A Brief Summary of the State of Women in Film

Whenever I discuss gender in the film industry, someone usually pops up and says “yeah but it’s waaaay better than it used to be!”

And every year, San Diego State University’s Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film publishes their annual Celluloid Ceiling Report on womens’ employment “below the line” and shows just how not at all better things are right now.

Inevitably, someone jumps in and says it’s better “where it counts”: in smaller markets or in non-traditional media.

For one thing, I don’t trust this assessment. There are no statistics (that I know of) to back this up, and obviously if you asked for purely anecdotal evidence on feature films, many tend to wrongly say “it’s totally better, I work with women all the time now.”

And for another thing, the top 100, 250 and 500 grossing films DO matter. How many movies does the average person watch in a year? I looked it up briefly, and data seems to state it’s something like 20ish movies a year, but only around 5 in a movie theater. So maybe only about 5 new movies.

In any case, out of 100-500 films, only 5-20 means a person is getting a very small slice of what the film industry has to offer. If the only 5 movies a person watches in a year are in the top 100 grossing films, they are not seeing much female representation on their screen.

You may think that female employment in Hollywood isn’t a topic that matters outside our bubble, but it actually matters a great deal to peoples’ understanding of womens’ stories since nearly everyone is watching movies. It matters to young women who are encouraged to follow the various paths in the film industry, creative or technical, and have the courage to deal with all the crap that involves by watching other women accomplish it too.

In Michelle Obama’s words: “For so many people, TV and movies may be the only way they understand people who aren’t like them. It becomes important for the world to see different images of each other, so that we can develop empathy and understanding….The only way that millions of people get to know other folks and the way they live … is through the power of television and movies.”

Here are some of the highlights from the report. I encourage you to click through and read the full report — it’s very short, and it’s illustrated with graphs. SDSU also has many other reports in television and on-screen visibility of women you can read.

– In 2016, women comprised 17% of all directors, writers, producers, executive producers, editors, and cinematographers working on the top 250 domestic grossing films. This represents a decline of 2 percentage points from last year and is even with the percentage achieved in 1998.

92% had no women directors. However, on films with at least one female director, the number of women employed as writers jumped from 9% to 64%. The number of female editors jumped from 17% to 43%. The number of cinematographers jumped from 6% to 16%. This is a huge increase.

– Women comprised 17% of all editors working on the top 250 films of 2016. This represents a decrease of 5 percentage points from 2015 and a decrease of 3 percentage points from 1998. Put another way: the number of women dropped 25% in a year, on par with ongoing trends for a long time — we’re now 3 percentage points below where we were 18 years ago.

– Women in post are not fairing well outside picture editing either. 4% of sound designers, 8% of sound editors, 3% of composers.

There’s lots more information in the report — like women are most likely to work in documentary and least likely to work in action. You can logically conclude that women are seeing these problems and hiring other women, so the fact that 93% of these films had no female editor means the female employment is not rippling downward into other creative or technical roles.

So consider this. A woman born in 1998, when this data first began to be collected, is now at a point in her life where she is deciding what she wants to study and pursue as an adult. The number of women in editing on the films she has watched her entire life has remained steady or decreased every year of her life. What does this mean for her?

And a response to “what can I do” to change this? I wrote about that last year for you.

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