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Number of Female Directors on Top-Grossing Films Dropped Last Year, Study Finds

Only 12 of 2021’s top 100 films had a female director, down from 16 in 2020

The number of top-grossing films with a female director dropped last year, according to the annual “Celluloid Ceiling” report from Martha Lauzen’s Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University.

Just 12 of the top 100 domestic box office performers had a female director last year, down from 16 in 2020. There was also slippage in the top 250 films, from 18% in 2020 to 17% last year.

That setback came during a year when studio release slates were broadly impacted by the ongoing COVID pandemic though two films with female directors — Cate Shortland’s “Black Widow” and Chloé Zhao’s “Eternals” — both cracked the top 10. “Black Widow” ranked No. 4 in domestic box office, with $183.7 million and “Eternals” finished at No. 6 with $164.6 million.

In addition, female filmmakers like Jane Campion (“The Power of the Dog”) and Maggie Gyllenhaal (“The Lost Daughter”) have garnered critical acclaim for their projects and are in the thick of the Oscar awards season.

According to the study, women comprised 25% of directors, writers, producers, executive producers, editors and cinematographers working on the top 250 grossing films in 2021. That’s up slightly from 23% in 2020. The percentage of women working on the top 100 films remained stable at 21%.

The study found that women continue to be underrepresented across key jobs in the film industry. In 2021, 94% of the top 250 films had no women cinematographers, 92% had no women composers, 82% had no women directors, 73% had no women editors, and 72% had no women writers.

“Taking the long view,” the study found, “the overall percentage of women in the behind-the-scenes roles considered has increased only 8 percentage points, from 17% in 1998 to 25% in 2021 (top 250 films).”

Lauzen’s team also attempted to account for the rise of nontheatrical film releases with an analysis of the 94 films included on the Digital Entertainment Group’s Watched at Home list between January and December. (That list includes digital sales, rentals, DVD and Blu-ray — but not premium VOD or most-streamed films on top services like Netflix and Amazon Prime.) Still, the study found that women comprised 10% of directors, 13% of writers, 21% of executive producers, and 19% of editors on these films — slightly below the percentages for top-grossing films.

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