1 in 10 top grossing 2019 films directed by a woman

New report shows progress remains slow for people of colour

by Jennie Kermode

Céline Sciamma has received several awards nominations this year for Portrait Of A Lady On Fire
Céline Sciamma has received several awards nominations this year for Portrait Of A Lady On Fire

For the first time, over 10% of the highest grossing films released in the US were directed by women, according to a new report released by the USC Annenburg Inclusion Initiative, which looks at 2019. Of that 10%, three made over $100m: Frozen 2 (Jennifer lee), Captain Marvel (Anna Boden) and Hustlers (Lorene Scafaria). This is significant because although women have generated better returns on investment for some years now, they haven't had access to the level of financing necessary to be major contenders.

Whilst a third of the most successful female directors were women of colour, the wider picture was very different, with women of colour making up only 1% of directors across the top 1,300 films released between 2007 and 2019 although they represent 20% of the US population. This was despite the fact that their work consistently received better critical ratings than that of any other group.

Although the ratings given by critics showed no other variation between groups, there were clear difficulties facing women when it came to awards nominations, which were consistently low in proportion to the number and success of the films they directed. Though the report did not examine this in more detail, it has been noted that studios don't push the work of female directors as hard as that of men when targeting awards voters. Women are also significantly more likely to release their work independently through small companies which are unable to promote it at the top level.

The report commended Universal Pictures for supporting the highest number of female directors; it also employed the most directors of colour. Netflix, meanwhile, increased the proportion of female directors on its projects to 20%.

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