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New study indicates more women directing top Hollywood films

More women were directing in 2020 than ever before, but still only accounted for a measly 16% of the top 100 highest grossing films. How can the industry change?

Last year was a particularly challenging time for films and theatre.

The pandemic forced nearly everyone indoors and caused worldwide cinema closures. Numerous big budget Hollywood projects were delayed and some wound up releasing straight onto streaming services in the hopes of making some kind of tangible profit.

There is one positive that came out of 2020 for film though, at least as far as gender diversity goes. A new study by San Diego State University has found that 16% of the top grossing movies from last year were directed by women, a boost of 4% compared to 2019.

The disparity has narrowed increasingly two years in a row, suggesting that female directors will continue to permeate this male-centric industry well into the next decade.

We’ve still a lot to do to help improve these numbers, however, with low female statistics remaining prevalent in nearly every other corner of the movie making business.

What did this survey tell us about female opportunities?

The study found that only 28% of producers for the top 100 films were women, as well as 18% of editors, 12% of writers, and a paltry 3% of cinematographers. Both the number of writers and editors fell compared to last year. In addition, 67% of films hired four or less women in substantial behind-the-scenes roles, whereas 70% hired at least ten men for the same positions.

While an increase in female directors is definitely good news, it’s still painfully clear that cinema is poorly balanced and inaccessible for most women. Looking at the stats, it goes without saying that more needs to change and the culture surrounding film construction needs to be less male-focused in general.

It probably doesn’t help that some of the big, female-lead blockbusters of 2020 were pushed back to accommodate the pandemic. Chloe Zhao’s ‘The Eternals’ and Cate Shortland’s ‘Black Widow’ are now rescheduled to release this year, though Cathy Yan’s ‘Birds of Prey’ and Patty Jenkins ‘Wonder Woman 1984’ both managed to drop last summer.

What needs to change in Hollywood and the industry?

The first call-to-action is raising awareness.

The only time mainstream news properly latches onto diversity and gender equality in film is during awards season – the Oscars routinely face criticism for white-washing and excluding women from the nominee line ups. More conversation needs to be had all year round. Consumers should always be wary of who’s making the films they love, and how the industry operates.

Initiatives have sprung up to combat this problem too. In February of last year, TIME’S UP launched a campaign to offer resources and opportunities to women interested in video production, releasing a video in cinemas around the world explaining how you could get involved. Check out the full clip here.

The good news is that things are changing in some areas, just perhaps not as quickly as we’d like. The study’s director, Dr. Martha Lauzen, commented that the continued upward trend of female directors ‘breaks a recent historical pattern in which the numbers trend up one year and down the next’.

She did note that the imbalance of men and women remains ‘stunning,’ and she without doubt has a point. We’ve a lot more to do before we begin celebrating progression in the industry but this is a start, for directors at the very least.

With more initiatives like TIME’S UP we could make a more balanced film industry a reality – we just need to take the steps to actually get there.