Why Are There So Few Women Behind the Camera?

Original Article by Melissa Goodman

It’s award season in Hollywood, and on top of the nominations buzz, there is typically an uptick in people noticing the stark gender disparities in film.

For the past five years, only about 30 percent of character actors on the big screen have been women. But behind the camera, the gap has been significantly wider.

A recent report found that women accounted for only 16 percent of all directors, producers, writers, cinematographers and editors working on last year’s top 250 grossing films. This infographic sums things up nicely.

The disparities in directing are particularly pronounced. In feature film directing, only 6 percent of directors working on the top 250 films of 2013 were women. This is a 3 percent decrease from 2012.

Television is bad, too. According to the Directors Guild of America (DGA), women directed only 14 percent of TV episodes last year. Of the 200 shows the DGA analyzed, 38 didn’t hire a single woman. And things for women of color are especially dismal — women of color directed only 2 percent of TV episodes last year.

Some women directors have, deservedly, found great success in film and TV directing. But since a lawsuit filed in the 1980s  led to an agreement between the DGA and studios to improve hiring of women and people of color, the numbers of working women directors have sharply declined.

In other words, the numbers continue to tell a story of persistent discrimination and exclusion of women directors. Disparities this stark get our attention. The ACLU has a long history of defending the rights of content creators in TV, film and the arts. At the same time, we advocate for gender equity, particularly in job sectors traditionally dominated by men.

Gender bias — like all forms of bias — is complex and hard to dismantle, but the statistics alone strongly suggest that more action is needed in the industry. The DGA says it is working to address the problem and reportedly has new diversity agreements with the studios that strengthen enforcement and require improved programs to help women and people of color break into directing work. There is no doubt that truly effective diversity programs and real enforcement of these agreements (and employers’ legal obligation not to engage in sex discrimination) would make a real difference.

But real change often requires making problems more visible, human and clear; to translate cold statistics into human stories so that talk turns to action. Many brave women in Hollywood are speaking up about their experiences. 

Audrey Cavenecia