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Women directed more top-grossing films in 2019 than in each of the 12 years before—report

/ 05:13 PM January 04, 2020
Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee and Peter Del Vecho

U.S. film director Chris Buck (L), U.S. film director Jennifer Lee (C) and U.S. film producer Peter Del Vecho (R) pose on the red carpet as they arrive to attend the European premiere of the film “Frozen 2” in London on November 17, 2019. Image: Niklas HALLE’N / AFP

From “Frozen 2” to “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,” 12 female directors worked across 2019’s 100 top-grossing films, per a new report from USC Annenberg, which also found that average review scores were the same for men and women, though female directors were far less well represented at award shows.

There’s still a way to go for Hollywood’s cadre of big studio directors to reach parity between men and women, though at least 2019 was a better year than most.

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Of the 113 directors helming or co-directing the U.S. box office’s top 100 films in 2019, 10.6% were female, according to “Inclusion in the Director’s Chair,” a USC Annenberg analysis which looked at 1,300 top films from 2007 to 2019.

It’s a 13-year record that improves on the relative highs of 2008 (8%), 2015 (7.5%) and 2017 (7.3%) and the uncomfortable lows of 2013-14 (1.9%).

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Using data from Box Office Mojo, the research team identified 57 individual female directors associated with 13 years’ worth of top 100 films, including 2019’s “Frozen II” co-director Jennifer Lee, “Hustlers” helmer Lorene Scafaria and Greta Gerwig of “Little Women” fame.

Top-grossing female directors from 2019 also included Anna Boden (“Captain Marvel” co-director), Jill Culton (“Abominable”), and Marielle Heller (“A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood”), per the Amazon site’s rundown.

Feature film debutant directors Kasi Lemmons (“Harriet”), Beyoncé collaborator Melina Matsoukas (“Queen & Slim”), “Star Trek: Voyager” actress Roxann Dawson (“Breakthrough”) and Tina Gordon (body-swap comedy “Little”) were likewise named by the USC report.

The study also used Metacritic data to analyze review score averages, finding no significant difference in gender outcomes over the course of the 13 years: male-directed films averaged a 54.2 Metacritic score, with female-directed films accruing a 55.8 Metacritic.

However, the report also pointed out that 13 films made by non-white female directors together logged a 62.5 point Metacritic average over.

Award show inclusion was even lower over the 13-year period, with only 5.1% of Best Director nominees from the Golden Globes, Directors Guild of America Awards, Oscars and Critics’ Choice from 2008 to 2020 being female: Angelina Jolie (“Unbroken”), Ava Duvernay (“Selma”), Gerwig and Bigelow.

The report identified three other routes into filmmaking for up-and-coming female directors: independent movies (34.5% of U.S. Dramatic Competition entrants at Sundance directed by women between 2015 and 2019), TV episodes (31% during the 2018/19 season per the DGA) and Netflix movies (20%).

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“These findings represent just how out of step the studios and mini-majors are … when it comes to female directors,” the report authors urged.

“Overall, these findings reveal that hiring practices have started to shift behind the camera in important ways for women.”

“Where more work is needed, however, is to increase access and opportunity for women of color. When women of color do step behind the camera, the critical reviews of their films were more favorable [than for their counterparts].”

“Expanding the notion of what a director can look like, and how talent is judged will ensure that true and lasting change can be accomplished.” NVG

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TAGS: female directors, Gender Equality, gender parity, gender representation, inclusion, USC Annenberg
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