More women than ever working in film – but men still dominate key roles

 More women than ever working in film – but men still dominate key roles

The number of women working in the film industry reached a historic high in 2019, but men still outnumber women four to one in key roles.

Women made up 20% of behind-the-scenes roles on the top 100 domestic grossing films of 2019, a sharp uptick from 16% in 2018, a study by the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego University revealed. However, when it comes to key jobs like director and cinematographer, men continue to dominate.

“It’s odd to talk about reaching historic highs when women remain so far from parity,” said Martha Lauzen, the executive director of the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film.

The center has been running the annual study, “Celluloid Ceiling”, since 1997. This year, the review for the first time included numbers for oft-overlooked roles such as composers, music supervisors and visual effects supervisors in addition to more prominent positions. The team found strongholds and troubling shortcomings. Women accounted for 43% of music supervisors on the top 500 films released in 2019 and 27% of producer roles, but only for 2% of cinematography roles on the top 100 films released.

Beanie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever in Booksmart. Feldstein has worked with female directors on 75% of her films and Dever on 43%. 

“I think it’s important to recognize that women’s underemployment extends far beyond directors, writers, producers, editors and cinematographers,” Lauzen said. “Inequality reaches into every facet and corner of the business.”

Lauzen believes it isn’t a coincidence that women fare worse in the traditionally male-identified roles. “When we think about what a director or cinematographer looks like, when we see those pictures inside our heads, typically they are of a white male. We can’t discount the impact these subconscious images have on hiring decisions. People tend to hire others who look like they do.”

“Celluloid Ceiling” comes on the eve of awards season, and amid growing concerns Hollywood award committees will not continue the upward trend of recognizing women in film this year.

The Hollywood Foreign Press Association faced backlash when its nominations in the best director category did not include any women directors, in a year replete with strong contenders such as Greta Gerwig (Little Women), Lulu Wang (The Farewell), and Olivia Wilde (Booksmart). “We don’t vote by gender. We vote by film and accomplishment,” Lorenzo Soria, the president of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, told Variety when pressed about the absence of women directors.

Prominent female actors are leading the charge in changing the status-quo. As part of the Time Up’s campaign, launched in 2017, Nicole Kidman, Jennifer Lopez, Tessa Thompson and others made public pledges to work with women directors. Since then, Kidman has starred in over five films directed by women and Lopez starred in the critically-acclaimed stripper drama, Hustlers, directed by Lorene Scarfia.

But Lauzen cautions that this year’s “Celluloid Ceilings” findings show it’s crucial not to become distracted by marquee female-led films and directors and assume the battle for gender parity is won.

“It’s easy to think things have improved dramatically when we see high-profile women such as Patty Jenkins and Marielle Heller directing films or when we hear that women are set to direct five superhero studio features in 2020,” Lauzen says. “A few high-profile cases can dramatically skew our perceptions of how women are faring. That’s why it’s so important to count the numbers of women working, so that we’re not acting on perceptions but on reality.”

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