More Women Worked Behind the Scenes on Movies in 1998 Than Do Today

A new study shows that the film industry hasn’t diversified its hiring practices in 16 years.

Ava DuVernay, director of the film ‘Selma.’ (Photo: Robyn Beck/Getty Images)


Jan 14, 2015· 1 MIN READ
Jennifer Swann is TakePart’s culture and lifestyle reporter.

When the nominations for this year's Academy Awards are announced Thursday, Angelina Jolie and Ava DuVernay could be among those in the best director category for their respective historical features, Unbroken and Selma. But a new study out of San Diego State University's Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film suggests Jolie and DuVernay are among a distinct minority that's become smaller, not larger, over the years.

Researchers who studied the employment of women behind the camera on the top 250 films of 2014 found that women only accounted for 7 percent of directors, which is slightly up from last year but down four percentage points from the previous high in 2000, the same year Mary Harron directed American Psycho.

Turns out that the percentage of all directors, writers, producers, executive producers, editors, and cinematographers working last year who were women—17 percent—has stayed exactly the same since 1998. The number hit its peak of 19 percent in 2001, which saw the release of Penny Marshall's Riding in Cars With Boys.

Television didn't fare much better this year when it came to hiring women directors, even though several network shows were built around complex female characters—from Viola Davis' lead in How to Get Away With Murder to Gina Rodriguez's title character in Jane the Virgin.

A separate San Diego State University study shows that only 13 percent of the programs sampled from broadcast networks, cable, and Netflix between 2013 and 2014 were helmed by women directors, while one in five TV shows was created by a woman. This year's Golden Globes acknowledged those TV shows in its nominations for best TV series, musical, or comedy, in which four out of five had female creators.

Will the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences similarly rise to the task this year of honoring women behind the camera? Kathryn Bigelow, who won for The Hurt Locker in 2009, is still the only woman to take home the Oscar for best director. Critics coined the term "the Bigelow effect" in the hopes that her historic win would not only encourage more women behind the camera but also sway the academy to nominate female directors.

If Jolie and DuVernay both receive Oscar nods this year, it will be the first time two women are nominated in the best director category at one time. (Only four women, including Bigelow, have been nominated for best director in the awards show's 86-year history.)

We've yet to see the big-picture impact of the Bigelow effect, but we can only imagine that a DuVernay effect would inevitably boost this year's dearth of female directors.