Oscars Gender Gap: Female Directors in Best Picture Race Still Lag Far Behind Doc, International Categories

Women directed only 23% of the 344 films qualifying for Best Picture in 2019

Women directed 23% of the films eligible for the 2019 Best Picture Oscar, an increase from 18% last year. But the number of women represented in the main categories still lags behind those in the documentary feature and international categories — where female directors are much more highly represented.

Of the 344 films that qualified for the 92nd Academy Awards in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ list released on Tuesday, only 79 had at least one woman credited as a director or co-director. Last year, 61 of the 347 eligible films had a woman credited as a director. (By the way, that was the most films to qualify since 1970.)

In the other categories this year, however, at least one woman was credited as the director on 31% of the films in the Best Documentary Feature category (49 of 159 eligible films) and 30% of the Best International Feature category (27 of 91 films). Way behind the pack is the Best Animated Feature category, where just five of the 32 eligible films, or 16%, had a woman credited as a director or co-director, including Jennifer Lee for “Frozen II.”

While some animated, foreign or non-narrative movies are eligible for both Best Picture and their respective categories, not all the ones eligible for awards contention qualify for the Best Picture race. To be eligible, feature films must open in a commercial movie theater in Los Angeles County by Dec. 31 and begin a minimum run of seven consecutive days. A movie must be longer than 40 minutes and exhibited in 35mm, 70mm or a qualifying digital format.

“We are heartened to see that the number of Oscar eligible films directed by women are on the rise. Now we just need voters to see all of those movies and vote for them,” Women in Film executive director Kirsten Schaffer said in a statement to TheWrap. “WIF in partnership with NYWIFT and Women and Hollywood, made a ballot of all of the female contenders for awards-season–a kind of cheat sheet for voters.”

This year’s documentary category actually took a step back compared to recent years. In 2017, a record 170 movies were submitted in the Best Documentary Feature category, and 60, or 35%, were directed or co-directed by women. Last year, the number submitted scaled back slightly to 166, but 65 films had a female director, or 39%.

The Best International Feature Film category this year saw a record number of women directing films submitted by other countries, 27 in all. And this remained true even after two films both directed by women, Nigeria’s “Lionheart” and Austria’s “Joy,” were disqualified for not predominately being in a language other than English. In 2017, a record 92 films from other countries qualified for the Best International Feature Film category (then titled Best Foreign Feature Film), and 26 of the films, or 28%, had female directors. Last year, only 21%, or 19 films in all, had female directors.

“It is noteworthy that the percentage of films directed by women in the Best International Feature Film category is 7% higher than the percentage of films eligible for Best Picture that are directed by women,” Schaffer added. “Many international film commissions have made it a priority to fund films helmed by women, and this is reflected in the films.”

There’s still work to be done however in the animated category. In the last four years, no more than five films on the eligible lists have featured female directors. In 2016, only two of the 27 eligible movies were directed by women.

Earlier this year, the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative put out a study that showed that of a survey of 120 animated films recently released, only 3% of directors in all were women, just 1% were women of color, and female lead characters were represented in only 17% of the stories. However, women produced significantly more animated films than live-action films, 37% of animated films compared to just 15% of producers for live action feature films, and 5% of those women in animated films were women of color, compared to just 1% in live action.

“This study validates what we have known all along, that women are a hugely untapped creative resource in the animation industry,” Marge Dean, president of Women in Animation, said in a statement at the time. “Now that we have a greater understanding of how the numbers fall into place and what solutions may help rectify this deficiency, we can take bigger strides towards our goal of 50-50 by 2025.”

Brian Welk

Brian Welk

Film Reporter • [email protected] • Twitter: @brianwelk


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