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Women working on films made historic but modest gains in 2019, Celluloid Ceiling study finds

“Captain Marvel”
“Captain Marvel,” starring Brie Larsen, above, and co-directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, was one of 2019’s highest grossing films helmed by women.
(Chuck Zlotnick / Disney)

The number of women working behind the scenes in Hollywood increased slightly over the last year, according to the annual Celluloid Ceiling study, which tracks women’s employment in the entertainment industry.

Reaching a historic high, women made up 20% of all directors, writers, producers, executive producers, editors and cinematographers working on the top 100 and top 250 domestic-grossing films, according to the study, which was conducted by the Center for the Study of Women in Television & Film at San Diego State University.

That’s an increase from 16% in 2018.

“While the numbers moved in a positive direction this year, men continue to outnumber women 4 to 1 in key behind-the-scenes roles. It’s odd to talk about reaching historic highs when women remain so far from parity,” Martha Lauzen, the study’s author and the center’s executive director, said in a statement to The Times.

The number women directing top-grossing movies rose to the highest level since 2007, with the percentage of female directors doubling since 2018, indicating that Hollywood is making modest progress in its efforts to diversify its ranks.
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However, the percentage of women employed on the top 500 films remained stagnant at about 23%. And women made up only 14% of directors working on the top 500 movies, which is down 1 percentage point from 2018.

“It will be tempting to look at the increase of women directing top 100 and top 250 films and conclude that 2019 was a major turning point for women’s employment,” Lauzen added. “That may be true, but we won’t know if 2019 was a single good year or the beginning of an upward trend until we see the numbers for 2020 and 2021.”

Perhaps a marked improvement is in store for the new year? A Fandango survey last month found that movies starring and directed by women, such as “Wonder Woman 1984” and Marvel’s “Black Widow,” are among the most anticipated films of 2020.

Among last year’s notable films that employed women are the romance “The Sun Is Also a Star,” which stood out in the study because of women in the director, writer, cinematographer and composer seats (it also has female and male producers); the superhero flick “Captain Marvel,” which was codirected by a woman, enlisted both female and male writers, executive producers and a female composer; and the comedy “Little,” which was also directed by a woman, hired women as writers, executive producers and used a female composer.

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Also on Thursday, a study by USC Annenberg’s Inclusion Initiative found that the number of women directing top-grossing movies rose to its highest level since 2007, indicating that Hollywood is making modest progress in diversifying its ranks, though women of color are still vastly underrepresented among filmmakers.

Movie hub Fandango surveyed 2,000 millennials who say they’re most looking forward to ‘Wonder Woman 1984,’ ‘Black Widow,’ ‘Eternals’ and ‘Mulan’ in 2020.

San Diego State’s Celluloid Ceiling study, now in its 22nd year, is considered the longest-running and most comprehensive available on women’s employment in film. The study, released Thursday, looked at employment in three categories: the top 100, 250 and 500 domestic-grossing movies of 2019, with each category including the films that came before it.

This year’s report monitored more than 6,700 credits, and the figures were based on numbers obtained from the box-office tracking site Box Office Mojo on Wednesday. The study has tracked more than 70,000 credits since 1998.

The study found that women accounted for 12% of directors working on the top 100 grossing films of 2019, which is a significant uptick from 4% in 2018 and 8% in 2017.

As for the top 250 of 2019, women made up 13% of directors, up from 8% in 2018 and up 2 percentage points from the previous high of 11% in 2017, the study said. Women in that category fared best as producers (27%), followed by editors (23%), executive producers (21%) and writers (19%). They fared worst as cinematographers (5%).

In the top 500 films category, the largest percentage of women, relative to men, worked on documentaries (27%). That was followed by comedies (25%), dramas (24%), animated features (23%), science-fiction features (21%), horror features (17%) and action films (14%). Women fared best as producers (29%), followed by editors (22%), executive producers (22%), writers (20%) and directors (14%). They did the worst as cinematographers (6%).

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