Studies show that when women direct films, something magical happens

There’s a very public and ongoing discussion about sexism in the film industry. Back in May, Hollywood’s gender bias became a civil rights issue, when the American Civil Liberties Union announced they would be putting pressure on state and federal agencies to investigate Hollywood and its gender discrimination in relation to employment and hiring. Now, it turns out that having women direct films has a truly wonderful ripple effect that we can get behind 100%: putting a director’s hat on a woman makes the film much more likely to enact gender parity in behind-the-scenes roles.

A new study authored by Dr. Martha M. Lauzen, executive director of the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University, highlights some crucial facts about women in the film industry. In the top 700 films of 2014, women made up just one-fifth of those working in key behind-the-scenes positions. For instance, only 15% of the films were directed or co-directed by women (and women comprised only 7% of directors overall). But within that small fraction, researchers noted that the number of female cinematographers, editors, and writers increased by up to a whopping six times.

“The findings suggest that women directors, executive producers and producers may serve and important gateway function in the employment of other women in key behind-the-scenes roles,” Lauzen said in a statement.

Though this year has been groundbreaking in the conversation surrounding gender disparity in the film industry, we haven’t seen much of a change — at least, we certainly didn’t last year. In fact, Lauzen recently found that fewer women directed films in 2014 than back in 1998. “The cultural zeitgeist at the moment is very concerned with providing more people with more opportunities, but the numbers have yet to move,” Lauzen said in the statement. “We’re getting a lot of public dialogue about the issue as actors like Patricia Arquette and Meryl Streep speak up, but we haven’t seen that groundswell result in higher numbers.”

It’s a topic that has only been getting more and more attention, with famous actresses like Julianne Moore, Jennifer Lawrence, Rose Byrne, and Kristen Stewart speaking up. However, it appears as though the solution may lie behind the scenes. Lauzen found that on films with female directors, 52% of writers, 35% of editors and 26% of cinematographers were women; when the director was male, those same numbers plummeted to 8%, 15%, and 5%, respectively. “[H]iring decisions for these roles,” Lauzen said in the statement, “may be most susceptible to mainstream film industry biases and expectations about what directors and cinematographers should look like demographically.”

Hiring more women as directors could set equality in motion — but hiring those directors is not a finger snap. “There may be some bias at work,” Lauzen said in the statement. “On independently produced films there is the perception of there being lower risk. I think there is a notion that women are not being hired as directors on big films because they are somehow riskier hires. The problem is that’s not how Hollywood works. There’s a growing list of male directors who are relative newbies and are placed at the helm of $100 million-plus films with little feature experience.”

It’s important to note that these numbers reflect 2014 — not 2015, when the conversation about sexism and representation in the film industry reached its current apex. However, it’s something that will likely take a lot of time — much more than just a year to right. “Large industries don’t tend to turn on a dime,” Lauzen said. “We can’t rely on a few anecdotal cases to let us know how the situation is for all women.”

But the conversation has started, and nothing but true equality will shut it down.

Related reading: 

#MakeItHappen: Female directors breaking barriers in Hollywood and beyond

Let’s give female directors a standing ovation (because they seriously deserve it)

(Images via Shutterstock.)

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