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Women Directors Are Actually Losing Ground in Hollywood. Progress In Other Roles Is Glacial

Two people, one sitting at a camera in a directors chair, the other standing in a cowboy hat, in the middle of a field with dry grass and mountain in the background.
Jane Campion on the set of "The Power of the Dog." Her Western now faces strong competition from other best picture nominees, including "CODA"
(Kirsty Griffin/Netflix)
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Hollywood’s definition of progress is unusual. For all of the industry’s talk about becoming more diverse and inclusive, the movie business is actually backpedaling in hiring women.

A new report from San Diego State’s Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film found that female directors lost ground in 2021 compared to the previous year. While women directed a scant 16% of the top 100 films in 2020, they were at the helm of just 12% of last year’s most popular films (math nerds know that’s a decrease of 25%).

A horizontal bar char shows the number of women directors in the top 100 and top 250 films. 2021, the most recent year counted, is 12%. That's lower than 2020 and tied with 2019 for the top 100 films. All previous years are lower. The percentage for the top 250 films is 17% lower than 2020 but higher than all other years.
(Courtesy San Diego State’s Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film )

Researchers for the Celluloid Ceiling study examined employment trends in an array of filmmaking professions and used box-office returns and home entertainment data to define the most popular movies. Even when the tally is expanded to the top 250 titles, female filmmakers still remain on the outside, looking in.

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The report concluded that 94% of the top 250 films in 2021 had no female cinematographers, 92% didn’t have a female composer, 82% were not directed by a woman and about three-quarters of those films lacked a female writer and editor.

Female Composers.jpg
(The Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film)

Three out of every four top filmmaking jobs goes to a man.
— Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film

In the report’s four-year history history, progress for women has moved at a (albeit pre-climate change) glacial rate. The total percentage of women working behind the scenes has gone up just eight percentage points, from 17% in 1998 to 25% in 2021.

Yes, that means three out of every four top filmmaking jobs goes to a man.

Some fields recorded one-step-forward, two-steps-back gains. More women worked as editors and writers on 2021 films than the previous year, but both professions trailed 2019 employment figures.

This year’s Academy Award nominations, due Feb. 8, will likely dramatize the gender imbalance: When women don’t get hired, it’s obviously impossible for their work to be honored.

Only one woman — Rachel Morrison for 2017’s Mudbound — ever has been nominated for the cinematography Oscar (she lost). And since 1934, when the composing Academy Award was founded, only three women have won that category.

It often takes a woman to hire a woman. The only woman likely to be nominated for cinematography this year, The Power of the Dog’s Ari Wegner, worked for director Jane Campion.

Yet as long as female filmmakers like Campion are the exceptions to the rule, women working in movies will have to keep waiting.

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