Female US Film Director Numbers Reach New Highs, But Behind The Scenes Flat – Report

The Celluloid Ceiling, a report that has tracked women’s employment in film for the last 23 years, says female directors reached an all-time high in 2020.

The report claims to be the longest-running and most comprehensive study of women’s behind-the-scenes employment on US films. Since 1998, the study has tracked a total of approximately 73,000 credits.

The 23rd annual Celluloid Ceiling report was released Dr. Martha Lauzen, executive director of the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University.

For the second consecutive year, the percentages of women directing top grossing films increased, reaching historic highs, the latest report claims, while the overall percentages of women working in key behind-the-scenes roles remained relatively stable in 2020.

Women comprised 16% of directors working on the top 100 grossing films in 2020, up from 12% in 2019 and 4% in 2018. Women accounted for 18% of directors on the top 250 films, up from 13% in 2019 and 8% in 2018.

“Even without the release of some of this year’s most anticipated big-budget films by women – including Chloe Zhao’s Eternals and Cate Shortland’s Black Widow – the percentage of women working as directors inched upward in 2020,” Lauzen said. “The good news is that we’ve now seen two consecutive years of growth for women who direct. This breaks a recent historical pattern in which the numbers trend up one year and down the next. The bad news is that fully 80% of top films still do not have a woman at the helm.”

Overall, women accounted for 23% of those working in key behind-the-scenes roles (directors, writers, executive producers, producers, editors, cinematographers) on the top 250 grossing films in 2020, up from 21% in 2019. Taking the longer view, women comprised 17% of individuals in these roles in 1998.  This represents an increase of just 6 percentage points over more than 2 decades.

By role, women accounted for 17% of writers (down from 19% in 2019), 21% of executive producers (even with 2019), 30% of producers (up from 27% in 2019), 22% of editors (down from 23% in 2019), and 6% of cinematographers (up from 5% in 2019). All of these figures are for the top 250 domestic grossing films.

In 2020, the majority of films (67%) employed 0 to 4 women in the roles considered. 24% of films employed 5 to 9 women, and 9% employed 10 or more women.  In contrast, 5% of films employed 0 to 4 men in the roles considered, 24% employed 5 to 9 men, and the remaining majority (71%) employed 10 or more men.

“This imbalance is stunning.  The majority of films employ fewer than 5 women and 10 or more men,” Lauzen said.

Because of the interruption caused by COVID-19 in theatrical box office grosses, this year’s study also tracked women’s employment on films included on the Digital Entertainment Group’s “Watched at Home Top 20 Chart” from March through December 2020.

The list includes U.S. digital sales, digital rentals (VOD), DVD and Blu-ray.  Every recently released (2019, 2020) U.S. film that appeared on the weekly list at least once was included.   The percentages of women working on films on the most watched list largely mirror those on the box office grosses list.

Lauzen has conducted research on the representation and employment of women on screen and behind the scenes in film and television. Her studies, including the annual It’s a Man’s (Celluloid) World and Thumbs Down: Gender and Film Critics, and Why It Matters, have provided the foundation for the growing dialogue and activism on this issue. She is the founder and executive director of the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University.

The report can be found here.

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