Percentage of female film directors declines in 2018 into the single digits

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Director Ava DuVernay, left, guides actor Storm Reid through a scene for the 2018 film “A Wrinkle in Time.”

Despite some high-profile breakthroughs, the number of women directors failed to rise in 2018.

In fact, quite the opposite, the number of female helmers actually declined in the year just past.

A survey of the top 250 films of 2018 at the domestic box office found that women made up only 8 percent of directors, 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, according to The Hollywood Reporter, citing the 21st annual The Celluloid Ceiling study by Dr. Martha Lauzen, executive director of the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University.

The percentages of women directing films in the top 100 and top 500 films declined as well.

The numbers are particularly discouraging considering some of the high-profile milestones of the year just past: As previously reported, Ava DuVernay became the first black woman to direct a $100 million movie with Disney’s “A Wrinkle in Time.” After Patty Jenkins’ success with DC Comics/Warner Bros.’ 2017 smash “Wonder Woman,” women directors were picked for other big upcoming comic-book movies: Anna Boden, along with Ryan Fleck, helmed Marvel’s hotly anticipated “Captain Marvel,” due in theaters March 8, and Cathy Yan is directing “Birds of Prey” for DC Comics and Warner Bros.

The Celluloid Ceiling report, which looks at how many women worked as directors, writers, producers, editors and cinematographers on the top 250 domestic grossing films (not including foreign films and rereleases), found that, overall, women occupied 20 percent of those roles, up 2 percentage points from 18 percent in 2017.

But that’s not much movement on the needle, especially when the most powerful role on the list – directors – saw such a drop in the number of women in it.

“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,” Lauzen said.

“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 also 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 worked 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, again, the percentage of directors declined.

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

The number of female cinematographers stayed the same, at 4 percent, compared to the previous year. In 2017, 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.

Again, those are gains, but the numbers are so small that parity seems virtually impossible; in fact, as Lauzen concludes, without a major movement toward equality, it’s unlikely that women behind the camera will be getting anything close to fair representation anytime soon.


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