Women Directors See Progress, but Hollywood Still Has a Lot of Work to Do (Column)

Anna Boden Captain Marvel

Hallelujah! And, not so fast!

Why the big hurrah? Because on the eve of Variety’s annual Power of Women issue and Oct. 11 celebratory luncheon in Los Angeles, we are thrilled to report that it appears that “a new day has come” for female directors and “hiring practices have changed,” USC Annenberg professor and researcher Stacy L. Smith tells our editor-at-large Kate Aurthur in her cover story.

There are more movies this year directed by women than ever before. By year’s end, between 12 and 14 of the top 100 films of 2019 will be helmed by females, including Lorene Scafaria’s “Hustlers” and co-director Anna Boden’s “Captain Marvel.” That’s a far cry from the pathetic 2018 stats, when just five of the 112 directors behind the 100 top grosses of the year were women.

Smith insists this year’s numbers aren’t just a blip, that all indicators are that Hollywood has reached an inflection point and we’re finally seeing more gender equality in the director ranks of big hits.

But the journalistic skeptic in me would like to see three consecutive years of an uptick before the movie industry can really claim victory. For decades, the breakdown of female to male directors has been heavily tilted in favor of you-know-who, and the ratio varies year to year. Still, male film directors outnumber female ones significantly. Hollywood has got to do better.

Of course, it’s highly bothersome that today only one of the major movie studios — Universal Pictures — is headed by a woman (Donna Langley), where not long ago there were three, counting Fox’s Stacey Snider and Sony Pictures’ Amy Pascal.

On a macro scale, according to the World Bank, women represent only 39% of the overall general labor force, and The World Economic Forum’s 2018 Global Gender Gap Report found that while things are moving in the right direction, at this rate it will take 108 years to achieve overall gender parity, and 202 years to achieve full equality in the workplace.

How depressing is that? So let’s focus on the positive news — that this is a record year for female directors — and the hope that 2019 is not an aberration but a true turning point.