Study: Women Film Directors Saw Their Numbers Shrink in 2018

Female Directors - Ava DuVernay - on set of A Wrinkle in Time-EMBED 2017
Courtesy of LTLA Communications

On the set of A Wrinkle in Time on Feb. 6.

A new 'Celluloid Ceiling' report from San Diego State University finds that while women made incremental gains in other behind-the-scenes roles in 2018, the percentage of directors who were women was down 3 percent from 2017.

The year 2018 appeared to mark the beginning of dramatic changes for women working behind the camera on Hollywood movies: With Disney's A Wrinkle in Time, Ava DuVernay became the first black woman to direct a $100 million movie. And following Patty Jenkins' success with 2017's Wonder Woman, Anna Boden, along with Ryan Fleck, has directed Marvel's upcoming Captain Marvel, and Cathy Yan is helming Birds of Prey for DC and Warners.

Despite such high-profile breakthroughs, the statistics tell a different story. A survey of the top 250 films of 2018 at the domestic box office found that women made up just 8 percent of the directors involved, a number that was down 3 percentage points from the 11 percent in 2017. It's also 1 percent below the 9 percent recorded 10 years ago, in 1998. The percentages of women directing films in the top 100 and top 500 films declined as well.

That sobering assessment comes from the 21st annual The Celluloid Ceiling study, released today by Dr. Martha Lauzen, executive director of the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University.

The report, which looks at how many women served as directors, writers, producers, editors and cinematographers on the top 250 domestic grossing films (foreign films and reissues weren't included), found that, overall, women occupied 20 percent of those roles, up 2 percentage points from 18 percent in 2017.

Still, Lauzen observed, "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. 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 percent to some semblance of parity is simply too vast. 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 goals."

The study further found that only 1 percent of films employed 10 or more women in the key behind-the-scenes roles it surveyed. In addition to the 8 percent of women who served as directors, women account for 26 percent of producers, 21 percent of executive producers, 21 percent of editors, 16 percent of writers and 4 percent of cinematographers. Compared with a decade ago, the percentages of women writers, producers, executive producers and editors increased, and the percentage of cinematographers remained the same. But the percentage of directors declined.

Compared with 2017, the percentage of women writers in the top 250 films jumped from 11 percent to 16 percent; executive producers increased from 19 percent to 21 percent; producers went from 25 percent to 26 percent; editors rose from 16 percent to 21 percent and cinematographers remained steady at 4 percent.

Looking at other roles, the study found that women were 6 percent of composers, up from 3 percent in 2017; 10 percent of supervising sound editors, up from 8 percent in 2017; 6 percent of sound designers, up from 5 percent in 2017.

Limiting the analysis to the top 100 domestic grossing films, the study calculated that women accounted for 16 percent of the six key behind-the-scene roles, which represented no change from 2017. Women fared best as producers and exec producers (both 18 percent), followed by writers (15 percent), editors (14 percent), directors (4 percent, down from 8 percent in 2017) and cinematographers (3 percent).

Widening the analysis to consider the top 500 domestic grossing films, women accounted for 23 percent of such roles, an increase of 2 percentage points from 2017. Women fared best as producers (29 percent), followed by editors (23 percent), exec producers (22 percent), writers (19 percent), directors (15 percent, down 3 percentage points from 2017) and cinematographers (6 percent).

In terms of genres and formats, the largest percentage of women, relative to men, worked on documentaries (33 percent), followed by action films (27 percent), dramas (26 percent), comedies and sci-fi features (20 percent), animated features (18 percent) and horror pictures (11 percent).

One key to boosting the number of women on a production was having a female director. Among the top 500 films, those with at least one female director, women made up 71 percent of writers, 47 percent of editors, 19 percent of cinematographers and 24 percent of composers.