Closing The Gap

Fewer women directed top-grossing films in 2018, study shows

Reese Witherspoon attends the European Premiere of 'A Wrinkle In Time' at BFI IMAX on March 13, 2018 in London, England.
Photo by Mike Marsland/Mike Marsland/WireImage
Reese Witherspoon attends the European Premiere of 'A Wrinkle In Time' at BFI IMAX on March 13, 2018 in London, England.

The number of women directing Hollywood movies declined in 2018, according to a new report from the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University.

Women accounted for just 8 percent of directors working on the top 250 domestic grossing movies, a decrease in 11 percent since 2017. That's lower than 20 years ago, in 1998, when female directors comprised 9 percent of the group.

Martha Lauzen, executive director of the center and author of the report, said the findings show just how resistant Hollywood is to achieving gender equality. "I am not surprised by the results," Lauzen told CNBC Make It. "The numbers have been remarkably stable for the last 20 years."

"The study provides no evidence that the mainstream film industry has experienced the profound positive shift predicted by so many industry observers over the last year," Lauzen said in a press release. "This radical underrepresentation is unlikely to be remedied by the voluntary efforts of a few individuals or a single studio. Without a large-scale effort mounted by the major players — the studios, talent agencies, guilds and associations — we are unlikely to see meaningful change."

Women directed high-profile films in 2018 included Ava DuVernay's "A Wrinkle in Time," Susanna Fogel's "The Spy Who Dumped Me" and Kay Cannon's "Blockers." But all of the top 10 top grossing films of 2018 were directed by men.

Women fared slightly better in non-directing roles. They accounted for 26 percent of producers of the top movies in 2018 (up 1 percent since 2017), and comprised 21 percent of producers, a 2 percent increase since 2017.

Despite slight single-digit gains in other jobs, the numbers are grim. In 2018, 92 percent of the films surveyed had no women directors, 96 percent had no women cinematographers and nearly 75 percent had no women writers or editors, the study shows.

"When women are systemically unrepresented behind the camera, in directing roles and writing roles that create and shape characters, they end up producing movies that don't appeal to everyone," Darnell Hunt, UCLA's Dean of social sciences and the co-author of the annual Hollywood diversity report, told CNBC Make It.

A mere 1 percent of films employed 10 or more women in roles behind-the-scenes. One of those rare movies was "Colette" starring Keira Knightley, which was directed by a man but included women in production and writing roles.

A previous study from the Creative Artists Agency and shift7 found that women-led films outearned movies starring men, across all budget levels, from 2014 to 2017. "Hollywood is leaving money on the table. On average, movies that look more like America in terms of diversity and inclusion do better," Hunt said.

"There needs to be something more basic and universal where various industry players get together and collaboratively come up with approaches of doing business that are more inclusive of women and people of color."

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