Time for a quiz. First, think of your favorite movie. Can you name who directed it? Can you name five more directors?
Now, time for the bonus question: Are any of those directors that you named female?
In her TEDxBend talk, film critic Alicia Malone discussed the reasoning behind the lack of knowledge of female filmmakers in our culture: Female directors simply do not fit the stereotype of a director. A director is supposed to be loud, brash and in charge — traits that society corresponds with being a man. Who could imagine a crew of people listening to a soft-spoken lady in a dress tell them what to do? (Dorothy Arzner, the first female director in Hollywood, 1926). Or, even crazier, who could imagine a woman who embraced traditionally masculine traits and didn’t mind being bossy or getting a little dirty?
These are real but sad assumptions that people, from viewers to studio heads, draw regarding directors in the film industry, especially since women helped pioneer the film industry. Alice Guy Blaché, the first female director, introduced what we know today as a close-up shot. More importantly, she made the first film that told a story that was not just a documentation of real life, titled “La Fée aux Choux” (1896), or “The Cabbage Fairy.”
Despite her great contributions, Blaché did not receive recognition during her lifetime. In “The First One Hundred Noted Men and Women of the Screen,” published in 1920 by Carolyn Lowrey, Lowrey falsely attributed Blaché’s films to her husband. Additionally, many of the films that Blaché was correctly credited for were lost or destroyed (movies were only distributed on film at that point). As Blaché’s experiences indicate, the film industry has overlooked women’s contributions since the beginning.
Today, this trend continues as pop culture consistently — unfortunately — proves it. Only 24% of directors of the top-grossing films of 2023 were women, resulting in only a 7% increase over the past 25 years, according to a report produced annually by the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University. In the 94-year history of the Oscars, only seven female directors have been nominated, and only three have won.
Female directors in the professional world are still getting the lower hand. The latest SAG Awards premiered on Feb. 26 and the Golden Globes took place on Feb. 10. Big surprise: No female directors were nominated for either, despite cries that directors such as Sarah Polley and Gina Prince-Bythewood, both of whom released box-office successes (“The Woman King” and “Women Talking”), were being snubbed.
It is not due to the fact that women do not want to direct. The ratio of film school graduates men to women is 50/50, according to an MTV article by Susan Sandler, a faculty adviser at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. However, only 18% of professional directors are women, according to the Research Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film.
This means this discrepancy between the number of women filmmaking in school and the number of women filmmaking in the professional world is due to the lack of opportunities offered to women in the industry (unless, of course, 32% of females are unanimously deciding to quit directing after school).
The film industry — one of the most prominent industries of today — depends upon audiences to maintain its influence. Although many of the industry’s practices and stereotypes are outdated, audiences do have the power to create change that we have already begun to see in some aspects. If audiences actively choose to support female filmmakers by watching their films, studios will take notice. The more audiences go out of their way to show support for women in film, the sooner female filmmakers will be offered more equal opportunities to showcase their talents.