×

Number of Women Indie Filmmakers Stagnant (Study)

The independent film world may be more welcoming to women than major studios, but female directors are still less likely to premiere their films at Sundance or Tribeca than men.

That’s the takeaway from new research by the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University. After doing a deep dive into 23 prominent U.S. film festivals in 2015 and 2016, the study’s authors found that women comprised 35% of directors working on documentaries and 19% of directors on narrative features. In total, that amounts to 28% of all filmmakers.

That’s a far greater representation than on studio films — research found that women comprised just 9% of directors of the top grossing films of 2015. It also marks an improvement of five percentage points from the prior year, even though it trails the recent historical high of 29% from 2011 through 2012. To get its results, researchers combed through 9,873 credits on 1,036 films.

Hollywood’s gender imbalance has been a hot topic across the entertainment industry in recent months. Jennifer Lawrence made headlines last fall when she penned an op-ed that criticized studios for paying her male co-stars more than she earned on “American Hustle,” despite her sterling box office record.

Popular on Variety

Last year, the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission began interviewing female directors to investigate discriminatory hiring practices. The move came following a push by the American Civil Liberties Union to drill down into the disparity between male and female filmmakers.

“The independent world is more welcoming of women than the studio world,” said Martha Lauzen, the center’s executive director. “However, in spite of the increasing dialogue around the issue of diversity, we’re not seeing a lot of change. The numbers have yet to move.”

Indeed, these festivals, which include such major gatherings as Sundance, Tribeca and the New York Film Festival, feature far more films from male directors than female filmmakers. They screened more than three times as many narrative features from men as from women and twice as many documentaries.

Even when women do get their films into festivals, they aren’t given a chance to move on to the next level. Directors such as Ryan Coogler (“Creed”), Colin Trevorrow (“Jurassic World”), and Jon Watts (“Spider-Man: Homecoming”) all got their start at Sundance before landing high-profile studio gigs. A few major female directors such as Ava DuVernay have been given big-budget projects, such as “A Wrinkle in Time,” after impressing critics and audiences with their work on smaller scale dramas. Yet, that the exception. By and large, the same chances to break through to the next level, don’t seem to be there for female directors coming out of Park City.

“They are not getting the same opportunities as men,” said Lauzen. “Festivals are career stepping stones, but the barriers are higher for women when it comes to studios films. Men with very little feature film experience get $100 million films, but women are still seen as riskier hires.”

Across indie film sets, there are few signs of improvement. Last year, women comprised 25% of all directors, writers, producers, executive producers, editors, and cinematographers on festival films. That represented a decrease of one percentage point from the prior year, pointing to a general stagnation.

Films with female directors tended to hire more women than those with men behind the camera. Women comprised 74% of writers on those films, as opposed to 6% on films directed by men. They made up 43% of editors on female-helmed movies and 20% of cinematographers compared with 15% of editors on male-directed films and 8% of cinematographers.

Lauzen said she was not certain if film festivals receive far fewer submissions from female directors. But she did say that at film schools, women typically comprise between a third to more than a half of the student body.

“I don’t think there’s a magic bullet to solve this or any one explanation for why the numbers remain so low,” said Lauzen. “It’s a stew of factors.”

More Film

  • PAW Patrol

    'PAW Patrol' Animated Movie in the Works

    PAW Patrol is on a roll! The popular Nickelodeon animated series is coming to the big screen. The Paramount film, directed by animation veteran Cal Brunker, whose credits include “Nut Job 2: Nutty by Nature” and “Escape From Planet Earth,” hits theaters in August 2021. Spin Master Entertainment’s executive vice president Jennifer Dodge will produce [...]

  • Bruce Willis attends the "Motherless Brooklyn"

    Bruce Willis’ ‘Cosmic Sin’ Picked up by Saban for North America

    Saban Films has acquired North American rights to Bruce Willis-starring sci-fi-action project “Cosmic Sin.” One of the hottest projects being pitched at the Berlin Film Festival’s European Film Market, the picture is written and directed by Corey Large and Edward Drake (“Breach”) with Large also producing. “Cosmic Sin” follows a group of warriors and scientists [...]

  • 'Swimming Out Till the Sea Turns

    'Swimming Out Till the Sea Turns Blue': Film Review

    At a kitchen table where two younger women are industriously assembling dumplings, an elderly resident of Jia Family Village, a rural settlement in China’s Shanxi province, reflects on a colorful past. In the 1950s, he served as First Secretary of the Communist Youth League, playing his own part in the country’s social revolution and carousing [...]

  • Donna Rotunno Gloria Allred

    Donna Rotunno Complains to Judge About Gloria Allred Attacking Her in the Media

    Harvey Weinstein’s lead attorney Donna Rotunno asked the judge to silence Gloria Allred, the high-powered attorney who is representing three women who’ve testified in the New York rape trial. Before the jury entered the courtroom on Friday morning, the fourth day of deliberations, Rotunno made a complaint on the record to the judge regarding Allred’s [...]

  • Call of the Wild

    Box Office: 'Call of the Wild' Fetches $1 Million on Thursday Night

    Harrison Ford’s “The Call of the Wild” opened with $1 million in Thursday night previews. STX’s supernatural horror sequel “Brahms: The Boy II,” meanwhile, earned $375,000 at 1,800 screens from Thursday previews. The earnings for Disney-20th Century’s “The Call of the Wild” is in the same vicinity as “The Upside,” which took in $1.1 million [...]

  • Infinity Hill

    Viacom International Studios, Infinity Hill Sign Exclusive First Look Deal

    Viacom International Studios (VIS) has signed an exclusive first look development deal with Infinity Hill. The companies will co-develop and co-produce a slate of Spanish-language features, filmed globally and utilizing international talent on both sides of the camera. Infinity Hill is the new label from longtime Telefonica and Viacom exec Axel Kuschevatzky, one of the [...]

  • There Is No Evil

    German Regional Film Funder Boosts Budget, Targets Young Filmmakers

    Since taking the helm at German regional funder Filmförderung Hamburg Schleswig-Holstein (FFHSH) last year, Helge Albers has revamped the organization, worked to increase its budget by €3 million ($3.3 million) and introduced new initiatives aimed at young filmmakers. Albers, a former film producer who previously served as head of the German Producers Assn. and a [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content