The fight for women’s places in film wages on.
New research from USC Annenberg’s Inclusion Initiative reveals that the dearth of representation for women directors persists, with women having been in charge of just 12.1% of the 100 top-grossing U.S. films of 2023 – only 14 in all. Though it marks a slight increase from 9% in 2022, women still comprise a rather small minority of the list.
Worse, only four of those directors were women of color – a figure that remains essentially unchanged from the year before.
“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,” study authors told Variety. “One film or one director are [sic] simply not enough to create the sea change that is still needed behind the camera.”
Indeed, the success of this summer’s Warner Bros. smash hit “Barbie” in particular fostered excitement around prospective progress for women directors telling women’s stories. “[T]he real secret to Barbie’s … success has less to do with pink products than its subject and intended audience: Very few movies manage to cater to women without condescending to them,” Time reporter Eliana Dockterman wrote in anticipation of its July 2023 release.
Women were also at the helm of 2023’s buzziest films overall – from Emerald Fennell’s psychological thriller, “Saltburn,” which continues to garner widespread discussion on social media sites like X, to Sofia Coppola’s biographical drama, “Priscilla.”
But the actual numbers serve as a grounding reminder of progress yet to be made. Another effort from the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University expanded its purview to the top 250 domestic films – and when it did, they saw a decrease in representation, from 18% in 2022 to 16% last year.
“Behind-the-scenes gender ratios in Hollywood remain dramatically skewed in favor of men,” Dr. Martha Lauzen, the Center’s founder and executive director, told Variety in a statement.
USC researchers added in their own study: “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.”