Hollywood’s Major Behind-the-Scenes Jobs Rarely Go to Women

Only 7 percent of directors working on the 250 highest-grossing domestic releases in 2016 were women.

The state of female representation behind-the-scenes of Hollywood’s biggest films is dismal.

According to a report just released by the Center for the Study of Women in Television & Film at San Diego State University, the number of women represented in the roles of director, writer, producer, executive producer, editor, and cinematographer for the top 250 domestic grossing films of 2016 was down from the previous year and level with where it was in 1998. That’s right, folks. It’s not easier for female directors, writers, producers, etc. to break into Hollywood now than it was almost two decades ago.

How difficult is it for women to get a major behind-the-scenes role in Hollywood’s biggest films? In 2016, women made up 17 percent of the directors, writers, producers, executive producers, editors, and cinematographers on top 250 domestic grossing films. 

Women accounted for seven percent of directors, which was down two percent from 2015 and 1998. Women were most represented in the producer role, but still were well below their male counterparts in terms of representation. Women made up 24% of producers, 17% of editors, 17% of executive producers, 13% of writers, and 5% of cinematographers.

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More than a third of films had zero or one woman in the roles looked at above. In contrast, only two percent employed only zero or one men in the roles mentioned. To further look at it in terms of the absence of women in major behind-the-scenes roles: 92% had no women directors, 77% had no women writers, 58% had no women exec. producers, 34% had no women producers, 79% had no women editors, 96% had no women cinematographers.

Dr. Martha Lauzen, the executive director of the center and the study’s author, said of the findings:

I would say I’m dumbfounded. It is remarkable that with all of the attention and talk over the last couple of years in the business and the film industry, the numbers actually declined. Clearly the current remedies aren’t working.

As public shaming and the discussion of Hollywood’s diversity problem doesn’t seem to be doing the job, Lauzen suggests that government action may be required. 

When reports like this come out or suggestions like Lauzen’s are made, there is an evitable argument that “the best people” should get the job, regardless of diversity. There is an implicit belief in that argument that white men are inherently the best people for the job, which just isn’t true. Still, most of the time, white men are the ones who get the opportunities to prove themselves. This doesn’t mean they don’t often do a good job, but there is so much untapped talent with different life experiences and therefore different strengths, weaknesses, and perspectives that we’re not giving those opportunities to.

Creating space for greater diversity behind the camera — whether it be in terms of women, people of color, or other underepresented demographics — isn’t a pity appointment, it creates more diverse stories and a stronger industry. I can’t be the only one who is sick of seeing the same narrative tropes repeated ad nauseum in many of Hollywood’s biggest films. Diversity behind the camera is how that changes.

In reading this study, I was reminded of The Atlantic’s recent piece “The Infuriating Cancellation of Good Girls Revolt,” which looks at Amazon Video’s decision to cancel Good Girls Revolt, a pretty great TV show about the landmark sex discrimination lawsuit 45 other women filed against Newsweek in 1970, as well as the broader implications of what happens when there aren’t any women present for senior-level decison-making.

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In the article, Marianne Cooper writes:

This tendency for white men to disproportionately control editorial decision making—to use their particular experience and taste as a proxy for everyone else’s experience and taste—can have real consequences for brands and bottom lines. This is especially true as our society becomes increasingly diverse and multicultural.  

In the words of advertising titan Cindy Gallop, ‘There’s a huge amount of money to be made out of taking women seriously.’ But companies and brands will fail to do so if women aren’t taken seriously as employees first.

If you’re interested in reading more about the Center for the Study of Women in Television & Film findings, check out the full report: The Celluloid Ceiling: Behind-the-Scenes Employment of Women on the Top 100, 250, and 500 Films of 2016.