Study suggests female-directed films 'get smaller distribution deals'

The findings highlight a gender bias which is affecting the process of buying and selling films directed by women.


Independent movies which feature a female director at the helm struggle to win distribution deals from major studios, according to a new study.

The report for the Female Film-makers Institute found that 70.2% of successful female-directed films which premiered at the Sundance film festival between 2002 and 2014 picked up a deal from a small independent firm. By contrast, male-directed films were split relatively evenly between major studios and their speciality offshoots (43.1%) and indie units (56.9%).

Indie distributors generally have less clout within the film industry and less money to play with, so the lack of major studio interest in female-fronted material could explain why up-and-coming female film-makers appear to struggle in Hollywood. A study sponsored by the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University found last year that only 23% of directing positions and 26% of key behind-the-scenes roles in modern Hollywood productions are filled by women.

The study for the Female Film-makers Institute, a partnership between Sundance Institute and Women in Film Los Angeles, also identified six key obstacles in terms of perception of and by female directors in Hollywood which would need to be overcome to ensure a more level playing field. These included a sense among executives that films made by women were less appealing to audiences; that there were fewer female directors to choose from; and that women were generally less interested in directing and showed little passion for more commercial, big-budget action fare. Among female directors themselves, there was a sense that they struggled to get their chance in Hollywood due to the prevalence of male “gatekeepers” and a “boy’s club” culture, and that agents and managers were failing to put their female clients up for a wide variety of directing roles.

“What’s most troubling is that these gender-based biases are actually affecting the process of buying and selling,” Women in Film president Cathy Schulman told the Hollywood Reporter. “These assumptions about what a woman is capable of and aspires to are shutting doors before there’s even a conversation about the potential of a transaction.”

Recent months have seen women directors making some progress in big budget territory, with Monster’s Patty Jenkins hired to replace Michelle MacLaren at the helm of Warner Bros’ forthcoming Wonder Woman film. Meanwhile, rival studio Marvel is reportedly keen on finding a high-profile female film-maker to direct Captain Marvel, the Disney-owned production unit’s debut female-fronted superhero movie. 

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