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Number of Female Directors Falls Over 17 Year Period, Study Finds

Hollywood’s gender gap is growing wider.

“Selma” director Ava DuVernay and “Unbroken” director Angelina Jolie may be earning critical raves, awards and strong box office returns for the dramas they made last year, but female filmmakers remain the exception to the rule. Over the past 17 years, the number of women directing the top 250 grossing films declined by 2%, according to a new study by the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University.

It’s a sign that some glass ceilings remain stubbornly in place, with women comprising 7% of directors on the biggest moneymakers. It’s not just limited to directing. Behind the camera remains a male-dominated world, as well.

“It’s remarkable that we’re still at 1998 levels,” said Dr. Martha Lauzen, the center’s executive director and the study’s author. “Whatever is being done to address this problem is not working and we need to look for industry-wide solutions.”

Women were best represented as producers (23%) followed by executive producers (19%), editors (18%), writers (11%) and cinematographers (5%). Although there are more female executive producers and cinematographers working today than there were in 1998, the percentage of women working as writers, editors and producers have all dropped.

To get its results, the Center analyzed behind-the-scenes employment of 2,822 individuals. It found that 38% of films employed no women or one woman in these major roles, 23% employed 2 women, 29% employed 3 to 5 women, 7% employed 6 to 9 women and 3% employed 10 to 14 women.

For the first time, the study surveyed the number of women working in the music and sound effects departments. The results were grim. Women accounted for 1% of all composers and 5% of all sound designers and supervising sound designers.

There’s no box office rationale for the disparity. Films with female protagonists such as “The Hunger Games,” “Maleficent” and “The Fault in Our Stars” were among the biggest hits of 2014 and women generally represent a larger percentage of the movie-going audience.

Nor is it the case that men are more interested in the movie business. Women comprise anywhere from a third to over a half of students at major film schools, Lauzen said.

“It’s not that women don’t want to pursue careers in film,” she said.

Despite that desire, the number of women making green-lighting decisions remains paltry and is limited to the likes of Sony’s Amy Pascal and Universal’s Donna Langley. In the past, Pascal has been vocal about the lack of opportunities for women, arguing that they face more rejection.

“I have begged Kathryn Bigelow to make Spiderman, James Bond anything I can think of,” Pascal told Forbes in 2013. “So far I haven’t hooked her. I think it is about women showing up and saying that’s what they want and not taking no for an answer.”

Lauzen pointed out that while journalists routinely pepper Pascal and Langley with questions about the lack of female representation on film sets or board rooms, they rarely interrogate their male counterparts on the subject.

“It’s seen as being a woman’s problem, but I don’t think that’s the case,” she said. “Why not ask the guys in charge, because they’re just as responsible, and it’s going to take everyone working together to fix it.”

The picture is brighter on television where Lena Dunham (“Girls”), Shonda Rhimes (“Grey’s Anatomy,” “Scandal”) and Jenji Kohan (“Orange is the New Black”) are calling the shots on some of the buzziest programs. A recent study by the Center found that women made up 28 percent of creators, producers, directors, writers, editors, and directors of photography working on programs airing on the broadcast networks in the 2012-13 season, representing a historic high.

Perhaps it’s unsurprising that when Warner Bros. decided to tap a female director to oversee production on “Wonder Woman,” the studio plucked one of the small screen’s most kinetic talents — Michelle MacLaren, who made a name for herself overseeing “Game of Thrones” and “Breaking Bad.”

There have been some efforts to remedy the situation. Groups such as Women in Film try to promote females in the film business, and studios  such as Fox have launched mentorship programs designed to encourage more female voices.

Yet little progress has been made. After Kathryn Bigelow became the first woman to earn a best director Oscar for “The Hurt Locker” in 2010, there was hope that it might lead to a flowering for female talent. That didn’t pan out.

“Everyone started talking about a ‘Bigelow effect’ that might radiate out and lift the careers of other women directors,” said Lauzen. “I don’t think we ever actually saw that happen.”

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