Number Of Female Directors Is On The Decline, Study Says

Jan 16, 2017
Originally published on January 16, 2017 6:48 am
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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

OK, here's a fact. There are very few women directing big Hollywood films. This has been an issue for decades. But a new report from the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film shows the numbers are getting even smaller. Here's NPR's Mandalit del Barco.

MANDALIT DEL BARCO, BYLINE: There are no women among this year's feature film nominees for the Directors Guild of America awards. And there's only one up for best first-time features director, Kelly Fremon Craig, for her coming-of-age comedy, "The Edge Of Seventeen."

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE EDGE OF SEVENTEEN")

BLAKE JENNER: (As Darian) Hey, life isn't fair sometimes, Nadine, OK? Get over it.

HAILEE STEINFELD: (As Nadine) I swear to God. I swear to God.

DEL BARCO: For decades, the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film has documented the paltry numbers of female directors. The latest study reveals that just 7 percent of all directors working on the 250 highest-grossing domestic releases last year were women. That's 2 percent less than the year before, roughly the same as 1998.

DEE REES: The same old, same old, about, you know, who gets the shot - like, who gets to make movies?

DEL BARCO: Dee Rees was a rare woman to win a DGA Award. Last year, she got it for directing the HBO biopic, "Bessie." As she prepares to premiere her new film, "Mudbound," at the Sundance Film Festival this week, Rees says male directors continue to be celebrated more than women.

REES: I really feel like these kind of questions should be asked of studio executives. Like, why are women's, you know, numbers declining - you know, versus asking a woman director. It's like asking the victim, like, why are you in this position?

DEL BARCO: Last year, the ACLU called out Hollywood for what attorneys say is a systematic bias against women directors. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission began investigating the issue, but it's not new. In the late 1970s, a group of women directors did directly challenge movie and TV executives. Victoria Hochberg and five others compiled dismal statistics. They used to meet at her house to strategize how to fight the idea that directing is a man's job.

VICTORIA HOCHBERG: And any job a woman gets, we're taking it from them. And that's still true. That's what a lot of them think.

DEL BARCO: Hochberg and the others formed a women's steering committee at the DGA. And in 1979, they sued two movie studios. The case was thrown out, but Hochberg says many women were hopeful after Kathryn Bigelow directed the film "The Hurt Locker." In 2010, she made history as the first woman to win a DGA Award and a Best Picture Oscar, an honor announced by Barbra Streisand.

(SOUNDBITE OF 82ND ACADEMY AWARDS)

BARBRA STREISAND: Well, the time has come.

DEL BARCO: But Hochberg says Bigelow's wins were an anomaly. She had the same response Dee Rees did to this year's nominees and industry statistics.

HOCHBERG: Same old, same old. It's heartbreaking, soul-killing.

DEL BARCO: Mandalit del Barco, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.