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What Bigelow Effect? Number of Women Directors in Hollywood Falls to 5 Percent

by Melissa Silverstein
January 24, 2012 10:12 AM
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The Oscar nominations this morning give us another year where there are no women directors included in the list.  This year we won't see Kathryn Bigelow up on the stage giving out the best director award to the next winner.  When she won two years ago there was much hope that the numbers of women directing in Hollywood would get better.

You can't really judge anything in year one because it takes so long to make films.  But here we are in year two and the numbers have gone down.  They didn't even stay the same.  They went down.  Women make up 5 percent of directors in Hollywood in 2011.  I find that a devestating number.  Five percent.  That's down from 7 percent in 2010 and down from 7 percent in 2009.  That's down from 9 percent in 1998.  Women made more movies as directors in 1998 than they did in 2011. 

This is gut check time people. 

People like to think that things are getting better and on the surface it may look like that.  Women make up 18% of all behind the scenes roles in Hollywood.  That's up from 16% last year.  But that is virtually the same amount as when these statistics started being tabulated in 1998.  No progress overall in over a decade.

Sure, some of the numbers have improved.  Cinematographers have gone up two points to 4 percent.  Women writers to 14%.  Women producers are at 25%.  But none of these numbers have shown any significant improvement in over a decade. 

Women's progress in Hollywood is stalled and has been for a long time.  Don't believe the bullshit that things are better.  it's all smoke and mirrors.  Something serious must be done.

As always, a big thanks for Dr. Martha Lauzen at SDSU for showing the reality on women's progress or lack thereof in Hollywood.

The Full Executive Summary:

The Celluloid Ceiling: Behind-the-Scenes Employment of Women on the Top 250 Films of 2011
by Martha M. Lauzen, Ph.D.
Copyright © 2012 – All rights reserved.

In 2011, women comprised 18% of all directors, executive producers, producers, writers, cinematographers, and editors working on the top 250 domestic grossing films. This represents an increase of 2 percentage points from 2010 and an increase of 1 percentage point from 1998.

Women accounted for 5% of directors, a decrease of 2 percentage points from 2010 and approximately half the percentage of women directors working in 1998.  

The following summary provides employment figures for 2011 and compares the most recent statistics with those from previous years.


This study analyzed behind-the-scenes employment of 2,636 individuals working on the top 250 domestic grossing films (foreign films omitted) of 2011.

  • 38% of films employed 0 or 1 woman in the roles considered, 23% employed 2 women, 30% employed 3 to 5 women, and 7% employed 6 to 9 women.
  • A historical comparison of women’s employment on the top 250 films in 2011 and 1998 reveals that the percentage of women directors has declined. The percentages of women writers and producers have increased slightly. The percentages of women executive producers, editors, and cinematographers have remained the same.
  • Women comprised 5% of all directors working on the top 250 films of 2011. Ninety four percent (94%) of the films had no female directors.
  • Women accounted for 14% of writers working on the top 250 films of 2011. Seventy seven percent (77%) of the films had no female writers.
  • Women comprised 18% of all executive producers working on the top 250 films of 2011.  Fifty nine percent (59%) of the films had no female executive producers.
  • Women accounted for 25% of all producers working on the top 250 films of 2011. Thirty six percent (36%) of the films had no female producers.
  • Women accounted for 20% of all editors working on the top 250 films of 2011. Seventy six percent (76%) of the films had no female editors.
  • Women comprised 4% of all cinematographers working on the top 250 films of 2011. Ninety six percent (96%) of the films had no female cinematographers.
  • Women were most likely to work in the documentary, drama, and comedy genres. They were least likely to work in the horror, action, and animated genres.

Report compiled by Dr. Martha M. Lauzen, Executive Director, Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film, School of Theatre, Television and Film, San Diego State University, San Diego, CA, 92182, 619.594.6301.

Free Indie Movies and Documentaries    


  • Lizzie | March 5, 2012 1:42 AMReply

    Graham, I went to a top 5 film school, where the students were roughly half female. I didn't notice until recently that while the men had been urged to direct, most of the female students had been taken aside by a "mentor" and urged to go into documentaries or children's television.

    I never had much hope that Bigelow's win would change things. She is undoubtedly talented, but she got a multi-picture production deal as part of her divorce from James Cameron. Without that, would anyone have thought, "Gee, let's hire this woman to direct our war movie?"

    I've been in three production meetings recently where we were tossing around names for directors or DPs. All the names proposed were men. Finally, I asked, "Are there no women?" And it turns out, "You know, actually Susan would be perfect for this project." But when you say the word "director" people picture a man. They just do.

    Thank goodness I'm a screenwriter. We're used to getting no respect, male or female. :-)

  • Mustafa Hassan | March 4, 2012 2:06 PMReply

    I'm a film student, and a guy. I can say that I witness the things that other guys do behind women's back that is clearly sexist. I remember it was my first year and I was helping out a senior film student with auditions, and he was giving this one lady so many adjustments it looked like he liked her work and she was about to get the part. The moment she steps out the door he starts referring to her as c*nt. I say this because this guy here has all the opportunities to be a producer, director, or anything her wants to be, and he can turn into the type that keeps women and minorities out of hollywood. As much as I would like to see all the bad white male directors be switched with good minority directors. I'd much rather just wanna work a good, honest career and try to end up in a place where I'm welcome.

  • Siobhan | March 2, 2012 1:34 PMReply

    @GRAHAM, If women aren't interested in making films, why are so many of them going to film school? Women make up almost half of film school students, graduate, and then... disappear? Change their minds? No... Maybe film schools should charge female students a proportional tuition based on their actual future earning potential in the industry. Hmmm?

  • Paula Zimmerman-Taylor | February 21, 2012 8:39 PMReply

    Having been at this for over 13 years, and having completed a feature-length doc, sit-com pilot and many shorts, I feel the almost physical sense of marginalization that a woman feels trying to tough it out in the industry and after a while, even with the most tenacious nature, one begins to fade away from the fight, and that's part of why themen continue to prevail. Sad but true.

  • dominique heffley | February 20, 2012 4:34 PMReply

    Having met and known women who work behind the scenes in the moviemaking industry, and I say that direct sexism is alive and well. Not just the subtile stuff. Offenses range from being told "No one would work with a female cinematographer" to working with men who choose not to listen to women and exclude working with them on future productions.
    All this in spite of a woman's talent and skill. Being excluded, in addition to dealing with those who argue "women just aren't interested" are the problem. Quite simple.

  • Jan Lisa Huttner | February 11, 2012 9:38 AMReply

    Please read my cross-post:

    which concludes as follows: "Many wonderful films written and/or directed by women have been released in the past decade. Despite all the obstacles, many women have, in fact, completed their films; that is not the problem. The films are there, but what’s missing is the audience. A different diagnosis suggests a different treatment plan: We need more women film critics to balance out the male critics who “professionally can’t hear us,” and we need more committed audiences willing to “to identify with a woman character.”

    We can't wait for the government to do this for us. WE must consciously work for change by seeking out all the wonderful films made by women filmmakers (films Melissa lists for us every week). We must see them, generate buzz, & help them to become more commercially successful at the box office. Only then will we see genuine change. Do I really believe this? Yes, I do!

  • Korky Day | February 10, 2012 1:58 PMReply

    I think female quotas should be law. Bring them up to 50% over 10 years. I know people think that's reverse sexism and unwarranted interference in the "free market", but they are wrong. I want the government to be the people's instrument to make the world better. A quota works in Canada to make sure Canadian music is heard on the radio in the face of the dominant USA music industry. Other countries are similar. Quotas are in the USA Constitution to make sure that each state is represented in Congress, not just the rich and big states.

  • Bigger Brother | March 14, 2012 4:47 AM

    OK, so where would this 50% quota apply? Across the board or like every other feminist demand, only in selected, cushy areas? If it's across the board, meaning it is applied EQUALLY and choice is removed from the equation, then we will have to force more women to go down the mines. We will have to pull millions of $$$ from women's health funding to men's health to equalize the budgets. We will have to throw women out of their home to ensure that they make up 50% of the homeless. We will have to forcibly send women into more combat situations so that at least 50% of those body bags coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan contain female bodies. Because when you demand 'equality' it has to be the whole deal, the rough with the smooth, so be careful what you wish for.
    But you don't want that do you? Women are parachuting on the back of male endeavour and genius. They provide the vital backdrop and support that is fine. Modern technology supplied by male brain and mainly manpower enables women to enjoy the quality of life that they are not equipped to supply themselves. Suck it up!

  • David | February 22, 2012 10:57 PM

    Wow, how fascist of you.

  • Paula Zimmerman-Taylor | February 21, 2012 8:41 PM

    Great idea; how to implement it. I can already hear the drumbeat of testosterone fighting this.

  • marie-francoise | February 10, 2012 4:02 PM

    hear! hear! I agree with you 100%! The whole 'free market" argument is so blatantly unfair it's ridiculous and only serves to keep the status quo. A quota for minorities and women is obviously necessary. And for those who cry "I don't want so and so to tell me who to hire", oh please! SOMEBODY or SOMETHING is ALWAYS telling you who to hire. If only to reach a certain demographic to increase the bottom line, please a producer, a powerful agent, land a star for the role or whatever.

    People (predominately white males in this case) never ever give up power willingly. They have to be made to do it. And to be sure that there isn't a backlash, as with Affirmative Action, there has to be a clear, concise, ongoing PR campaign to be sure the right message is coming across or you'll get lots of women being against their own good (like when poor or working class white people vote essentially against themselves by overwhelmingly supporting ultra rich conservative politicians who are going to cut the very programs that serve poor people, including poor whites).

  • Julie | January 30, 2012 10:10 PMReply

    This article really inspires me to kick a lot of ass in life. I'm a female indie filmmaker in Oakland, California. I'm in post-production on a feature film. Mark my words. I'm going to get 1,000,000 people to watch my little indie movie with tons of heart. So, help me Jesus Christ. I'll do it just out of spite to this article. Sheesh.

    Come on people! Women are awesome!!! Hollywood, hire women!!! I promise, Hollywood, women are really, really cool. Hire them to do stuff. Come on!

  • Korky Day | February 10, 2012 2:07 PM

    Determination is good. It would also help if you stated the name of your film and your last name.

  • Graham | January 25, 2012 6:11 PMReply

    Maybe,just maybe there are a lot of women who don't want to be directors.Is it always lack of oppurtunity,or does desire enter in?We make assumptions that females and males have the same wants and desires and only the plumbing makes any difference.Guess what,that makes a big difference.

  • Lizzie | March 5, 2012 1:48 AM

    Graham, Set foot in any first-year film class at UCLA, USC, NYU or Columbia. This myth of "women just don't want to" is a big fat lie.

  • The Questioner | January 30, 2012 2:39 PM

    "Maybe,just maybe there are a lot of women who don't want to be directors.Is it always lack of oppurtunity,or does desire enter in?"

    You'd like to believe that, wouldn't you? Well newsflash---you're wrong. Women writers, directors, and behind-the-scenes workers are passed over all the time by major studios. Women filmmakers have talked about this phenomenon time and time and time again. Yet we still have industry apologists blaming women themselves (lack of desire, seriously?) for the active discrimination they face from the overwhelmingly white male heads of studios and networks in Hollywood.

  • MAM | January 26, 2012 7:39 PM

    That would be convenient, but I know far too many women knocking their heads against the "celluloid ceiling" to believe that it's a lack of interest in the job that results in the low number of working female directors.

    Melissa, I agree that something needs to be done. It's not sorting itself out on its own. It's never going to.

  • melanie | January 25, 2012 4:49 PMReply

    What's the status on the Pink List?

  • Richard Lilly | January 24, 2012 2:55 PMReply

    The other problem could be the Oscar process it self - many years it's so badly biase the non American world laughs and decides they are wrong anyway.over the years they have ignored what was considered great and put in fluff. Who truly decides ?

  • Richard Lilly | January 24, 2012 2:48 PMReply

    Why is this happening in our day and age .is the male dominince that strong ? Or is it a lack of women entering the proffesion from the ground up or just jumping in ? It seems the same for book authors as well .what can we do out here as film watchers ?

  • Lizzie | March 5, 2012 1:58 AM

    A generation of male directors (the ones now in charge of the Academy) got their start in an era when women and minorities were systematically excluded from the career-track opportunities they got. As they started to produce quality films and garner awards, they started to believe that they had succeeded entirely on talent. And that led to the perception that men were just naturally better than women -- after all, men won all the awards. Today, since most studio films these days are marketed to young men, there's a general sense that women can't direct studio movies unless they're rom coms. So that limits the opportunities a LOT. (Katherine Bigelow broke through only because her divorce settlement with James Cameron gave her a production deal. Otherwise, she'd probably have been banging her head into a wall too, being told that she just wasn't "right" for a movie like The Hurt Locker.)

  • The Questioner | January 30, 2012 2:44 PM

    People generally choose professions where they know there is a chance they'll be successful. Most women filmmakers can see that the industry is still sexist, which is why most make films OUTSIDE of the Hollywood system. When Hollywood figures out that their own inertia and lack of vision is the problem that's keeping them stagnant, only then will they change.

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