Hollywood’s Gender Equality Illusion

“Appearances Can Be Deceiving” – Dr Martha Lauzen

Welcome to a new January in a new year. Often in the first month of the year we take time to reflect and set goals that encourage us to grow. Reflecting on the film industry it is clear that whilst there has been progress over the past year in regards to bridging the gender gap, what we see in the headlines is not necessarily an accurate representation of the reality.

In 2020 we saw Hollywood reach a milestone achievement for number of female directors on the top 250 grossing movies. In 2021 however that number dropped from 18% to 17%. And when we narrow that focus even further to the top 100 most popular movies at the box office — “women comprised 12% of directors on those films, down from 16% in 2020” [1]. Upon hearing these statistics you might be surprised as recent award successes such as Julia Ducournau’s Titane at Cannes and Jane Campion’s The Power Of The Dog at the Golden Globes as well as widespread critical acclaim for Maggie Gyllenhaal’s The Lost Daughter might have you believe that things were better than they are.

Even blockbuster action films, historically directed by majority white men, have over the past few years had more female directors attached such as Patty Jenkins’ (Wonder Woman & Wonder Woman 1984), Cate Shortland (Black Widow), and Gina Prince-Blythewood (The Old Guard). However this years Celluloid Ceiling study from the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University tells us that despite these appointments it’s not doing much to turn the tables on gender bias. “Appearances can be deceiving.” said the study’s researcher, Dr. Martha Lauzen, “the percentage of women directing films actually declined in 2021.”

Nicole Kidman, Jane Campion and Sarah Snook all won awards at this year’s Golden Globes. (AP/AAP)

There have been some small improvements in other behind the scenes areas with women filling 25% (up from 23% in 2020) of key roles on the top 250 grossing films in 2021; directors, writers, executive producers, producers, editors, and cinematographers [1]. With producers maintaining the highest percentage of women (32%) and cinematographers the lowest (6%). Any improvements in these areas are swiftly overshadowed however by the obissmally low statistics regarding black female directors. In 2021, 6 of 242 (2.48%) competition film directors were black [2] and there is currently no exact data regarding how many of the 6 were women but I’m sure we can assume they didn’t make up the majority.

Now if you are involved in the industry or paying close attention to the films being released throughout the year than these above numbers may not be that much of a shock to you. The average movie goer however would be rimiss in thinking that things are turning a corner. Media coverage surrounding award shows and certain releases with female creators work to grandstand the miniscule amount of progress that is actually been made behind the red curtain. We are still way to far away from equality in the industry to be patting ourselves on the back just yet. It also hasn’t escaped me that stories of success for women in the industry often focus on women who are white, straight, and able-bodied failing to address the lack of representation of black, LGBTQIA+, and disabled directors.

The Celluloid Ceiling study is so important to give us all a reality check when it comes to representation in the industry as award shows and big film relases can distract us from the bigger picture. We’ve mentioned on this blog before the importance of having diversity in the wider range of film releases. Not every film directed by a woman should be an Oscar contender. Average movies are a large slice of the movie market particularly now that streaming services capture a huge percentage of audience attention. Big award shows and festival wins by women creators are starting to become media tokens of supposed feminism and it’s devaluing the work these women are creating.

How can we believe the industry is really changing when the statistics are telling us otherwise?

So what really needs to start changing is the statistics. And to change these statistics studios simply need to hire more women. Until that’s the case it won’t matter how many women win Golden Globes or Palme D’ors.


[1] – https://variety.com/2022/film/news/number-of-female-directors-on-top-hollywood-film-2021-1235145889/
[2] – http://www.screendaily.com/news/black-directors-make-just-1-of-competition-films-at-major-festivals-exclusive/5165691.article?utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=UK%20%20Europe%20Daily%20Dec%2013&utm_content=UK%20%20Europe%20Daily%20Dec%2013+CID_94a3faee00c1116e5102242758d25acc&utm_source=Newsletter&utm_term=Black%20directors%20make%20just%201%20of%20competition%20films%20at%20major%20festivals%20exclusive
[3] – https://www.indiewire.com/2022/01/celluloid-ceiling-study-2021-women-directors-top-films-1234688355/

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