Study: Women Held 18 Percent of Key Behind-the-Camera Roles in 2017's Top Movies

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Of the 250 top-grossing films, 86 percent had no female directors, while 83 percent had no female writers, according to the latest report by San Diego State University's Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film.

Wonder Woman’s Patty Jenkins may have directed the ninth top-grossing film of 2017. Lady Bird’s Greta Gerwig may have just been named the best director of the year by the National Society of Film Critics. And under the new Time’s Up banner, actresses may have taken center stage at the Golden Globe Awards to demand gender equality and an end to sexual harassment. But the number of women working in key behind-the-scenes roles on film sets barely changed in 2017.

Last year, only 1 percent of the top-grossing films employed 10 or more women in key behind-the-scenes roles, while 70 percent of films employed 10 or more men in such positions, according to the annual Celluloid Ceiling study, the 20th such annual report card, issued today by Dr. Martha Lauzen, executive director of the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University.

Surveying the 250 top-grossing films, the study found that overall, women comprised only 18 percent of directors, writers, producers, executive producers, editors and cinematographers. That number was virtually unchanged from the 17 percent who held such roles 20 years ago in 1998.

“The film industry has utterly failed to address the continuing under-employment of women behind the scenes. This negligence has produced a toxic culture that supported the recent sexual harassment scandals and truncates so many women’s careers,” Lauzen said in issuing the report.

In terms of specific roles, women accounted for 11 percent of directors, 11 percent of writers, 19 percent of executive producers, 25 percent of producers, 16 percent of editors and 4 percent of cinematographers.

While the 11 percent of directors who were women was up from 7 percent in 2016, it was even with the level achieved in 2000, so the slight increase in percentage did not represent a significant gain. As Lauzen explained: “2016 was a poor year for women’s employment as directors. Because fewer women directed films in 2016, it would not be surprising to see the percentage rebound in 2017 as a part of the normal fluctuation in these numbers.” 

In 2017, slightly less than one-third of 30 percent of films employed zero or one woman in the roles that were studied. Ten percent of films employed six to nine women, while only 1 percent employed 10 or more women.

A historical comparison of women’s employment in the top 250 films in 2017 and 1998 showed increases in the percentages of directors (from 9 to 11 percent), executive producers (from 18 to 19 percent) and producers (from 24 to 25 percent). But the percentages of writers and editors actually declined — from 13 to 11 percent and from 20 to 16 percent, respectively. And the percentage of women cinematographers remained the same at 4 percent.

Of the top 250 films, 88 percent had no female directors; 83 percent had no female writers; 45 percent had no female executive producers; 28 percent had no female producers; 80 percent had no female editors; and 96 percent had no female cinematographers.

In other areas in 2017, women comprised just 3 percent of composers, 8 percent of supervising sound editors and 5 percent of sound designers.

This year’s study also considers the employment of women on the top 100 and 500 domestic grossing films. 

Focusing on the 100 top-grossing films (excluding foreign films and reissues), which reflect many of the bigger budgeted studio features, the numbers were even less encouraging. Overall, women accounted for 16 percent of all directors, writers, exec producers, editors and cinematographers, an increase of 2 percentage points from 2016’s 14 percent, but even with 2015’s percentage.

Broadening the survey out to the top 500 films, which encompasses more lower-budgeted films, women accounted for 21 percent of the roles studied, an increase of 2 percentage points from 2016 but still even with 2015’s percentage.

By genre, the largest percentage of women, relative to men, worked in documentaries (30 percent), followed by comedies (23 percent), dramas (22 percent), Sci-fi (20 percent), animated features (19 percent), horror films (18 percent) and action features (13 percent).

The analysis of the top 500 films also revealed that features with at least one woman director employed higher percentages of women writers, editors, cinematographers and composers than films with exclusively male directors. For example, in films with female directors, women comprised 68 percent of writers. In films with exclusively male directors, women accounted for just 8 percent of writers.