In discussions of women representation in film, phrases that get thrown around a lot are “female-led” or “female-driven” stories—and just how much we need them. The Handmaids Tale is described as a “female-driven” project, but Bruce Miller ultimately takes home the Emmy for best writing. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri may be a Frances McDormand vehicle but it’s written, directed, and produced exclusively by men.
Too often strong representation of women on screen overshadows the lack of equal representation behind the scenes. Because according to their annual “Celluloid Ceiling” study published by the San Diego State’s Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film, the number of women working as directors, cinematographers, producers, and writers has barely increased for two decades.
The study, written by the Center’s executive director Dr. Martha M. Lauzen, found that in 2017 women only made up 18 percent of all directors, writers, producers, executive producers, editors, and cinematographers working on the top 250 domestic grossing films. For perspective, in 1998 that percentage was only 17 percent. Lauzen also found that only 1 percent of films employed 10 or more women in the aforementioned roles while 70 percent of movies employed 10 or more men.
The study also reiterates something we’ve already known, that if you hire a woman director on a project, she’s going to hire more women to work for her. “On films with at least one female director, women comprised 68 percent of writers,” the study reads. “On films with exclusively male directors, women accounted for 8 percent of writers.”
So while we should celebrate shows that privilege women’s stories, it helps everyone to read the credits: who is actually directing this rape scene? Is your kick ass female heroine helmed by someone who actually cares about writing great female characters? Because it’s not a “female-driven” story if the majority of the credits go to men.