×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Study: Female Directors Face Strong Bias in Landing Studio Films

A three-year study of the marketplace for female directors has found that women are far more likely to work in independent film than on mainstream studio pics. Nearly half of the industryites surveyed believe that female-directed films appeal to a smaller audience than pics directed by men.

The study commissioned by the Sundance Institute and Women in Film found that the ratio of male-to-female directed movies in competition at the Sundance fest from 2002 to 2014 was about 3 to 1. By contrast, for the top 1,300 highest-grossing pics released from 2002 to 2014, the ratio was a little more than 23 to 1.

The study was authored by Stacy L. Smith, director of the Media, Diversity, & Social Change Initiative. at USC’s Annenberg School.

“After three years of research, the question can progress from ‘why are female directors missing behind the camera in top films?’ to ‘what can be done to create change?’” Smith said.

The study examined distribution deals and results for films coming out of Sundance over a 12-year period, and it incorporates a survey of 59 filmmakers and film buyers and sellers to gauge industry attitudes about femme helmers. The results reinforce pervasive industry attitudes about the commercial limits of female-directed films. But the study also challenges conventional wisdom in some areas, notably regarding distribution opportunities for male vs. female directed indie films.

Among the study findings:

  • Gender is a significant factor in the types of stories told by directors in competition at Sundance. Three-quarters of all dramatic competition movies featured drama, comedy and/or romance, with female-directed films (92.5%) more concentrated in these genres than male-directed films (69%).
  • Gender did not affect whether Sundance pics received theatrical distribution. Of 208 movies from 2002-2014, 177 received domestic distribution (85.1%). Female-directed films (88.7%) were just as likely to receive distribution as male-directed films (83.9%).
  • Movies with a female director (70.2%) were more likely than movies with a male director (56.9%) to be distributed by independent companies with fewer financial resources and lower industry clout. Male-directed films (43.1%) were more likely than female-directed films (29.8%) to receive distribution from a studio specialty arm or mini-major.
  • The director gender gap is at its widest in top-grossing films. Across 1,300 top-grossing films from 2002 to 2014, only 4.1 percent of all directors  were female.

Among the results of the survey of 39 men and 20 women in the film biz:

  • 44% said female directors are perceived to make films for a subset and/or less significant portion of the marketplace.
  • 42% believe there is a scarcity of female directors and a small pool to choose from in top-grossing films.
  • 25% cited women’s perceived lack of ambition in taking on directing jobs.
  • 22% cited the skewed representation of women in decision-making roles in the industry as a factor in limiting job opportunities for female directors.
  • 12% cited the belief that women “can’t handle” certain types of films or aspects of production, such as commanding a large crew.

“Having completed this three-year study, we have accomplished a thorough analysis of this issue and now know that female filmmakers face deep-rooted presumptions from the film industry about their creative qualifications, sensibilities, tendencies and ambitions,” said Cathy Schulman, president of Women in Film Los Angeles. “Now we need to move a heavy boat through deep waters, and WIF is committed to year-round action until sustainable gender parity is achieved.”

More Film

  • Q&A With Juan Villegas on ‘Las

    Argentina’s Juan Villegas on ‘Las Vegas,’ Featuring at Cannes’ ACID

    CANNES – Buenos Aires’ director-producer Juan Villegas presented his debut “Saturday” at the Venice Festival and won awards at the Rotterdam and Sarajevo film festivals. “Suicidals” screened at San Sebastián. “Idleness,” his third feature, co-directed with Alejando Lingenti, screened at the Berinale. Produced by Salvador del Solar at Argentina’s Cepa Audiovisual and by Villegas’ production [...]

  • Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Kenneth Branagh

    Christopher Nolan's New Film Casts Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Kenneth Branagh

    Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Kenneth Branagh will appear in Christopher Nolan’s upcoming film, “Tenet.” Clémence Poésy, Dimple Kapadia, Michael Caine are also joining the cast that includes John David Washington, Elizabeth Debicki, and Robert Pattinson. “Tenet,” which is being filmed on location across seven countries, is an action epic evolving from the world of international espionage. [...]

  • Cannes Placeholder Red Carpet

    Eddie Peng, Ma Sichun Join Ann Hui's 'Love After Love'

    Eddie Peng (“Operation Mekong” “The Hidden Man”) will head the cast of “Love After Love” the new film by Hong Kong’s Ann Hui. He plays opposite Ma Sichun (“The Shadow Play,” “Soul Mate”). The picture, which started shooting on Wednesday in China, is the story of a young woman from Shanghai who travels to Hong [...]

  • 'Matthias & Maxime' Review: Xavier Dolan's

    Cannes Film Review: 'Matthias & Maxime'

    If there’s one term that Xavier Dolan probably never wants or needs to hear again, it’s “enfant terrible.” Irresistible to use when the Québécois auteur was 19, rattling out of the gate with his antsy, angry lash-out of a debut, “I Killed My Mother,” it’s followed him doggedly through a series of variously spiky, variably [...]

  • Cannes: Agoraphobia Drama '522' Sells to

    Cannes: Agoraphobia Comedy-Drama '522' Sells to South Korea (EXCLUSIVE)

    Media Luna New Films has sold South Korean rights for comedy-drama “522. A Cat, a Chinese Guy and My Father” to Laon-I at Cannes. The film tells the story of George, an agoraphobic young woman who can’t walk more than 522 steps from her home. One day, her cat forces her to embark on a [...]

  • Aladdin

    'Aladdin' to Soar Above Box Office Competition Over Memorial Day Weekend

    When Disney first released “Aladdin” in 1992, Bill Clinton was just settling in to the Oval Office, “Game of Thrones” wasn’t much more than a book idea percolating in the mind of author George R.R. Martin, and Johnny Carson was wrapping up his stint as “Tonight Show” host. In some ways, 2019 feels like a [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content