Hollywood tapped a record number of women to call the shots on major movies in 2020, according to a new study from the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University.
Women represented 16% of directors working on the 100 highest-grossing films in 2020, a high-water mark for female representation behind the camera. That’s up from 12% in 2019 and a lowly 4% in 2018, and a sign that the pressure on studios to promote more female filmmakers may be resulting in tangible change.
Of course, this was a year like no other, one that saw the theatrical business brought to a virtual standstill for months due to coronavirus. That also meant that some of the biggest budgeted films boasting female filmmakers, such as Chloe Zhao’s “The Eternals” and Cate Shortland’s “Black Widow,” had their releases pushed into 2021. Zhao did helm the Oscar hopeful “Nomadland,” while other female filmmakers such as Cathy Yan (“Birds of Prey”) and Patty Jenkins (“Wonder Woman 1984”) oversaw some of the year’s highest-profile releases.
The study, which has been issued for two decades and is overseen by the center’s director Dr. Martha Lauzen, attempted to account for the disruptions in the exhibition business. For the first time, the study also tracked women’s employment on films included on the Digital Entertainment Group’s “Watched at Home Top 20 Chart” from March through December 2020. Women made up 19% of all directors, writers, executive producers, producers, editors, and cinematographers working on the watched at home films, which was slightly lower than the 21% achieved on the top grossing films. Just under 10% of directors working on the watched at home films were women, down from 16% of the filmmakers on the top box office hits.
“The good news is that we’ve now seen two consecutive years of growth for women who direct,” Lauzen said in a statement. “This breaks a recent historical pattern in which the numbers trend up one year and down the next. The bad news is that fully 80% of top films still do not have a woman at the helm.”
The picture may have been brighter for female directors, but it grows murkier the deeper one goes down the credits. On the top 100 highest grossing movies, women held 28% of producer jobs and 21% of executive producer positions, an increase of two percentage points in both categories. Women comprised 18% of editors, 12% of writers, and 3% of cinematographers. The number of female cinematographers increased by a percentage point, but the number of writers and editors fell by eight percentage points and five points, respectively.
The study also found that films with at least one female director were much more likely to hire women to be editors, cinematographers, or other key behind-the-scenes roles. For instance, on films with female directors, women comprised 53% of writers. Whereas on films with exclusively male directors, women accounted for 8% of writers. Women were editors on 39% of films with female directors and just 18% of films from men, and composed the music for 13% of films from female filmmakers and just 4% of movies from male directors.
Even though the industry made strides, the majority of films (67%) employed between zero women to four women in top behind-the-scenes roles. In contrast, more than 70% of the top films employed 10 or more men as directors, writers, and other top positions.
“This imbalance is stunning,” Lauzen said.