Women directors and screenwriters gain in independent films but lag behind parity

Women directors, screenwriters, editors and producers are making inroads, hitting all-time highs in the independent film world – while still falling behind in reaching parity with men, according to a new study.

The latest Indie Women study, released on Tuesday, found that women have reached record highs as directors (33% in 2018-19, up from 29% in 2017-18), writers (32% in 2018-19, up from 26%), producers (37% in 2018-19, compared to 36%), executive producers (32% in 2018-19, compared to 26%) and editors (29% in 2018-19, compared to 27%).

The study was conducted by Martha M. Lauzen, executive director of San Diego State University’s Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film. He has investigated the employment of women in nationally and independently produced feature films screened at more than 20 major US festivals, including AFI Fest, SXSW Film Festival and Tribeca Film Festival.

This year, the Sundance Film Festival had 45% of films directed by women, including Nisha Ginatra with “Late Night”, Hannah Pearl Utt with “Before You Know It”, Joanna Hogg with “The Souvenir” and Mirrah Foulkes with “Judy and Punch”. ”

The report reviewed over 10,700 credits on over 970 films in 2018-2019 and over 80,000 credits on nearly 8,000 films over the period of 2008-2019.

“After many years of following stubbornly flat numbers, this year women made healthy gains in a number of key behind-the-scenes roles,” Lauzen said. “Despite these increases, it’s important to note that women remain dramatically underrepresented, with independent films employing more than twice as many men as women in these roles.”

Overall, men made up 68% and women 32% of all directors, screenwriters, producers, executive producers, editors and cinematographers working on screening films at festivals in 2018-2019.

The survey also notes that films with at least one female director also employed much higher percentages of female writers, editors and filmmakers. For example, on films with at least one female director, women represent 72% of screenwriters compared to 11% on films directed exclusively by men. On films with at least one female director, women represent 45% of editors compared to 21% of films directed exclusively by men.

“These differences are dramatic and demonstrate that when women direct films, they disrupt traditional hiring patterns, installing women as writers, editors and filmmakers,” Lauzen said. “This trend goes against the widespread and seemingly intractable bias that has favored male networks.”

The upward trend in the survey figures follows several efforts to address the issue of lack of parity between film productions. ReFrame — a coalition of industry leaders founded by Women in Film and the Sundance Institute — and IMDBPro began certifying films for their parity productions a year ago.

At this year’s Sundance Film Festival, a group of filmmakers and Stacy L. Smith of the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative launched the 4 Percent Challenge, a nod to Annenberg’s study, which found that only 4% of the highest-grossing films of the past 11 years have been made. by women. The challenge asked production labels, studios and individual producers to hire a woman (specifically a woman of color) as a director within the next 18 months.