Story at a glance

  • There were more female directors last year than there have been in more than a decade.
  • Still, no women were nominated for best director in the 2020 Oscars.
  • A new study finds that women are still heavily underrepresented behind the scenes in Hollywood, especially women of color.

Women are outnumbered in the director's chair by 20 to 1, according to new research from the Annenberg Foundation. But in 2019, more than 10 percent of top films were directed by women — the highest number in more than a decade. 

One of those films, “Little Women,” directed by Greta Gerwig, is nominated for best picture and best adapted screenplay in this year’s Oscar nominations. But in 2020, for the third year in a row, no female director has been nominated for best director. In fact, only five female directors have been nominated a total of five times for best director, and only one — Kathryn Bigelow — has won.

Female-directed films did succeed in the box office in 2019, however. Of the top 100 movies of the year, 12 of the directors were women, up from five in 2018. As for their caliber, the study compared Metacritic scores for films with only male directors with those with a female director attached and found no difference. 

“Despite receiving the same average critical review, female directors were given substantially less access and opportunity than male directors to helm these highly visible films,” the study said. 

Women of color face even tougher odds. In the last five years, more than half of film slates distributed across the largest companies did not have a single woman of color on them, according to the study.

The study also looked specifically at the gender of director nominations over 13 years in four awards shows: the Golden Globes, Oscars, Directors Guild of America and Critics' Choice Awards. Of 273 nominations, only 14 were given to female directors. Of those 14 nominations, only four individual women were nominated. Ava DuVernay was the only woman of color nominated for a directing award.

Film awards are part of a cycle that can feed themselves, making it difficult for those excluded to break in. 

“Recognition from peers and other industry members can provide a critical boost to a director’s career. The public prominence that can result from a high-profile nomination can also create new role models for aspiring filmmakers or students,” the study said.  

The Oscars have attempted to address past criticism of their nominations by reshaping their voting base. In 2016, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences pledged to double female and minority membership by the end of 2020. Half of the new voting members added last year were women, bringing the percent of female voters to 32 percent in 2019 from 25 percent in 2015. 

Published on Jan 13, 2020