A new study commissioned by both the Sundance Institute and Women in Film found the gender gap between directors to be at its widest in top-grossing films.
The report is authored by Stacy L. Smith, director of the Media, Diversity, & Social Change Initiative at USC’s Annenberg School, and analyzes the obstacles and opportunities women face in American independent film.
“Across the 1,300 top-grossing films from 2002 to 2014, only 4.1 percent of all directors were female,” reads the study.
The analysis finds the ratio of male-to-female directed movies in competition at the Sundance Film Festival from 2002 to 2014 was 3 to 1, whereas the 1,300 top-grossing films released from 2002 to 2014 was about 23 to 1.
“After three years of research, the question can now progress from ‘why are female directors missing behind the camera in top films?’ to ‘what can be done to create change?'” said Smith.
The new study also examined the perception many in the film industry have about female directors.
A survey of 59 filmmakers, film buyers, and sellers reinforced common industry attitudes regarding commercial limitations for female-directed films.
Among the results, via Variety:
44% said female directors are perceived to make films for a subset and/or less significant portion of the marketplace.
42% believe there is a scarcity of female directors and a small pool to choose from in top-grossing films.
25% cited women’s perceived lack of ambition in taking on directing jobs.
22% cited the skewed representation of women in decision making roles in the industry as a factor in limiting job opportunities for female directors.
12% cited the belief that women “can’t handle” certain types of films or aspects of production, such as commanding a large crew.
Furthermore, gender seems to be a significant factor in stories told by directors at Sundance:
Three-quarters of all dramatic competition movies featured drama, comedy and/or romance, with female-directed films (92.5%) more concentrated in these genres then male-directed films (69%).
However, gender didn’t influence whether Sundance films received theatrical distribution:
Of 208 movies from 2002-2014, 177 received domestic distribution (85.1%). Female-directed films (88.7%) we’re just as likely to receive distribution as male-directed films (83.9%).
According to the report:
Movies with a female director (70.2%) were more likely than movies with a male director (56.9%) to be distributed by independent companies with fewer financial resources and lower industry clout.
Male-directed films (43.1%) were more likely than female-directed films (29.8%) to receive distribution from a studio specialty arm or mini-major.
“Having completed this three-year study, we have accomplished a thorough analysis of this issue and now know that female filmmakers face deep rooted presumptions from the film industry about their creative qualifications, sensibilities, tendencies and ambitions,” president of Women in Film Los Angeles Cathy Schulman said. “Now we need to move a heavy boat through deep waters, and WIF is committed to year-round action until sustainable gender party is achieved.”