26 September 2023

Women still underrepresented behind the camera

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Kim Elsesser* says a new report shows women continue to be underrepresented behind the camera of box office hits

Women’s employment in the top-grossing films of 2022 remains astonishingly low, according to a new report.

Composers, writers, directors and cinematographers working behind the scenes on the movies we watched last year were overwhelmingly male, and women’s representation in these roles has barely budged in the previous 25 years.

In 2022, women comprised 24 per cent of directors, writers, producers, editors and cinematographers working on the top 250 grossing films, down 1 per cent from 2021.

This is according to the Celluloid Ceiling report, which has tracked women’s employment on the 250 top-grossing films for the last 25 years.

“Having monitored credits for a quarter of a century, the project provides the longest-running and most comprehensive record of women’s behind-the-scenes representation available,” writes the report’s author Martha Lauzen, executive director of the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University.

This year’s study examines women’s employment on the top films of 2022 in the U.S. by analysing over 2,800 credits.

According to the report, women comprised just 7 per cent of cinematographers working on the top 250 grossing films of 2022.

That’s up only three per cent from 1998 when Lauzen started collecting data.

The number of female editors hasn’t improved much either, increasing from 20 per cent in 1998 to 21 per cent in 2022.

Women didn’t fare much better in other roles, comprising only 19 per cent of writers, 25 per cent of executive producers, and 31 per cent of producers in 2022.

For the top 100 grossing films, the numbers were similar, with women faring best as producers (28 per cent), editors (18 per cent), writers (17 per cent), directors (11 per cent), and cinematographers (8 per cent).

Only 9 per cent of composers of the top 100 films were women.

“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,” Lauzen noted in a press release associated with the report.

“It took the accumulation of over two decades of advocacy efforts, research reports and an EEOC investigation to double the percentage of women directors from 9 per cent to 18 per cent, and women are still dramatically underrepresented in that role.

“One can only imagine that it will take the same amount of effort to increase the numbers of women working in other positions, such as cinematographers and editors,” she adds.

The EEOC case that Lauzen mentioned found that major Hollywood Studios “systematically discriminated” against female directors.

According to reports, all six major studios engaged in settlement talks with the EEOC due to the alleged sexist hiring practices.

It’s not a lack of interest that explains the scarcity of women behind the camera.

Maria Giese, one of the female directors whose complaint launched the EEOC investigation wrote that when she entered UCLA’s graduate directing program in 1995, women represented half of the class.

Clearly, the interest is there.

Giese adds, “Men had directed almost 100 per cent of the films we studied.”

Talent also doesn’t explain the gender discrepancy between the numbers of male and female directors, as research indicates films with female directors get the same critical acclaim as those with male directors.

The good news, if there is any, is that women in senior roles may be helping bring in more women.

The top 250 films with at least one female director employed substantially more women in key behind-the-scenes roles than films with exclusively male directors.

For example, on films with at least one woman director, women comprised 53 per cent of writers, but on films with only male directors, women accounted for a mere 12 per cent of writers.

The trend is repeated for the other roles as well.

Thirty-nine per cent of editors were women in female-directed films, but that number dropped to 19 per cent under male directors.

And 19 per cent of cinematographers were female in women-directed films, but only 4 per cent of cinematographers were female in male-directed films.

Female directors are key to getting more women behind the scenes.

Yet, another new study examined the top 1600 films from 2007 to 2022 and concluded that progress has stalled for female directors.

And the situation is even more dire for female directors of colour.

In total, over 80 per cent of directors were white men, 14 per cent were men from underrepresented groups, 4 per cent were white women, and only 1 per cent were women from underrepresented groups.

For those who want to support films directed by women, 2022’s top-grossing films with female directors included: Where the Crawdads Sing directed by Olivia Newman, The Woman King directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood, Don’t Worry Darling directed by Oliva Wilde, The Invitation directed by Jessica M.

Thompson, Marry Me, directed by Kat Coiro, Father Stu, directed by Rosalind Ross, Bodies, Bodies, Bodies directed by Halina Reijn, Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance with Somebody directed by Kasi Lemmons, Till directed by Chinonye Chukwu and She Said directed by Maria Schrader.

*Kim Elsesser is a Senior Contributor at Forbes covering women’s issues at work—including the wage gap, sexual harassment and female leadership.

This article first appeared at forbes.com

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