The state of female filmmaking in Hollywood is still tenuous despite the historic success of Greta Gerwig’s “Barbie,” according to two new university studies.

While “Barbie,” distributed by Warner Bros., made history as the highest-grossing film ever directed by a woman, the 26th annual Celluloid Ceiling report from San Diego State University and the 2023 Inclusion in the Director’s Chair study from the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative found that female filmmakers — especially female filmmakers of color — are rarely hired by major studios.

“While Greta Gerwig’s ‘Barbie’ reigned supreme as the number one box office film, women remained dramatically underrepresented as directors,” the Celluloid Ceiling study reads, “accounting for just 16 percent of those working on the 250 top grossing films and 14 percent on the 100 top grossing films. It’s the ultimate illusion, Gerwig’s well-deserved triumph belied the gender inequality that pervades the mainstream film industry.”

According to the Celluloid Ceiling report, women comprised 22 percent of directors, writers, producers, executive producers, editors, and cinematographers working on the top 250 grossing films. This finding marks a decline of 2 percent from 2022.

The lack of women directors also reflects the gender imbalance below the line: 75 percent of the top-grossing films employed 10 or more men as directors, writers, producers, executive producers, editors, and cinematographers, with just 4 percent employing 10 or more women.

In contrast, films with at least one woman director employed substantially more women in other key behind-the-scenes roles than films with exclusively male directors. On films with at least one woman director, women comprised 61 percent of writers, 35 percent of editors, 10 percent of cinematographers, and 26 percent of composers. On films with male directors, women accounted for 9 percent of writers, 18 percent of editors, 7 percent of cinematographers, and 11 percent of composers.

The Inclusion in the Director’s Chair study spans 17 years, from 2007 to 2023. In total, female filmmakers were behind only 6 percent of the top-grossing films. For 2023, only four women of color (3.4 percent) directed one of the 100 top-grossing films of the past year. Three of those women were Asian, with Celine Song’s “Past Lives,” Adele Lim’s “Joy Ride,” and Fawn Veerasunthorn’s “Wish.” The fourth female filmmaker of color is Nia DaCosta with “The Marvels.”

The study found that racially underrepresented women directors earn the highest Metacritic scores but are hired the least.

Looking at specific distribution studios, Universal Pictures had the strongest showing in terms of hiring women filmmakers with four female directors over 17 years, followed by Lionsgate (3) and Walt Disney Studios (2).

“The major distributors are having difficulty greenlighting films with women and people of color attached as helmers,” the study reads. “This report offers a contrast to those who might celebrate the dawning of change in Hollywood after a year in which ‘Barbie’ topped the box office. One film or one director are simply not enough to create the sea change that is still needed behind the camera. Until studios, executives and producers alter the way they make decisions about who is qualified and available to work as a director on top-grossing films, there is little reason to believe that optimism is warranted.”

Recently, Oscar winner Cate Blanchett launched the Proof of Concept initiative with the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative and Netflix to grant eight female, trans, or non-binary filmmakers $50,000 each to complete short films as “proof of concepts” for features or TV series. Blanchett’s Dirty Films producing partner, Emmy Award nominee Coco Francini, and USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative founder and director Dr. Stacy L Smith are behind the program.

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