Not all news was bad news for filmmakers during the pandemic year. According to the latest study from the Celluloid Ceiling, the longest-running and most comprehensive study of women’s employment in film around, women directors were up overall in 2020. The 23rd edition released Saturday from the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University.
Once again, women directors achieved historic highs this past year, with women comprising 18% of the filmmakers calling the shots behind the top 250 domestic features, an uptick from 13% in 2019 and 8% in 2018. That’s even with a lineup of major women-directed titles pushed to 2021 due to theater closures, including Chloé Zhao’s “Eternals” and Cate Shortland’s “Black Widow” on the big studio side. Still, this year saw films like Cathy Yan’s “Birds of Prey” and Patty Jenkins’ “Wonder Woman 1984” which, even with day-and-date play on HBO Max, managed the highest gross for a U.S. films since theaters reopened.
Overall in the top 100 films stateside, women comprised 16% of the filmmakers, up from 12% in 2019 and a whopping 4% in 2018. That’s two years of growth, but also means that at least 80% of the top films still do not come from women’s voices.
According to the study, behind-the-scenes figures overall remain disappointing. In 2020, the majority of films (67%) employed zero to four women in roles like directors, writers, executive producers, producers, editors, and cinematographers. 24% employed 5 to 9 women, and 9% employed 10 or more women. By contrast, men were significantly higher across these categories, with 71% of films employing 10 or more men.
Overall, women accounted for 23% of behind-the-scenes roles on the top 250 films, and while that’s up from 21% in 2019, women comprised just 17% in 1998. That means growth has been slow across multiple decades.
By role, women accounted for 17% of writers (down from 19% in 2019), 21% of executive producers (even with 2019), 30% of producers (up from 27% in 2019), 22% of editors (down from 23% in 2019), and 6% of cinematographers (up from 5% in 2019). All of these figures are for the top 250 domestic grossing films.
“This imbalance is stunning. The majority of films employ fewer than 5 women and 10 or more men,” said Dr. Martha Lauzen, executive director, Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film.
Read the full Celluloid Ceiling report here. IndieWire also recently took a broad view of women-directed films in 2020, and how they were affected by the pandemic. With releases pushed off the calendar, that means there are plenty more to come in 2021.
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