greta Gerwig's LITTLE WOMEN.

Saoirse Ronan and Greta Gerwig on the set of “Little Women”

Wilson Webb

UPDATED BELOW to include results of both the Inclusion in the Director’s Chair report and the Celluloid Ceiling study, both released today.

For the first time in over a decade, both the number and percentage of women working as directors on some of Hollywood’s biggest feature films have increased. In the latest edition of its long-running Inclusion in the Director’s Chair report, the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, headed up by Dr. Stacy L. Smith, reports a number of new statistics worth getting excited about when it comes to inclusion and diversity behind the camera. There are still many strides to be made, but the newest edition of the report includes plenty to celebrate.

The study examines the prevalence of female directors working across 1,300 top-grossing films from 2007 to 2019. The report also provides insight into the percentage of directors from underrepresented racial/ethnic groups and looks specifically at women of color working as directors. This year’s edition finds that of a total of 113 directors who were attached to the 100 top movies of 2019, a full 89.4 percent were male and 10.6 percent were female. 2019 saw a “significantly higher percentage” of female directors making those top films versus the 2018 study (4.5 percent) and 2007 (2.7 percent).

Of the major studios, Universal Pictures had the most female directors attached to the films they distributed, followed by Warner Bros. and Sony Pictures Entertainment. The company with the worst track record for distributing films helmed by female directors was Paramount Pictures. As IndieWire reported earlier this week, that trend seems likely to continue into the next two years, as Universal already has the most robust schedule of female-directed films in the works for 2020 and 2021.

The study also focuses on women of color working as directors and found that those numbers still remain dismal and out of step with population representation. Women of color held less than 1 percent of all directing jobs across 1,300 top films, though this group of women represents 20 percent of the U.S. population.

"When They See Us"

Ava DuVernay and Jharrel Jerome shooting “When They See Us”

Atsushi Nishijima/Netflix

This year’s study also went beyond the top 100 to look at film slates distributed by major companies over the last 5 years, with results revealing the overall percentage of female directors was 9.8 percent, with 2019 the year in which the highest percentage of female directors worked (15 percent). Still, of the 40 slates studied, 26 of them did not feature a single woman of color as a director.

The report also dove deeper into another source of consistent disappointment when it comes to representation behind the camera: awards shows, assessing the gender of director nominations across 13 years and 4 awards shows: Golden Globe Awards, Directors Guild of America (DGA) Awards, Academy Awards/Oscars, and Critics’ Choice Awards. Unsurprisingly, the study found that of a total of 273 directing nominations given out across the 4 top award shows, 94.9 percent were allocated to male directors and 5.1 percent allocated to female directors.

The next two years should not only see a bigger uptick in women directing the top films, but also a much wider range of faces appearing behind the camera. In 2020 and 2021, female filmmakers will make their most marked foray into popular franchise features ever, especially at Disney and Warner Bros., which have female-directed efforts in both the Marvel Cinematic Universe (Cate Shortland’s “Black Widow,” Chloe Zhao’s “The Eternals,”) and the DC Extended Universe (Patty Jenkins’ return to “Wonder Woman,” Cathy Yan’s “Birds of Prey”), along with Disney Princess tales like the upcoming live-action “Mulan” and the return of “The Matrix” franchise with original director Lana Wachowski back behind the camera.

You can read the full Inclusion in the Director’s Chair report right here.

UPDATE: Just hours after the release of the Inclusion in the Director’s Chair study, The Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University has released the results of its own long-running study, which tracks women’s employment as directors, writers, producers, executive producers, editors, and cinematographers working on the top 100, 250, and 500 films every year. This year’s “Celluloid Ceiling” study found many of the results as the Inclusion in the Director’s Chair report, including a marked uptick in women directing the top films, with still many more strides to be made.

According to the Celluloid Ceiling study, “while the percentages of women working in key behind-the-scenes roles on the top 100 and 250 grossing films increased in 2019, reaching recent historic highs, the percentage working on the top 500 films remained stable. Women comprised 20 percent of all directors, writers, producers, executive producers, editors, and cinematographers working on the top 100 (domestic) grossing films of 2019, up from 16 percent in 2018. Women made up 12 percent of directors working on the top 100 grossing films in 2019, up from 4 percent in 2018 (and 8 percent in 2017), and 13 percent on the top 250 films, up from 8 percent in 2018 (and 11 percent in 2017).

By role, women accounted for 19 percent of writers, 21 percent of executive producers, 27 percent of producers, 23 percent of editors, and 5 percent of cinematographers working on the top 250 films. This year’s study also tracked a number of additional roles in the industry. On the top 250 grossing films of 2019, women comprised 40 percent of music supervisors, 23 percent of production designers, 31 percent of art directors, 4 percent of special effects supervisors, and 6 percent of visual effects supervisors.

You can read the full Celluloid Ceiling study right here.

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