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Hollywood’s Hiring Practices Remain Largely Unchanged: Female Filmmakers Not Welcome

Three women sit on a stage. One is actress Rooney Mara, light skinned with a short hair cut, wearing a black suit and turtleneck. Next to her is director Sarah Polley, lightskinned with blond hair and glasses, wearing a blue velvet jacket and holding a microphone. On the right is actress Michelle McLeod, light skinned with blond hair.
(L-R) Rooney Mara, Sarah Polley and Michelle McLeod attend the Oct. 10, 2022 intro and Q&A for "Women Talking" during the 60th New York Film Festival.
(Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images for FLC
/
Getty Images North America)
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Some of the past year’s best movies — and those expected to compete for Academy Awards — were made by women: Sarah Polley’s Women Talking, Gina Prince-Bythewood’s The Woman King and Maria Schrader’s She Said. 

Yet female directors, especially women of color, continue to struggle to find work, according to two new studies.

The USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative’s “Inclusion in the Director’s Chair” report found that just 9% of the 100 top-grossing movies released in 2022 were made by women, a nearly 30% drop from the previous year. Only three women of color directed one of those highest-grossing releases, despite the fact they constitute more than 20% of the country’s population.

Some studios did better than most, the USC report found. Sony Pictures Entertainment hired five female directors for its top films last year. When the time frame changes to the top 100 films over the last 16 years, Paramount Pictures fared the worst, with just three women behind the camera among its 170 releases.

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“Five years after #MeToo exploded and two years following the murder of George Floyd, there has been little change in Hollywood for women and underrepresented directors — particularly women of color,” Stacy L. Smith, the founder of the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, said in a statement.

In addition to USC’s report, the San Diego State Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film released its annual “Celluloid Ceiling” study, which looks at many jobs behind the camera. The findings were equally grim: 93% of the top 250 films last year had no female cinematographers, 91% lacked a female composer, 75% didn’t have a female editor, and 70% had no women as writers. There were no material short-term gains in any of those jobs.

Five years after #MeToo exploded and two years following the murder of George Floyd, there has been little change in Hollywood for women and underrepresented directors, particularly women of color.
— Stacy L. Smith, the founder of the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative

The San Diego study demonstrated that movies directed by women tend to have more women as department heads. When women direct a film, the percentage of female writers is four times greater than when a man directs, and the percentage of female cinematographers is five times higher.

“Given the number of panels, research reports and hand-wringing devoted to this issue over the last two and a half decades, one would expect more substantial gains,” Martha Lauzen, the founder of the San Diego State Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film, said in a statement.

“We get distracted by the incremental movement of the numbers from year to year, but often fail to notice the lack of substantial gains over the long term,” she said.

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John Horn, entertainment reporter and host of our weekly podcast Retake, explores whether the stories that Hollywood tells about itself really reflect what's going on?