For 16 years in a row, Dr. Martha Lauzen of the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University has run a study that tallies up the women who worked on each year’s top 250 grossing domestic films, looking to see how Hollywood shakes out in terms of gender balance.
Asked for an emailed a copy of this year’s report, released Jan. 14, her response began,”I wish I had better news to report.”
For 2013, the study — dubbed the Celluloid Ceiling report — found what Lauzen’s press release dubbed “gender inertia,” with no evidence that any progress whatsoever has been made over the period of time she’s been keeping track. Only 6% of directors working on those top 2013 movies were women, a 3-point drop from the year before, and only 16% of any of the nearly 3,000 individuals who filled top behind-the-scenes roles (directors, writers, executive producers, producers, editors, cinematographers) in 2013. That’s less than in 2012; it’s even less — by 1%, but less — than in 1998, when the study was first conducted. The producer role is the only one that saw any increase, percentage-wise, in that 16-year period.
For the first time this year, the study also looked at composers, production designers, sound designers, special effects supervisors, supervising sound editors and visual effects supervisors (a total of 1,026 people) — and found that, with the exception of production design, every job had a single-digit percentage of women. The study also examined film genres and found that dramas, comedies and documentaries were more likely to have women working on them than were animated, sci-fi or horror movies.
The news that women haven’t made much progress in terms of a foothold in Hollywood is particularly dispiriting because people who watch these numbers had, very recently, gotten some good news. A different study, looking at roles for women rather than jobs behind the camera, found earlier this month that 2013 movies that passed the Bechdel test — movies in which two female characters with names have a conversation about something other than a man — made more money than movies that didn’t. Female characters, from Katniss Everdeen to The Heat‘s bickering cops, scored big at the box office, signaling that audiences are eager for movies that better reflect the gender balance of actual life.
The behind-the-scenes aspect of Hollywood measured by the Celluloid Ceiling report is harder for audiences to see — but, as the very existence of the report makes clear, it won’t go unnoticed.