×

Women Directors and Writers Make Gains in Independent Films But Lag on Parity

Women directors, writers, editors and producers are making inroads, reaching historic highs in the world of independent films — while still lagging in reaching parity with men, a new study shows.

The latest Indie Women study, released Tuesday, found that women achieved record-setting levels as directors (33% in 2018-19, up from 29% in 2017-18), writers (32% in 2018-19, up from 26%), producers (37% in 2018-19, up from 36%), executive producers (32% in 2018-19, from 26%) and editors (29% in 2018-19, up from 27%).

The study was conducted by Martha M. Lauzen, executive director of the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University. It surveyed women’s employment on domestically and independently produced feature-length films screening at more than 20 high-profile U.S. festivals including AFI Fest, SXSW Film Festival, and Tribeca Film Festival.

This year’s Sundance Film Festival had 45% of films directed by women, including Nisha Ginatra with “Late Night,” Hannah Pearl Utt with “Before You Know It,” Joanna Hogg with “The Souvenir” and Mirrah Foulkes with “Judy and Punch.”

The report examined more than 10,700 credits on more than 970 films in 2018-19, and over 80,000 credits on almost 8,000 films over the period of 2008 to 2019.

“After many years of tracking stubbornly stagnant numbers, this year women achieved healthy gains in a number of key behind-the-scenes roles,” Lauzen said. “Despite these increases, it is important to note that women remain dramatically underrepresented, with independent films employing more than twice as many men as women in these roles.”

Overall, men comprised 68% and women 32% of all directors, writers, producers, executive producers, editors, and cinematographers working on films screening at festivals in 2018-19.

The survey also notes that films with at least one woman director also employed much higher percentages of women writers, editors, and cinematographers. For example, on films with at least one female director, women comprised 72% of writers versus 11% on films directed exclusively by men. On films with at least one female director, women accounted for 45% of editors versus 21% of films directed exclusively by men.

“These differences are dramatic and demonstrate that when women direct films, they disrupt traditional hiring patterns, installing women as writers, editors, and cinematographers,” Lauzen said. “This tendency counters the widespread and seemingly intractable bias that has favored male networks.”

The upward shift in the survey numbers comes following several efforts to address the issue of a lack of parity among film productions. ReFrame — a coalition of industry leaders founded by Women in Film and the Sundance Institute — and IMDBPro began certifying films a year ago for their gender-balanced productions.

At this year’s Sundance Film Festival, a group of filmmakers and Stacy L. Smith of the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative launched the 4 Percent Challenge  a nod to Annenberg’s study, which revealed only 4% of the top-grossing films of the past 11 years were directed by women. The challenge asked production labels, studios and individual producers to hire a woman (particularly a woman of color) as a director in the next 18 months.

 

More Film

  • Toronto Film Festival Lineup

    Toronto Film Festival: 'Joker,' 'Ford v Ferrari,' 'Hustlers' Among Big Premieres

    This year’s Toronto Film Festival will feature super-villain origin stories, splashy literary adaptations, and Tom Hanks as the most beloved performer in children’s television. The Canadian celebration of all things movies unveiled its 2019 lineup on Tuesday, and it appears to be an eclectic mixture of glossy awards bait, auteur-driven indies, and populist crowd-pleasers. It’s [...]

  • Sylvester Stallone Variety Cover story

    Sylvester Stallone Feels Robbed of an Ownership Stake in 'Rocky': 'I Was Furious'

    Sylvester Stallone shares an uncanny, symbiotic connection with Rocky, the underdog boxer character he created four decades ago — a kindred spirit who served as his creative muse in spawning one of Hollywood’s most successful film franchises. In his long career Stallone also played another memorable screen role — John Rambo — but Rocky was [...]

  • Beware of Children

    First Trailer Released for Venice Days Entry 'Beware of Children' (EXCLUSIVE)

    Variety has been given exclusive access to the first trailer for Dag Johan Haugeruds’ politically and socially charged drama “Beware of Children,” which premieres as part of the Venice Film Festival’s Venice Days section. The pic, which is being sold at Venice by Picture Tree Intl., features the dramatic aftermath of a tragic incident in [...]

  • The Tower animated film about Palestinians

    ‘The Tower’ Animation Wins Japan's Skip City Festival

    “The Tower,” Mats Grorud’s animation about the plight of the Palestinians, as viewed through the eyes of an 11-year-old girl in Beirut, won the grand prize in the international competition at the 16th edition of Skip City International D-Cinema Festival. The film also scooped the section’s audience award. The Skip City festival, which launched in [...]

  • For web story

    Transgender Immigrant Pic 'Lingua Franca,' Thriller 'Only Beasts' to Bow at Venice Days

    New York-based Filipina filmmaker Isabel Sandoval’s “Lingua Franca,” about a transgender immigrant, is among 11 competition entries, all world premieres, that will launch from the Venice Film Festival’s independently run Venice Days section. The only U.S. entry set to compete in the section modeled on Cannes’ Directors’ Fortnight, “Lingua Franca” is Sandoval’s third work. It [...]

  • Female-Led and LGBTQ Narratives Win Big

    Female-Led and LGBTQ Narratives Win Big At Durban FilmMart Awards

    DURBAN–Female-driven narratives and daring portraits of queer culture around the continent were the big winners at this year’s Durban FilmMart (DFM), the industry program of the Durban Intl. Film Festival, which handed out awards at a ceremony Monday night at the Southern Sun Maharani Hotel. Among the prize-winners were the story of a Zimbabwean woman [...]

  • Oscar Nominations Reactions Phyllis Nagy

    Screenwriter Phyllis Nagy Runs for Writers Guild Presidency, Citing Agency Stalemate

    Oscar-nominated screenwriter Phyllis Nagy is challenging Writers Guild of America West’s incumbent president David Goodman, citing his handling of the bitter stalemate between the WGA and Hollywood agents. Nagy announced her candidacy online Monday night, a day before the deadline for filing. She made the announcement  in a private online group as part of Writers for [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content