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New Study Delivers Bad News For Female-Directed Feature Films In 2021

Salma Hayek and the cast of Eternals
(Image credit: Marvel Studios)

As we continue to see the awards season race heat up, more attention will be paid to the diversity of candidates and winners we see over the next couple of months. While some may think that progress is trending positively, a new study delivers bad news for female-directed feature films in 2021. Even with awards wins and box office smashes like Eternals seemingly suggesting progress, the statistics paint a different picture. 

A report entitled “The Celluloid Ceiling,” has reported some vital statistics in the name of gender parity. Authored by Martha Lauzen, executive director of the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego University, the gap between male and female directors currently making movies is still pretty wide. Speaking with Variety about her findings, Ms. Lauzen presented that contrast thusly: 

Appearances can be deceiving. While Chloé Zhao won the Oscar last year for directing Nomadland, and Jane Campion is a front-runner in this year’s race for The Power of the Dog, the percentage of women directing films actually declined in 2021. Basing our perceptions of how women are faring on the well-deserved fortunes of just a few high-profile women can lead us to inaccurate conclusions about the state of women’s employment. Once again this year, more than 80% of films do not have a woman at the helm.

Ms. Zhao’s 2021 performance was an especially striking counterpoint to the “more than 80% of films” failing to have a female director last year. Commercially, she landed a hit with the Marvel Cinematic Universe film Eternals, which landed in the top 10 films at the 2021 box office, after securing a triumphant opening in early November. Artistically, and also in terms of awards glory, Chloé Zhao saw herself winning big again, thanks to Nomadland cleaning up the most wins for one film at the 93rd Academy Awards. One can see how that sort of story may cloud the full and total tale Ms. Lauzen's numbers signal. 

It’s not all horrible news according to “The Celluloid Ceiling,” as there have been some gains and holds for women in the film industry. While women directing statistics may have been on the decline, there were increases in the number of female executive producers, producers, as well as in “key behind the scenes roles.” Meanwhile, figures held in place throughout 2021 for female held positions such as writers, cinematographers, and editors on the most popular films.

Just as another awards cycle seems to center its narrative around a strong female contender, Martha Lauzen’s reporting is something that key industry players should keep in mind. While Jane Campion has been experiencing quite a lot of buzz for her Netflix original The Power of the Dog, including several big wins at last weekend’s Golden Globes, it doesn’t negate the fact that there could be another decline in women directed films. The march for progress doesn't stop after awards season, and it will be interesting to see how 2022 stacks up in comparison to this past year's standings. 

Chloé Zhao’s Eternals is about to make its Disney+ debut, with its physical media release available for pre-order, and set to be delivered on February 15th. Meanwhile, Jane Campion's The Power of the Dog can be found streaming on Netflix, just in time to catch up on one of this year's would-be Oscar contenders. For all other questions surrounding the year of cinema to come, check out the 2022 release schedule for further information.

Mike Reyes

CinemaBlend's James Bond (expert). Also versed in Large Scale Aggressors, time travel, and Guillermo del Toro. He fights for The User.