Top 10 Reasons There Are So Few Female Directors

The casting couch? Teenage boys? Barbra Streisand? Really?

Last Updated: February 17, 2010 @ 12:46 PM

1. It’s the Producers, Stupid
Male producers who run the industry "can’t connect" with female directors because these same powerful men are grappling with deep sexual issues, sexist agendas, identity problems, passive aggressive behaviors and mommy dearest flashbacks. They only got into the business to make money and to get laid by young ingénues. They can’t handle mature, talented women who want to run the show.

I hear this all the time, which is why it’s so effective. It pretty much blows out the tires and offers a legit reason to give up. Time to retire it.

2. Blame It on the Alcoholics
This is the B-side of #1. When you mix the intoxicating power of Hollywood with booze and bars, you get a business where aspiring women have to expect plenty of flirting and/or groping. If they want to get anywhere, they’d better be prepared to give in. And if they can’t hack the good fun, they’re free to pull out the pepper spray and run for the hills (not in Hollywood).

Seeing the entire business through a single toxic lens is draining. Sure, the renegade producers are out there, but every woman who brings her A-game knows how to handle them. 

3. The Casting Couch
Even though the Casting Couch has flattened cushions and busted springs, Hollywood’s ageless mascot reminds aspiring women that they’re more pawn than power, and that they’re better suited standing in front of the camera than behind it. The Casting Couch is a powerful mindset.

Sex, sex, sex. Sure, some producers want to sleep with you. But if it were all about sex, wouldn’t everyone just be in the porn business? It’s time to roll off the couch and leave the brainwashing behind.

4. Teenaged Boys
They rule the marketplace and women have no earthly understanding of how young males think or what they’d like to see at the cineplex. More importantly, this is the only demographic filmmakers should be thinking about. The rest of the moviegoing public — middle-aged folk and seniors — don’t really count.

Tentpole action-adventure mega-hit male-helmers like "Avatar" make this one a sticking point.

5. Barbra Streisand
It’s all her fault. After directing box office hits like "Yentl" (1983) and "The Prince of Tides" (1991), she failed to turn the tide for female directors. 

6. The Budgets
Studio budgets are too big to risk on women who might make flops that don’t recoup their investments, like the hefty percentage of studio duds that are made each year by men.

7. It’s Too Hard
"Women aren’t cut out for the rough moviemaking environment." "Women can’t handle the studio pressure." "Women don’t have the stamina."

Uh huh. If you’re a woman with aspirations to direct, it’s a lot easier to throw in the towel. Fighting the system means you expose yourself to a slew of put-downs. Change doesn’t come easy. Jusk ask Barack Obama.

I like to recall all the laughter on set while shooting the independent "Phil Cobb’s Dinner for Four" — and forget about all the inappropriate remarks. Bottom line: If you want to impact the Neanderthal stats of Women in Hollywood (11 directed studio films in 2009)*, you’ll need to beef up on perseverance and your ability to withstand naysayers. It’s par for the course for any enterprise.

8. Women Don’t Know How to Sell Themselves
Women are often viewed as being inherently demure. Without being able to transform themselves into men during business meetings, it’s hard to win the Gimme the Money game.

Working on your Morgan Freeman voice may be your best bet.

9. One Bad Apple Spoils the Whole Bunch
The higher the profile, the fewer the targets, the bigger the magnifying class … So if a female director with a big budget spits out a dud and blows it, she speaks to the talents of all women. 

It’s not a fair conclusion, but it happens.

10. An Education
By telling young minds in the classroom, decade after decade, that one homogenized group of men wrote "the classics," which deserve our praise and study for all eternity, we empower a similar group of storytellers in Hollywood, ultimately ensuring the gender gap.

Well, it depends on how much you believe an education can condition a young mind. Maybe those first 12 years of schooling don’t really make much of an impression?

By the way, I say forget about all these reasons. Times have changed, and women are certainly writing plenty of screenplays. Let’s just pretend, at least for the sake of argument, that talent always rises to the top. And let’s not worry about who gets a lift in a Lamborghini or who rolls in a golf cart.

Women, it’s time to deliver. 

*2009 Big-Six Studio Films Directed by Women:
"Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel" (Betty Thomas)
"Amelia" (Mira Nair)
"An Education" (Lone Scherfig)
"Coco Before Chanel" (Anne Fontaine)
"It’s Complicated" (Nancy Meyers)
"Jennifer’s Body: (Karyn Kusama)
"Julie & Julia" (Nora Ephron)
Post Grad (Vicky Jenson)
"Sugar" (co-directed by Anna Boden)
"The Proposal" (Anne Fletcher)
"Whip It" (Drew Barrymore)

Kathryn Bigelow’s "The Hurt Locker" was an indie production picked up by mini-major Summit Entertainment. 

Number of Films Directed by Women in 2009 per Studio: 
Fox: 5
Sony: 4
Disney: 1
Universal: 1
Warner Bros.: 0
Paramount: 0



Laurene Williams talks with provocative filmmakers and performers who are out of bounds. She is the senior editor at and the writer/director of "Phil Cobb's Dinner for Four," an out-of-bounds tale on Amazon Instant Video.