A new study looking at the top 700 domestic films of 2014 concludes that women directed 13% of last year’s theatrical releases and demonstrates that female filmmakers are much more likelier than their male counterparts to hire other women in important behind-the-scenes roles.
The 13% figure for women’s helming contributions, while far from parity, is nearly double the figure for female-directing rates in the top 250 films (7%) and 6.5 times the figure in the top 100 films (only Angelina Jolie Pitt’s "Unbroken" and Ava DuVernay’s "Selma" cracked that rarefied list). The Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film’s research on those 700 films — the first of its kind, according to study leader Dr. Martha Lauzen of San Diego State University, thus suggests that most female filmmakers, shut out of prominent and lucrative opportunities, are still making movies at the truly indie level.
As a reference point, the 600th top-earner among last year’s theatrical releases was "Gladiators of Rome," which tallied just $8201 in box-office receipts. Looking at a sample size this large is helpful in getting an overall picture of the filmmaking world, but in terms of what most moviegoers actually pay to watch and the images that influence our reality, these 700 film are rather unrepresentative of what ends up on screens across America. While it is vital to advocate for women directors as a whole, it is arguably most crucial to focus research and ongoing conversations about gender discrimination in terms of the glass ceiling that shuts out women from studio filmmaking, whose products dominate cultural discussions and are disseminated globally. It must also be noted that the time is nigh for gender analyses in film to be more intersectionally comprehensive to include race, as white women face less discrimination overall than women of color, particularly in the film and media industries.
As for the data on last year’s top 700 films, here’s the breakdown: Women made up 20% of those working in the key roles of director, writer, producer, executive producer, editor and cinematographer. By role, they accounted for 27% of producers, 21% of executive producers, 18% of editors, 13% of directors, 13% of writers and 9% of cinematographers.
Films with women directors also boasted more women in other key positions. For example, 52% of female-helmed movies were also written by women, compared to the 8% of exclusively-male-helmed movies with female-penned scripts. Women-directed movies also employed female editors 35% of the time and female cinematographers 26% of the time, compared to the significantly lower rates of 15% for female editors and 5% of cinematographers on projects with only male helmers.
Such patterns were also discernible when looking at the effects female producers and EPs had on their projects. Movies with a producing/executive producing team that was more than one-third women had 20% female helmers, compared to the 7% figure for movies with a producing/executive producing team that was less than one-third female.
That women hire women can also be seen in other positions. Projects with at least a third of female producers/EPs are written by women 21% of the time, edited by women 23% of the time and DP’d 13% of the time. The respective numbers for projects with less than a third of women producers/EPs are, respectively, 8% of writers, 13% of editors and 5% of cinematographers.
“The findings suggest that women directors, executive producers, and producers may serve an important gateway function in the employment of other women in key behind-the-scenes roles,” commented Lauzen.
Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State
University describes itself as dedicated to producing extensive, original, and forward-thinking
research. Their studies provide the foundation for a realistic and meaningful
discussion of women’s representation and employment.