Study: Female Filmmakers Lost Ground in 2016

The Hollywood Sign - H 2015
Courtesy of RexUSA

Women made up just 7 percent of all directors on the top 250 films, a 2 percent decline from 2015, according to San Diego State's Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film.

Despite a growing industrywide recognition of the need to provide more opportunities for women in the film business, the actual statistics didn’t improve in 2016. In fact, the statistics got marginally worse, and women filmmakers lost ground.

Women comprised just 7 percent of all directors working on the top 250 domestic grossing films in 2016. That figure represents a decline of two percentage points from 2015’s 9 percent.

In other areas, women comprised a bigger part of the workforce: Women accounted for 13 percent of writers, 17 percent of executive producers, 24 percent of producers, 17 percent of editors and 5 percent of cinematographers. Overall, women comprised 17 percent of the individuals working in the roles studied.

But that 17 percent figure also represented a drop of two percentage points from 2015.

The figures were reported today in the 19th annual Celluloid Ceiling report, released by Dr. Martha Lauzen, executive director of the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University, and they demonstrated that the opportunities for women working in top behind-the-camera roles haven't improved in nearly 20 years. The percentage of women directors in 2016 — 7 percent — was down by two percentage points from 1998, the first year of the study, and the percentage of women who held various behind-the-camera roles on films — 17 percent — was even with the percentage achieved in 1998.

“The findings indicate that women who direct films actually lost ground in 2016. The current small-scale remedies for women’s underemployment, while they may be well-intentioned and benefit a handful of individuals, are ineffective in addressing this issue. The efforts, such as the mentoring and shadowing programs, are simply too meager to create the kind of shift that is needed,” commented Lauzen.

As for the overall state of women working in other roles on films, Lauzen added, “Women working in key behind-the-camera roles have yet to benefit from the current dialogue regarding diversity and inclusion in the film industry.”

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

Its analysis of the top 500 films revealed women directors were often a key to progress because features with at least one woman director employed higher percentages of women writers, editors, cinematographers and composers than did films with exclusively male directors. For example, on films with female directors, women comprised 64 percent of writers. On films with exclusively male directors, women accounted for just 9 percent of writers.

Drilling deeper into the makeup of behind-the-camera talent on the top 250 films, the study found that slightly more than one-third of them, 35 percent, employed either none or just one woman in the jobs surveyed; 52 percent employed two to five women; 11 percent employed six to nine women; and just 2 percent employed 10 women or more.

Comparing 2016 to 1998, the study reported that, while the percentage of women cinematographers increased slightly, the percentages of writers and producers remained the same, and the percentages of women directors, executive producers and editors actually declined.

Narrowing the focus of the study to the top 100 grossing movies, which tend to reflect more of the big-budget studio movies, saw the percentage of female participation decrease from 2015. Overall, women accounted for 14 percent of all directors, writers, exec producers, producers, editors and cinematographers in 2016’s top movies, a decline of two percentage points from 2015.

Expanding the study to the top 500 films, thereby including more indie features, the overall percentage of women in the roles studied was 19 percent.