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Female Filmmakers ‘Reach Historic Highs’ in 2019

The film industry is notoriously difficult for women to make a name for themselves, however, it seems that 2019 has been the year for that to start changing. Director’s including Greta Gerwig, Lorene Scafaria, Lulu Wang and Melina Matsoukas directed more successful movies than previous years, setting the standard for the upcoming years.

A recent study by USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative found that out of the top 100 grossing films of 2019, twelve were directed by women. This shows that there is a shift in the inequality that has continued to remain behind the camera, even though other areas in the industry are still struggling to see a change. 2008 held the title for the most women in production, 8%, while 2018 only saw 4.5% of women directors. Despite this fluctuation in previous years it is believed that 2019’s increase should be seen as a positive in a still largely male dominated environment.

One of the study’s authors, Stacy L Smith, commented:

“This is the first time we have seen a shift in hiring practices for female film directors in 13 years. One notable reason for this jump in 2019 was that Universal Pictures had five films with women directors at the helm in the top 100 movies. Yet there is still much more progress needed to reach parity for women behind the camera.”

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Films including Scafaria’s “Hustlers” ($105 million domestically), Matsoukas’ “Queen & Slim” ($40.7 million), and Wang’s “The Farewell” all saw global success, as well as Gerwig’s “Little Women” which earned $29 million in the first five days of its release. Tina Gordon’s “Little”, Jill Culton’s “Abominable” and Kasi Lemmons’ “Harriet” also saw great success.

Meanwhile one of 2019’s most successful movies, “Frozen II,” nearly gave co-director – and Walt Disney Animation Studios’ chief creative officer – Jennifer Lee a new box-office record thanks to the $1.2 billion of global ticket sales. The record still stands with the first Frozen movie, which Lee also co-directed.

In the study Universal Pictures were highlighted as the only major studio to have a female studio chief – Donna Langley – as well as the fact they had 26% of their films directed by women. However, it’s not just the big screen companies that were featured in the study. It was also revealed that 20% of the movies on Netflix currently were made by female directors.

It was not all good news though, as it was confirmed that for the last five years Paramount Pictures has only released films directed by men. Women of Color also started to make an appearance in the top 100 movies with four films being directed. While this in itself is good news, the overall number of underrepresented directors saw a drop from 21.4% in 2018 to 16.8% in 2019.

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Smith commented:

“While 2019 is a banner year for women, we will not be able to say there is true change until all women have access and opportunity to work at this level.”

The Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University also released a study where they examined the number of women not only in directorial roles, but also any other of the ‘top jobs’ in film. The study discovered that women made up only one fifth of all roles – including producers (27%), executive producers (21%), cinematographers (5%), writers (19%), production designers (23%), supervising sound editors (9%), composers (6%), visual effects supervisors (6%) as well as editors (23%), sound designers (4%) and special effects supervisors (4%) – which was an increase on the 16% in 2018. However female art directors (31%) and music supervisors (40%) saw a closer parity with their male counterparts.

However the study also found that when you look at the top 500 movies the statistics saw women holding 23% of the roles.

Martha Lauzen, the author of the study released a statement regarding the findings saying “while the numbers moved in a positive direction this year, men continue to outnumber women 4 to 1 in key behind the scenes roles.’ Lauzen continued ‘it’s odd to talk about reaching historic highs when women remain so far from parity.”

Yet it appears that the news of the increase in female filmmakers has not hit the awards season with many women being overlooked. The Golden Globes, presented by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, has not nominated any women for best director while the ten films up for best picture were also only directed by men.

Time’s Up chief operating officer Rebecca Goldman believes that this is unsatisfactory:

“This year, there have been twice as many women-led features than ever, with more films by female directors on the way. Women — and especially women of color — continue to be pushed to the sidelines by a system that holds women back, onscreen and off.”