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Women Directed Fewer Top-500 Grossing Films in 2019 Than the Previous 2 Years, Study Finds

More women worked as directors last year, but those working in key below-the-line positions stayed the same

Women directed a higher percentage of films in 2019 than any year on record, but the number of women employed across the top-grossing films in other key behind the scenes positions actually inched downward compared to the previous two years.

According to the latest “Celluloid Ceiling” study by Dr. Martha Lauzen, the executive director for the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University, 14% of the top 500 films in domestic box office last year had a female director or co-director — down from 15% in 2018 and 18% in 2017 (though still higher than the 11% recorded in 2016).

Lauzen also found that women directed 12% of the top-100 grossing films of the year, a figure consistent with Smith’s study and 13% of the Top 250 films.

The same slow progress can be found in representation by female writers, producers, executive producers, editors and cinematographers. In 2019, women worked on 20% of the top-100 grossing films, up from 16% in 2018, and they saw a slight increase to 21% among the top-250 films. But if you broaden the field to the top 500 films, women worked in key roles on just 23% of all films, the same as in 2018.

“While the numbers moved in a positive direction this year, men continue to outnumber women 4 to 1 in key behind-the-scenes roles. It’s odd to talk about reaching historic highs when women remain so far from parity,” Lauzen said in a statement. “It will be tempting to look at the increase of women directing top 100 and top 250 films and conclude that 2019 was a major turning point for women’s employment. That may be true, but we won’t know if 2019 was a single good year or the beginning of an upward trend until we see the numbers for 2020 and 2021.”

In 2019, nearly one third of the top 250 movies employed just one or no women in the roles considered for the study, and only 2% employed 10 or more women. By comparison, 69%, over two-thirds of all films, had more than 10 men employed.

Breaking it down specifically by role, women accounted for 19% of writers, 21% of executive producers, 27% of producers, 23% of editors and 5% of cinematographers working on the top 250 films. This year’s study also found that women comprised 40% of music supervisors, 23% of production designers, 31% of art directors, 4% of special effects supervisors, and 6% of visual effects supervisors.

And naturally, when women are employed as directors, they tend to employ other women in key roles more than their male counterparts. 59% of the top 500 movies directed by women were also written by a woman, whereas just 13% of the movies directed by men employed a female screenwriter.

Lauzen’s “Celluloid Ceiling” study has tracked female employment on films for the last 22 years, reviewing over 70,000 film credits in that time. Her study is not to be confused with the report by Stacy Smith of USC’s Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, which also unveiled its findings on Thursday.

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