As 2019 winds down and we all head into a new decade, a piece of good news to hopefully serve as a promise of things to come: 2019 saw a record number of female directors making movies, according to a study by the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative. In fact, 10.6% of the 100 highest-grossing films of the year were directed or co-directed by women, including massive hits like Captain Marvel (Anna Boden) and Frozen II (Jennifer Lee). In 2018, that number was only 4.5%
Other notable 2019 films directed by women include Little Women (Greta Gerwig), Hustlers (Lorene Scafaria), The Farewell (Lulu Wang), Queen & Slim (Melina Matsoukas), Booksmart (Olivia Wilde), and A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (Marielle Heller). Stacy L. Smith, one of the authors of the study, told Variety that “We’re finally seeing some traction. A confluence of factors have led to a real moment in 2019.”
Some of these factors include the burgeoning influence of the Time’s Up and Me Too movements, the increased chance for opportunities at film festivals (34.5% of narrative features at Sundance over the past five years were made by women), an increase in female directors in television (31% of episodic television over the past two years were directed by women), and studio changes in hiring practices. From a studio perspective, Universal Pictures led the way in female-directed films, boasting over 25% of their entire slate. STX Entertainment came next with 25%, followed by Netflix at 20%, Sony and Disney with 17%, and Warner Bros. with 16%.
There is still a long way to go for proper representation for women, particularly WOC, working as directors. Paramount Pictures has literally made zero movies with female directors for the past five years. White directors, including white women, outnumber underrepresented directors by a ratio of five to one — the figure of films made by underrepresented folks in 2019 is 16.8%, down from 21.4% in 2018. When the 2019 Golden Globe nominations were announced, the Best Director field was, dispiritingly, all men. In fact, female filmmakers seem to be systematically shut out of many important award show conversations. Since 2008 when the study began, only four women have ever been nominated for a Best Director award in the Golden Globes, Academy Awards, DGA Awards, or Critics’ Choice Awards, and only one has won: Kathryn Bigelow for The Hurt Locker. This comes in stark contrast to the fact that, based on analyses of critical response using sites like Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic, male and female filmmakers tend to receive similar responses. In fact, female directors from underrepresented communities tend to score eight points higher.
However, 2020 offers a lot of hope for female filmmakers. Many of the largest films of the year will be directed by women, including Disney’s live-action Mulan remake (Niki Caro). Additionally, all four major superhero pictures are directed by women: Wonder Women 1984 (Patty Jenkins), Birds of Prey (Cathy Yan), Black Widow (Cate Shortland), and The Eternals (Chloé Zhao). This likely ensures a massive gain for high-grossing films made by women, and represents a major turning point in the ongoing battle for representation. “2020 will be an extraordinary year for female directors,” said Smith. “That’s important, because we’re seeing women being given opportunities to direct action movies and not just smaller, independent films. … Progress will come when females are given the opportunity to carry movies behind the camera across genres and budget ranges.”
For more on Birds of Prey and star Margot Robbie‘s work toward female representation behind and in front of the camera, take a look at the latest image released, alongside her strenuous research habits.