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Study Says Female Filmmakers Made Major Gains in 2019

A still photo from the 2019 film, 'The Farewell,' directed by Lulu Wang. (Courtesy of Sundance Institute)
Study Says Female Filmmakers Made Major Gains in 2019
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Lulu Wang, Lorene Scafaria, Melina Matsoukas and Greta Gerwig led Hollywood to a record year for women in film directing. In 2019, women directed more of the most popular movies than in any year before.

This combination photo shows, from left, Lulu Wang, director of "The Farewell," Greta Gerwig, director of "Little Women," Lorene Scafaria, director of "Hustlers," and Melina Matsoukas, director of "Queen & Slim."
This combination photo shows, from left, Lulu Wang, director of "The Farewell," Greta Gerwig, director of "Little Women," Lorene Scafaria, director of "Hustlers," and Melina Matsoukas, director of "Queen & Slim."

Women directed 12 of the top 100 most profitable films in 2019. That is the finding of a study released Thursday by USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative. That percentage of female filmmakers, 10.6, is greater than researchers have recorded before. It suggests change is finally coming to a film industry where inequality in directing has remained common.

The past high in USC’s yearly study was eight percent, in 2008. In 2018, only 4.5 percent of the year’s top films were directed by women.

“This is the first time we have seen a shift in hiring practices for female film directors in 13 years,” said Stacy L. Smith, a writer of the study. She noted that Universal Pictures alone had five films with women directors in the top 100 movies.

The success of several of these films had already made 2019 a historic one for women. Wang’s The Farewell is one of the year’s most popular independent releases.

Scafaria’s Hustlers sold more than $100 million worth of tickets.

Also on the list was Matsoukas’ Queen & Slim and Gerwig’s Little Women.

Frozen II with $1.2 billion in worldwide ticket sales, is close to setting a new box-office record for a movie directed by a woman. Jennifer Lee, who co-directed, set the record with the first Frozen film. Other notable films included Kasi Lemmons’ Harriet, Tina Gordon’s Little and Jill Culton’s Abominable.

USC researchers singled out Universal Pictures, where women directed 26 percent of the studio’s films last year. Universal’s chief, Donna Langley, is the only woman to lead a major movie studio.

Paramount Pictures, in contrast, has not released a female-directed movie in the last five years.

Films from the streaming company Netflix largely bypass theaters so they remain outside the study’s limits. However, women directed 20 percent of Netflix’s 2019 movies.

The Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University released a separate study Thursday. It examined women in the top films as not just directors but writers, producers, executive producers, editors and cinematographers. Women accounted for 20 percent of all such work in 2019's top films, up from 16 percent the year before.

Study author Martha Lauzen suggested there is still room for improvement. She said in a statement, “While the numbers moved in a positive direction this year, men continue to outnumber women 4 to 1” in important non-acting positions.

Also of note, female filmmakers have been largely ignored in this awards season. The Hollywood Foreign Press Association’s Golden Globe awards this Sunday are an example. No women are among the nominees for best director. No films directed by women are among nominees for best picture, either.

Rebecca Goldman is the chief operating officer of the anti-discrimination group Time’s Up. She said the lack of women nominees is unacceptable.

“This year, there have been twice as many women-led features than ever, with more films by female directors on the way,” Goldman said. “Women — and especially women of color — continue to be pushed to the sidelines by a system that holds women back, on-screen and off.

I’m Caty Weaver.

The Associated Press reported this story. Caty Weaver adapted it for VOA Learning English. Hai Do was the editor.


Words in This Story

shift -n. to go through a change​

practice -n. something that is done often or regularly​

ticket -n. a piece of paper that permits you to see a show, take part in an event, travel in a vehicle, etc.​

author -n. a person who has written something​

onscreen -adj. in a motion picture or a television program​