Pop quiz: how many female movie directors can you name?
I can name less than a half-dozen, and the only reason that number is so high is because I’ve been watching female-directed features recently for review on my other blog, Dorkadia. My list includes:
Sam Taylor-Johnson (50 Shades of Grey)
Nora Ephron (Sleepless in Seattle)
Catherine Hardwicke (Twilight)
Drew Barrymore (Whip It)
Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker)
See the pattern? With the exception of The Hurt Locker, famous female directors seem confined to romantic thrillers and rom-coms. These isolated incidents either. Animated features, rom-coms, and romantic thrillers dominate this list of the top movies directed by women. The lone exception? Disaster movie Deep Impact, which was the highest-grossing live-action movie directed by a woman until Twilight. Accolades don’t seem to help in women’s’ favor either when it comes to finding work. Since winning the Best Director Oscar for 2008’s The Hurt Locker, Bigelow has only directed two other features.
While diversity in entertainment may not match tech’s horrible numbers, the data shows that Hollywood is still very much a man’s world. In 2013 the New York Film Academy released a sobering infographic on the statistics of gender inequality in film. In front of the camera, only 10.7% of all movies featured a balanced, representative cast. Women are also shoehorned into specific film genres. Women are more than twice as likely to direct documentaries than narrative films, for example. Or take the previously mentioned list of the highest-grossing female directors, whose output consisted of mainly romantic movies.
More recent data agrees with the New York Film Academy’s claims. According to the 2016 Celluloid Ceiling Report, women make up only 17% of behind-the-camera job titles. When examining the top 250 domestic grossing movies of last year, only 17% are cinematographers, directors, editors, executive producers, producers, or writers. This is 2% down from last year and essentially flat with statistics from 1998. And 1998 was considered a high point.
In the face of such disparity, what can be done to increase representation both in front of and behind the camera? Here’s several suggestions.
Recognize how diversity contributes to the bottom line. Adding more women to the mix isn’t just the right thing to do; it’s profitable for studios. Women currently purchase half of all movie tickets sold in the United States. The more representation on screen, the more tickets can be sold as people see themselves represented in pop culture. This goes for women, people of color, or anyone else different from the norm.
Take advantage of the pipeline. Women are both out there making movies and preparing for careers in film. Gender parity exists at several prestigious film schools, according to the Huffington Post. Meanwhile, sites like The Director List maintain a database of women in film with proven track records. Women are out there; they just need their voices to be heard. Which can be done by:
Fund female-centric films. The past few years has seen renewed interest in funding movies written or directed by women. Both Vimeo and the National Film Board of Canada have made pledges to increase funding for female-centric movies. The more women have access to funding, the more movies women will be able to release. More female-driven movies won’t add up to much; however, without:
Support for female-centric films as a moviegoer. This whole blog post coalesced in part thanks to my recent rewatch and review of 2008’s Twilight over at Dorkadia. While Twilight may never make anyone’s list of Earth-shattering films, it’s very female-driven, with a woman writing the source material, adapting the material for the screen, and directing. While Twilight’s domestic gross only puts it in the top 200 of highest-grossing movies of all time, it struck a chord with many people around the world. Certainly the increased tourism it brought changed Forks, Washington for the better. Women did that. Women changed the cultural zeitgeist. And more women can do the same, if given the chance.