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Indie Women:  Behind-the-Scenes Employment of Women in U.S. Independent Film, 2021-22

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In 2021-22, women comprised 39% of directors, writers, producers, executive producers, editors, and cinematographers working on independent films screening/streaming at high-profile film festivals in the U.S.  Women accounted for 43% of those working in key behind-the-scenes roles on documentaries and 34% of those working on narrative features.  Fests screened/streamed an average of 6 narrative films directed by at least one woman but an average of 10 films directed by men.  However, the festivals streamed/screened almost equal numbers of documentaries directed by women (an average of 10) as by men (an average of 11).  The study also reports the percentage of women working as composers in independent film.  Overall, women comprised 17% and men 83% of composers.  Female composers fared better on documentaries (20%) than narrative features (13%).  

Thumbs Down 2022: Film Critics and Gender, and Why It Matters

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First conducted in 2007, Thumbs Down considers the representation of individuals working for print, radio/television, and online outlets in the U.S. and whose reviews appear on the Rotten Tomatoes website.  The study found that male reviewers now outnumber female reviewers by more than 2 to 1.  In the opening months of 2022, men comprised 69% (69.2%), women 31% (30.5%), and nonbinary individuals 0.3% of reviewers.  For women, this represents a decline of 4 percentage points from 35% in 2020.  Further, male critics outnumber female critics in every job category, type of media outlet, and film genre considered.  The findings indicate that men reviewers award slightly higher average quantitative ratings to films with male protagonists than women reviewers, films directed by women comprise a smaller proportion of reviews by men than women, and that when reviewing films directed by someone of their own gender, male and female critics are more likely to mention the name of the director in their review.  Over the years, Thumbs Down has considered over 29,000 reviews written by more than 1,900 reviewers.  This year’s edition examined more than 4,000 reviews written by over 330 individuals. It is the most comprehensive and longest-running study of women’s representation and impact as film reviewers available.  

It’s a Man’s (Celluloid) World, Even in a Pandemic Year:  Portrayals of Female Characters in the Top U.S. Films of 2021

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In the second box office year impacted by the pandemic, female characters accounted for 35% of major characters in the top 100 grossing films, down 3 percentage points from 38% in 2020 and 2 percentage points from 37% in 2019.  Females comprised 34% of all speaking characters, down 2 percentage points from 36% in 2020 but even with the percentage in 2019.  The percentage of films featuring female protagonists increased slightly from 29% in 2020 to 31% in 2021.  This remained well below the 40% achieved in 2019 but is even with the percentage reached in 2018.  85% of films featured more male than female characters.  Only 7% of films had more female than male characters, and 8% of films featured equal numbers of female and male characters.  Regarding race and ethnicity, the percentage of Black females in major roles increased from 13.2% in 2020 to 16.4% in 2021.  The percentage of major Latina characters doubled, rising from 5.7% in 2020 to 12.8% in 2021.  The percentage of major Asian and Asian American females increased from 5.7% in 2020 to 10.0% in 2021.  It should be noted that when films centered on Latina or Asian and Asian American characters were excluded from the analysis, the percentages of these characters reverted to 2020 levels, suggesting that the increases are largely due to their presence in a handful of films, rather than their integration in a wide variety of films.  In 2021, the most foundational gender stereotypes lingered.  Female characters were younger than their male counterparts, and more likely to have a known marital status.  Male characters were more likely than females to have an identifiable occupation.  Girls and women were more likely to have personal life-related roles and goals, whereas boys and men were more likely to have work-related roles, as well as anti-social goals, such as violence and crime.  Films with at least one woman director and/or writer were more likely than films with no women in these roles to feature higher percentages of females as protagonists, in major roles, and as speaking characters.  This year’s report also considers portrayals of girls and women in recently released films included on the Digital Entertainment Group’s Watched at Home List.

The Celluloid Ceiling in a Pandemic Year: Employment of Women on the Top U.S. Films of 2021

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After reaching historic highs in 2020, the percentages of women directing top grossing films declined in 2021.  Women comprised 17% of directors working on the 250 top grossing films in 2021, down from 18% in 2020.  The percentage of women working as directors on the top 100 films retreated from 16% in 2020 to 12% in 2021.  Overall, women accounted for 25% of those working in key behind-the-scenes roles (directors, writers, executive producers, producers, editors, cinematographers) on the top 250 grossing films in 2021, up from 23% in 2020.  The rise in the overall number is due to increases in the percentages of women working as executive producers and producers. By role, women accounted for 17% of writers (even with 17% in 2020), 26% of executive producers (up from 21% in 2020), 32% of producers (up from 30% in 2020), 22% of editors (even with 22% in 2020), and 6% of cinematographers (even with 6% in 2020).  For the second consecutive year, the study also tracked women’s employment on films included on the Digital Entertainment Group’s “Watched at Home” list from January through December 2021.  This analysis found that the majority of the percentages of women working on films on the watched at home list were slightly below those calculated using the box office grosses list.

Boxed In: Women On Screen and Behind the Scenes on Broadcast and Streaming Television in 2020-21

In 2020-21, females comprised 52% of major characters appearing on streaming programs but 45% on broadcast network programs.  Programs on streaming services also had substantially higher percentages of women working as creators, directors, and editors than broadcast programs.  Women accounted for 30% of creators, 31% of directors, and 24% of editors on streaming programs but 22% of creators, 19% of directors, and 15% of editors on broadcast network programs.  While broadcast network programs featured slightly higher percentages of Black female (23%) and Latina (8%) characters in speaking roles than those on streaming services (20% and 6%, respectively), streaming programs included a slightly higher percentage of Asian female characters than those on the broadcast networks (11% vs. 9%).  The study also found that programs with at least one woman creator featured more female characters in speaking and major roles than programs with exclusively male creators.  In addition, programs with women creators employed higher percentages of women as directors, writers, and editors.

Living Archive: The Celluloid Ceiling

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Since 1998, the annual Celluloid Ceiling study has tracked women’s employment in the core crafts of filmmaking, including directing, writing, producing, editing, and cinematography.  For the first time, the Living Archive makes the findings from every year of the study available.  The takeaway from this report is that despite the countless panels, repeated calls for voluntary programs, and promises of change, the percentages of women have remained relatively stable in the majority of the roles considered.  The percentage of women cinematographers remained virtually unchanged over the 22 years of the study (4% in 1998, 5% in 2019).  The percentage of women working as producers climbed just 3 percentage points, from 24% in 1998 to 27% in 2019, with similar increases for executive producers (18% in 1998 to 21% in 2019), and editors (20% in 1998 to 23% in 2019).  The percentage of women directors rose a scant 4 percentage points, from 9% in 1998 to 13% in 2019.  Women writers experienced the largest gains, with their percentage rising 6 points from 13% in 1998 to 19% in 2019.

The Celluloid Ceiling II: Production Design, Production Management, Sound Design, Key Grips, and Gaffers

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For over a decade, The Celluloid Ceiling study has tracked women’s representation as directors, writers, producers, executive producers, editors, and cinematographers on the top 250 domestic grossing films. In an effort to assess the larger picture of women’s employment in film, this study monitored their representation as production designers (20%), production managers/production supervisors (25%/44%), sound designers/supervising sound editors (5%/5%), key grips (1%), and gaffers (1%).

The study analyzed behind-the-scenes employment of 1,318 individuals working on the top 250 domestic grossing films of 2008 with combined box office grosses of approximately $9.4 billion.

Women @ the Box Office

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This study asked two basic questions: how do films with at least one woman working in a key behind-the-scenes role fare at the box office when compared to those employing only men in the same roles, and how do films featuring female protagonists fare at the box office when compared to those featuring males.

Examining the top 100 worldwide grossing films of 2007, the study found that when women and men filmmakers have similar budgets for their films, the resulting box office grosses are also similar. In other words, the sex of filmmakers does not determine box office grosses.

In addition, when the size of the budget is held constant, films with female protagonists or prominent females in an ensemble cast earn similar box office grosses (domestic, international, opening weekend) and DVD sales as films with male protagonists. Because films featuring male protagonists have larger budgets, they earn larger box office grosses. However, the differences in box office grosses are not caused by the sex of the protagonist but by the size of the budget. Films with larger budgets generate larger grosses, regardless of the sex of the protagonist.