In this transition from the blockbuster season of summer to the serious films of fall, we should pause and ask the question: Why aren’t there more women directing Hollywood movies?

In such a visible industry, it seems especially curious that only 30% of the actors in front of the camera and less than 10% percent behind the camera are women.

As many people have said on a variety of topics (climate change, economic policy, evolution), people are entitled to their own opinions, but not to their own facts. Here are some facts . . .

Last year, only six percent of directors working on the top 250 films were women – a three percent decrease from 2012. The year before, in 2011, only 5% of the directors of the top 250 top-grossing films were women.

Across nineteen categories in last year’s Academy Awards, 140 of the nominees were men and 35 were women – only twenty percent. In 2012, there were no female nominees for Directing, Cinematography, Editing, Writing for an Original Screenplay, or Music for an Original Score. In fact, in the 86-year history of the motion picture academy, only four women have ever been nominated for Best Director and only one woman has ever won, Kathryn Bigelow for 2009’s The Hurt Locker, a film with predominantly male characters and themes.

Why is this a problem to be discussed in Psychology Today? Underlying the assumptions of in Hollywood business models and the pressures on studio executives are beliefs that lead to an indisputable discrepancy – a discrepancy that warrants close study of its cultural, social, and cognitive causes.

Several reasons have been proposed. One is tradition. Hollywood has always been a boys club and continues to be. Another is fear. With huge sums of money riding on large movies, studios and producers are reluctant to try anything truly new, which means preserving the status quo. Also, in terms of audience, Hollywood movies are geared to the group that is perceived to be the largest market: teenage boys. Coupled with that, some have observed that women will go to male-oriented films, while men are less likely to go to female-oriented films. Others have proposed that women are less likely than men to engage in the necessary self-promotion to attain directorial positions.

For those who say that there are simply not enough qualified women, one fact rules against this: the percentage of film school graduates focusing on directing is about 50% women and 50% men – a proportion that has stayed constant for many years.

Is there a reason to be optimistic?  Possibly. Approximately thirty percent of the directors at Sundance are women. (Although that figure has not changed much in a decade.) The hit HBO show Girls, created by Lena Dunham and produced by Dunham, Jennifer Konner, and Judd Apatow, has achieved broad acclaim and potential influence on film executives. More broadly, even though Hollywood still commands the largest audiences, growing viewerships are available for independent films on various Internet platforms. Still, the stark discrepancy in the studios of Hollywood remains mostly unaccounted for.

For further data-oriented reading, I recommend The Celluloid Ceiling, a comprehensive study of women’s behind-the-scenes employment in film. This annual study is sponsored and conducted by the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film, San Diego State University, San Diego, CA 92182. The organization and their most recent report.

This blog post does not give answers. Rather, its hope is to stimulate discussion. We need to identify the causes of gender imbalance in the movie industry and propose sound strategies for encouraging balance. We have the factual establishing shots. It’s time now for some close ups.

All photos are in the public domain and are provided by wikipedia.

About the Author

Rober N . Kraft, Ph.D.

Robert N. Kraft, Ph.D., is a professor of cognitive psychology at Otterbein University. 

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