2009 Was No Year of the Woman in Hollywood

by Melissa Silverstein on February 24, 2010

in Statistics

Just forget all the bullshit you and I are constantly fed (and I sometimes write) about how great things are for women in Hollywood.  We did have a better year at the box office with a couple of female led films making it to the top 10, and we did get a woman nominated for best director, BUT and this is a big BUT, when you look even a little bit below the surface you will realize really quickly that things are just terrible for women EVERYWHERE in Hollywood.

Don’t believe me.  The stats speak for themselves.

Dr. Martha Lauzen of San Diego State (the guru of stats about women in Hollywood) has released her annual Celluloid Ceiling survey looking at the women working behind the scenes on the top 250 grossing movies of the year and not surprising, women make up only 16% of directors, executive producers, producers, writers, cinematographers, and editors.  That number is down 3 points from 2001 and is the same as 2008.

Women directors are now at 7% down from 9% in 2008 and is the same percentage as it was in 1987 (the year that Dirty Dancing and Baby Boom were released and Cher won her Oscar for Moonstruck.) So while we’ve all been talking about the prominent women who were recognized this past year, the opportunities for women to direct declined.

Women writers make up only 8%.  That means that 92% of the films are written from a male perspective.

More stats:

Women make up:

17% of all executive producers

23% of all producers

18% of all editors

2% of all cinematographers

People, this is a crisis of epic proportions.  Things are clearly not improving, they are declining and we are in another severe backlash against women.  This is frightening.


{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Deaf Indian Muslim Anarchist February 24, 2010 at 10:32 AM

I feel so angry and helpless.

Katie February 24, 2010 at 12:24 PM

Not a shock as this is happening in other industries also.

Anemone February 24, 2010 at 1:08 PM

I really don’t think it’s going to change without a lawsuit. There are too many structural problems. It’s definitely not about us trying harder and networking more.

Thomai in L.A. (it rhymes) February 24, 2010 at 2:18 PM


Very few of us get to start with “above the line” jobs, such as Director, Producer, Writer, Actor. Very few begin “just below the line” as Cinematographer/ DP. Most of us start closer to the bottom of the totem pole in definite “Below the Line” jobs and work our way up (if we don’t get discouraged or fed up with systemic sexism). Perhaps it would be helpful to write about the stats on women who work as Set PA, 1st AD, 1st AC, Gaffer, Grip, Set Dresser, Art Lead, etc., etc. A look at the union stats on women could be enlightening as well. How many women are in the DGA? Of those, how many are 2nd ADs? How many are in the DPs union? etc.
I know you are aware that most women get pushed into positions that became the traditional female roles in crew: Hair, Make-Up, Wardrobe, Coordinator, Script Supervisor, 2nd and 2nd 2nd AD.
These are paperwork / office jobs or the “vanities”. I was offered those positions while interviewing for positions I have experience in that are not traditionally held by women, more than once, even though I am not qualified to work in those depts. simply because of my gender.
Also of note is the fact that employers who look at IMDB as more important than a resume’ are not getting the full picture on women who took time to work in the more flexible schedule, higher paying short formats that allow one to parent and work at the same time. Most of my experience is in Commercials, NBC and ABC promo’s (commercials for shows) & Industrials. As a single mom & someone who had health issues, the short format schedule and higher pay rates worked for me. Now that my son is an adult, I am able to take feature work on and not worry so much about the rates. I am pretty sure I’m not alone as I look around and find others like me on set.

Things are changing as more men in the industry make the conscious choice to battle the inequality that exists.
I just wrapped a feature with a male Director who gave women the opportunity to Production Design, Boom operate, 2nd AC and 1st AD- all positions not traditionally held by women. Things are changing slowly, but, they are changing.

I thank you for continuing to ask the questions that need to be asked and pointing out the truth of the matter in the Film/TV industry.

Director/ Writer/ Producer/ PM/ 1st AD

sally February 24, 2010 at 3:12 PM

No, it’s not bullshit. The truth is, the lists you have down the side of the page are inspiring. But – the truth also is that the media and the force of women lets down their guard when we see the one Oprah or the one lawyer show with a woman. The truth is that progress is not assured, and I think, particularly, younger women and men don’t get that. Women get the vote, go to school, get promoted, things get better through the generations. There are women in the pipeline. Except, not so much.

As the recent Catalyst study showed, the pipeline has failed. We are still going off old scripts. And it is comforting to us. That way…we don’t have to get all demandy and activist. And like awkwardly protest that the cool looking people who photograph so well are ugly bigots. It’s just not attractive to say and how do you pass as “one of the guys” saying it? How can the iPod generation be bigots? Let me tell you, when it comes time for you to compete for that leadership role or for funding, you’ll find that you are not one of the guys and they expected you to remain, if at all, in a supportive role to their projects. You were allowed to stay as “cool chick mascot” never expected to rise to broader leadership.

If you are in a male dominated profession like finance (Fortune, Catalyst reported on this), technology (recent labor stats – of the companies that still report gender stats), any leadership, this recession has made things worse for you as a woman and few have reported that. Instead, reporting that this is a Mancession and women are more employed – in female dominated professions of course. Women are laid off from leadership positions at a higher percentage than men, knocking out decades of work. The pipeline of the future is getting emptied. Women don’t get funded and groomed like men do and in a recession, the crony system is worse.

Yes, reporting the stats is SO important because perception can get distorted and spun. It is important to set goals as activists. It is also important to push for legal remedies at this point and any funding through foundations or the govt must be pushed to be gender balanced.

That’s why I was so outraged that the Silicon Valley companies can keep their stats secret on the excuse that the number of women that they hire is a “trade secret.” Never before in history has corporations been able to refuse to report it.

Debbie Zipp February 25, 2010 at 1:39 AM

Someone just sent me a study that someone sent me that the Annenberg School did in 2007. Same types of statistics. I’ll be post that study on my blog and Martha Lauzens study in another blog. Shocking. There are some great inspirational examples of women making headway but…. we cannot become complacent when it comes to gender equality in the media just because we see a few good things happening. It is still hell out there for women. Even if Kathryn Bigelow wins which will be huge. I don’t know if it will create the kind of change needed. I wish I knew what it is going to take to turn this around.

AntiMyth February 25, 2010 at 9:05 AM

I’m about as far from Hollywood as you can get so I really don’t have any first hand experience with this topic. While it’s very easy for me to be convinced that there is discrimination against women in the media industries, I would have guessed that studio greed would trump any prejudices. So my question is this, instead of looking at how many % of women hold this or that job, does anyone know the stats of how the movies performed against men at the box office where women did hold a top position like director? As greedy as Hollywood(studios) is portrayed to be I wouldn’t think they would leave money on the table. I’m not trying to start anything. I’m just asking.

Ann February 25, 2010 at 11:50 AM

I believe the study that was done on female playwrights showed that the audience doesn’t have a bias, but the people with the power to greenlight a project believe a female driven material will be less commercially successful.

As far as I can tell, people just want to see a good movie and they really don’t care if a blue Navi directed the film. Tell that to the studios. They’re convinced that women aren’t an audience. How do you argue with irrational beliefs?

Anemone February 25, 2010 at 12:06 PM

@AntiMyth: I found a small negative correlation between female directors and box office in films that went to wide release, but there are so few female directors that I don’t think the percentage is high enough to get good stats. I found no correlation between female producers or writers and box office, and a small negative correlation between the percentage of women in front of the camera and box office, which disappeared when I controlled for content. You can find my database/paper by following my website link.

And as long as they are making enough money and not in danger of losing their jobs, they will leave money on the table. If they don’t have to care, why should they?

M February 25, 2010 at 3:21 PM

I think we need to wait a year before making judgments on 2009. Why? Because right now, there are a lot of women in the press. Women directors are down 2%, but have never had so much buzz, so many films all at once, and the best Oscar possibility ever. With Bigelow, Arnold, Campion, Scherfig all offering powerful films around the same time, there’s a lot of focus on female directors, which is the best time for new projects. So, will the new year continue as status quo, or will this excitement and notoriety breed additional features?

If this is a fluke, 2009 is a bad year. But I’m hoping that this is just the quiet before the storm when more female-centric filmmaking gets greenlit, and all of these women become regular contributors to the business rather than occasional directors who just happened to make their films in the same year.

AntiMyth February 26, 2010 at 9:10 AM

@Anemone: Thank you so much for those facts. That’s precisely what I was hoping to get but rarely see in discussions on the internet. I’m on board!

Timothy Swallow March 4, 2010 at 5:15 AM

A view from the perspective of content…

Roughly 25% of the films we show at Cincinnati World Cinema come from women filmmakers. This is NOT because we extend special treatment to women. Rather, it is because we do not discriminate based on the gender of the filmmaker or the gender of pivot characters when considering the merits of a given film.

Thoughts from other comments in this thread underscore the fact that the film industry is male dominated, with product directed to “16-year-old boys of all ages.” I’ve always found this amazing, when considering that women are generally the decision makers when choosing films for two-gender couples.

There are alternatives to the big-budget studio system. Films with women writers, directors and principal characters can be found, but it requires some detective work. Art houses, film societies, presentation groups, independent film websites, etc., are likely sources.

Accomplished filmmakers such as Linda Hattendorf, Heddy Honigmann, Andrea Arnold, Deborah Scranton, Katy Chevigny, Jessica Sanders, Melissa Godoy, Pamela Tanner Boll, Andrea Torrice, Jessica Yu, Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi, et. al., have made some terrific feature films and documentaries — and their work is accessible.

And, don’t forget short films, such as the compilations offered by Lunafest and others that focus on women filmmakers.

True, seeking out films by women will not immediately address the disparity in crew composition throughout the industry.

But, voting with your feet can have a genuine cumulative impact: Don’t give your movie ticket money to those who would feed you mindless, puerile crap. Invest your entertainment dollars – be it a film society, art house cinema or NetFlix – in films and filmmakers who personify your positions on equality.

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