While 2018 saw the demand for gender equality in movies reach an all-time high in Hollywood, Cannes and beyond, two new studies this week have served as a sobering reminder that the push for better representation is a marathon, not a sprint.
USC Annenberg’s Inclusion Initiative study, conducted by Dr. Stacy L. Smith, found that just four female directors worked on the 100 top-grossing movies in 2018 — the lowest number in at least four years. Over the 12-year span of the study, only 4.3 percent of all 1,335 directors surveyed were women. That’s a ratio of 22 men to every woman.
Meanwhile, a new study by San Diego State University, “Celluloid Ceiling,” found that the percentage of women who directed the top-grossing 250 films dropped from 11 percent in 2017 to just 8 percent in 2018. When the list expands to 500 films, the year-to-year percentage still drops from 18 percent to 15 percent.
“This radical underrepresentation is unlikely to be remedied by the voluntary efforts of a few individuals or a single studio. Without a large-scale effort mounted by the major players — the studios, talent agencies, guilds, and associations — we are unlikely to see meaningful change,” said Dr. Martha M. Lauzen, SDSU’s executive director of the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film.
“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 concrete goals. Will, ownership, transparency, and goals are the keys to moving forward.”
And according to USC’s data, the picture does not look much brighter. The organization found that on the top 100 films last year, 97 percent of cinematographers and composers, 84 percent of editors, 91 percent of production designers and 82 percent of producers were men. The role with the closest male-to-female ratio was second assistant director, where 33 percent were women.
And when race and gender are combined, the numbers get even worse.
“Women of color are nearly invisible in film production — whether as directors, producers, or in below-the-line crew positions,” Dr. Smith said. “A mere 1.4 percent of editors, 1.5 percent of production designers, and 1.6% percent of producers were women of color. Only one woman of color worked as a composer across the 300 films we examined and there were no underrepresented female directors of photography.”
But Smith sees signs that a concerted effort by the entire film industry to push diversity can yield results. USC’s study also found that a record 14 percent of the top 100 films in 2018 were made by Black directors, with Ryan Coogler’s mega-blockbuster “Black Panther” leading the domestic box office.
“While we do not see this finding mirrored among female or Asian directors, this offers proof that Hollywood can change when it wants to,” Smith said.
Meanwhile, beyond the studies and the headlines, organizations like Women in Film say that their advocacy is seeing results with studios and agencies.
Kirsten Schaffer, executive director of WiF, said she wasn’t surprised by USC and SDSU’s findings, but remains optimistic that the work women in Hollywood are putting in will soon ensure that success stories like Greta Gerwig’s Best Director Oscar nomination last year aren’t exceptions to the rule for much longer.
“We always need to remember how long the development process for these movies are,” Schaffer told TheWrap. “We’re hearing on the ground that more women are getting on call lists sent out from the agencies, that women are getting more interviews with the studios and the networks.”
“We’re going to have to keep up the work to make sure that the process happens with every company and organization in the industry, but if we do, I think we’ll see the results of that process in the next three to five years.”