Percentage of Female Directors Working on Top-Earning Films Declined in 2018

Despite a radical shift in attitudes surrounding gender inequality in Hollywood, the latest Celluloid Ceiling study reveals a disheartening trend.
Female Directors Working on Top-Earning Films Declined in 2018
Patty Jenkins on the set of "Wonder Woman"
Warner Bros.

Although Time’s Up and #MeToo caused a major attitude change regarding gender parity in Hollywood, the latest Celluloid Ceiling report from the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University reveals a disheartening trend: female directors working on top-earning films actually declined in 2018. The new study, released today by executive director Dr. Martha Lauzen, reveals that the percentage of women working as directors on the top 250 grossing films declined from 11% in 2017 to 8% in 2018. 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).

“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,” Lauzen said in an official statement. “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 found that “only 1% of films employed 10 or more women in the key behind-the-scenes roles considered. In contrast, 74% of films employed 10 or more men. By role, women accounted for 16% of writers, 21% of executive producers, 26% of producers, 21% of editors, and 4% of cinematographers working on the top 250 films.” The study also found that “a historical comparison of women’s employment in the top 250 films of 2018 and 1998 reveals that the percentages of writers, producers, executive producers, and editors have increased. The percentage of directors has declined, and the percentage of women cinematographers has remained the same.”

Of note, the analysis of the top 500 films found that “films with at least one woman director employ substantially higher percentages of women writers, editors, cinematographers, and composers than features with exclusively male directors. For example, on films with female directors, women comprised 71% of writers. On films with exclusively male directors, women accounted for 13% of writers.”

“What is needed is a will to change, ownership of the issue – meaning the effort originates with the major players, transparency, and the setting of concrete goals,” Lauzen added. “Will, ownership, transparency, and goals are the keys to moving forward.”

Despite this latest study of 2018 titles, a recent review of upcoming studio films from female directors boasts a strong selection of potential blockbusters, including a major rise in women filmmakers helming popular franchise features. That’s especially true at Disney and Warner Bros., which have female-directed efforts in both the Marvel Cinematic Universe (“Captain Marvel”) and the DC Extended Universe (Patty Jenkins’ return to “Wonder Woman,” Cathy Yan’s “Birds of Prey”), along with Disney Princess tales like a live-action “Mulan” and the much-hyped “Frozen 2.”

Elsewhere, other directors are getting second or third studio gigs, including Catherine Hardwicke, Stella Meghie, and Marielle Heller, while plenty of talented filmmakers are joining the studio world for the first time, like Julia Hart, Ry Russo-Young, Alethea Jones, and Oscar nominee Greta Gerwig.

The Celluloid Ceiling has tracked women’s employment on top-grossing films for the last 21 years and is viewed as the longest-running and most comprehensive study of women’s behind-the-scenes employment in film available. You can read the full study right here.

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