Women Have Gained Little Ground in Hollywood Over the Last 20 Years

The 20th annual Celluloid Ceiling Report, released this month by the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film, charts little to no progress for women behind the scenes in Hollywood. When it comes to gender diversity, not much has changed in the film industry—even amid a growing conversation on the imbalances of power faced by women in entertainment.

Last year, women made up only 18 percent of all directors, writers, producers, executive producers, editors and cinematographers on the 250 top-grossing domestic films. They made up only 14 percent of editors, 10 percent of writers, 8 percent of directors and 2 percent of cinematographers within the top 100. The Center’s inaugural study found that women made up 17 percent of the same positions on the 250 top-grossing films of 1997—meaning that in two decades, women have gained one percentage point of ground on film sets. (In 2016, women once again held 17 percent of those jobs. In 2001, they peaked at a whopping 19 percent.)

This year’s report did find proof of some gains—albeit minor—from the last 20 years. For one, women are seizing more ground as producers—they made up 24 percent of producers and 15 percent of executive producers of the 100 top-grossing films of last year. And significantly, women-led films brought on more women for work: Women held 68 percent of writing positions on films with at least one female director, a stark contrast to the 8 percent of women writers reported for films with solely male directors.

The findings mark a disappointingly slow crawl to increased representation for women in film—despite a rising tide of activism calling for increased gender diversity on-set and behind-the-scenes.

In May 2015, the American Civil Liberties Union called out the large gender gap in Hollywood with a 15-page letter to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission; the EEOC reportedly held settlement talks in February 2017 with major film studios after finding systemic discrimination against female directors, but as of yet no path forward has been declared. More recently, the momentous #MeToo movement drew attention to Hollywood sexism and rape culture like never before—spurring the creation of Time’s Up, a star-studded campaign pushing back against sexual harassment in all professions, and making space for a feminist takeover of this year’s Golden Globes.

Natalie Portman took the issue of sexism in Hollywood head-on during the awards ceremony this year, breaking from her script to announce “the all-male nominees for Best Director.” Barbara Streisand, the only woman to ever receive the Best Director Golden Globe, echoed Portman’s sentiment. “We need more women directors,” Streisand said on stage, “and more women to be nominated for best director.”

This year’s Celluloid Ceiling report shows how interconnected the issues women face in Hollywood are—and how big a boon increased gender diversity in the film industry could be to making progress. “The film industry has utterly failed to address the continuing under-employment of women behind the scenes,” Dr. Martha Lauzen, executive director for the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film, told Ms. “This negligence has produced a toxic culture that supported the recent sexual harassment scandals and truncates so many women’s careers.”

With awards season in full swing and the #MeToo moment showing no sign of slowing down, now is the time to continue and push discussions on Hollywood sexism even further. Let’s do all we can to ensure that in 20 years, we’ll look back on today’s fights for gender representation and diversity in Hollywood and see progress in their wake.

Maura Turcotte is an editorial intern at Ms.


Maura Turcotte is an editorial intern at Ms.