Only 5% of Directors in Hollywood Are Women. What’s Up with That?

According to an annual survey, of all the directors, executive producers, writers, cinematographers and editors who worked on the 250 top-grossing films of 2011, only 18% of them were women

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Stuart Ramson / AP

Kathryn Bigelow

Remember when Bridesmaids came out? Of course you do; when Kristen Wiig’s comedy was released in May 2011, you couldn’t open a magazine or newspaper without reading about the rise of “female comedy,” as if the notion that 51% of the population had a funny bone was somehow progressive. But the film was undeniably unusual. Put simply, there are very few female-driven movies out there. Just how few? According San Diego State University’s Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film’s annual Celluloid Ceiling survey, of all the directors, executive producers, writers, cinematographers and editors working on the 250 top-grossing films of 2011, only 18% of them were women. Even more shocking is the figure for directors: only 5% of those 250 films’ directors were women. For all of its championed feminism, even Bridesmaids was still produced and directed by men.

(MORE: Kristen Wiig, the Anti-Comedian)

San Diego State researchers have been conducting the Celluloid Ceiling survey since 1997. In those intervening 15 years, most of the figures for female employment in Hollywood have remained largely unchanged. There just aren’t very many opportunities for women in Hollywood. In 1998, a whopping 9% of directors were women, and though the 45% decrease between then and now is startling, the numbers were pretty paltry to begin with.

According to Box Office Mojo, Bridesmaids has raked in $169 million at the U.S. box office, more than five times its $32.5 million budget. Its success might lead to more female-driven movies — a new wedding-themed comedy called Bachelorette, written and directed by Leslye Headland (a woman!), just premiered at Sundance Film Festival — but it’s unlikely to make any real dent. After all, Kathryn Bigelow’s Best Director win at the 2010 Academy Awards hasn’t ushered in a wave of female directors. “Had Bridesmaids not ended up being so amazing and successful, we never would have been able to make Bachelorette,” Lizzy Caplan, one of the film’s stars, recently told the Hollywood Reporter. That may be true, but now there appears to be an unwritten rule that all-female comedies should be about marriage.

Still, the upcoming Katherine Heigl movie, One for the Money, is based on a series by best-selling female author Janet Evanovich, adapted to a screenplay by three women, directed by another and produced by one more (as well as three men). It’s about a female bounty hunter, and as long as the film stays true to Evanovich’s first few books, there should be no wedding in sight. Good, right? Except that much of the comedic series involves the semihapless bounty hunter trying to choose between two men. So, there goes that.

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