A new report is painting a gloomy picture for women in the film industry, with women directors having a particularly bad year in 2018. Even so, the report found a nearly 10% overall increase in the percentage of female directors, writers, producers, executive producers, editors and cinematographers employed on the 500 top-grossing American films last year compared to 2017. The report, called the “The Celluloid Ceiling,” is the latest from San Diego State’s Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film.

Overall, women made up 23% of the workforce in these six job categories on the 500 top-grossing films last year, compared to 21% in 2017. And while that’s only a two percentage point increase, it represents an actual increase of 9.5%. Among the 250 top-grossing films last year, women in these jobs made up 20% of the workforce – an 11% increase from 2017. But among the 100 top grossing films, women made up just 16% of this workforce – no change from the year before.

As unlikely as it seems, if women continue to gain two percentage points each year in the top 250 films – as they did last year – it will take them 15 years to reach parity with men, and 19 years to reach parity in the top 500 films. But at this rate, they’ll never reach parity in the top 100 films. Numerous female-directed big-budget tent pole films are currently in the works this year, however, which could significantly change that equation.

“The study provides no evidence that the mainstream film industry has experienced the profound positive shift predicted by so many industry observers over the last year,” said Dr. Martha Lauzen, the study’s author. “This radical underrepresentation is unlikely to be remedied by the voluntary efforts of a few individuals or a single studio. Without a large-scale effort mounted by the major players – the studios, talent agencies, guilds, and associations – we are unlikely to see meaningful change.”

Despite the DGA’s ongoing efforts to increase opportunities for women directors, the report found across-the-board declines in the percentage of female directors in the 100, 250 and 500 top-grossing films last year compared to 2017. The report also found that among last year’s top 250 top-grossing films, the percentage of women directors was actually 11% below their percentage in 1998.

Among the top 100 films last year, only 4% were directed by women – down 50% from the 8% in 2017. Among the top 500 films, 15% were directed by women – down by more than 16% from the 18% directed by women the year before. And among the top 250 films, 8% were directed by women – down 27% from the 11% directed by women in 2017. In other words, 2018 was a very bad year for women directors.

“The distance from 8% to some semblance of parity is simply too vast,” Lauzen said. “What is needed is a will to change, ownership of the issue – meaning the effort originates with the major players, transparency, and the setting of concrete goals. Will, ownership, transparency, and goals are the keys to moving forward.”

Women writers, however, fared considerably better, accounting for 19% of the writers working on the top 500 films last year – a nearly 16% increase from the year before. They accounted for 16% of the writers working on the top 250 films – a 45% increase from 2017, and 15% of the top 100 films – a 50% increase from 2017 when they had only 10% of the writing assignments. And though highly unlikely, should this 50%-a-year increase pace continue, women writers of top 100 films would reach parity with men in only three years. But don’t bet on it.

The report’s most important finding is that women fare much better in all job categories when a female director is at the helm. Among the top 500 films, the report found that on those with at least one female director:

• Women comprised 71% of writers, while on films with exclusively male directors, women accounted for only 13% of writers.
• Women comprised 47% of editors, but on films with exclusively male directors, women accounted for just 19% of editors.
• Women comprised 19% of cinematographers, but on films with exclusively male directors, women accounted for a meager 3% of cinematographers.
• Women comprised 24% of composers, but on films with exclusively male directors, women accounted for just 7% of composers.

The report found that the producing ranks are the most welcoming to women, who accounted for 29% of producers and 22% of the executive producers working on the top 500 films in 2018. Each saw a 1 percentage point increase from 2017. Women also comprised 23% of editors working on the top 500 films of 2018, a nearly 28% increase from the 18% in 2017.

The report found no change in the percentage of female cinematographers employed on the top 500 films over the last two years, when they accounted for just 6% of cinematographers. On the top 100 films last year, women only accounted for only 3% of the cinematographers, but this represents a 50% increase over the 2% they represented in 2017 — which only goes to show that large percentage increases in small numbers can be a deceiving measure of progress.