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Mixed Results in New Study of Women’s Representation in Independent Films

The numbers of female directors, writers and others are higher than ever, but a gender gap remains.
By SDSU News Team

A new study out of San Diego State University shows 2018-19 was a record-setting year for women working in key behind-the-scenes positions in independent films.

According to a report released by Martha M. Lauzen, executive director of the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at SDSU, the percentages of women working as directors, writers, producers, executive producers, and editors on independent films reached recent historic highs in 2018-19.

Specifically, in the last year, 33 percent of independent film directors were women, compared to 29 percent in 2017-18. Thirty-two percent of "indie film" writers were women, up 6 percentage points from 2017-18.  Women comprised 37 percent of independent film producers in 2018-19, compared to 36 percent the year prior.  Additionally, this year, women accounted for 32 percent of indie executive producers and 29 percent of film editors. Both figures represent increases from the previous year.

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

The study specifically looks at women’s employment on domestically and independently produced feature-length films screening at more than 20 high-profile U.S. festivals including AFI Fest, SXSW Film Festival, and Tribeca Film Festival. Overall, men comprised 68 percent of these roles and women 32 percent comparatively over the last year.

The research also revealed that films with at least one woman director also employed substantially higher percentages of women writers, editors, and cinematographers.  For example, on films with at least one female director, women comprised 72 percent of writers versus 11 percent on films directed exclusively by men. On films with at least one female director, women accounted for 45 percent of editors versus 21 percent 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 cinematographers,” said Lauzen. "This tendency counters the widespread and seemingly intractable bias that has favored male networks.” 

Indie Women is the most comprehensive and longest-running study of women’s behind-the-scenes employment on independent films available.  This year’s report examined over 10,700 credits on more than 970 films in 2018-19, and over 80,000 credits on almost 8,000 films over the period of 2008 to 2019.

For over two decades, Lauzen has conducted groundbreaking research on the representation and employment of women on screen and behind the scenes in film and television.  Her studies, including the annual Celluloid Ceiling study, have provided the foundation for the growing dialogue and activism on this issue.  A nationally and internationally recognized expert on women in media, she is the founder and executive director of the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University.  The Center is home to the longest-running and most extensive studies of women working in entertainment industries.  The most current reports can be found on the Center’s website