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Today in things that make us scream incoherently

Only Two of the 100 Top-Grossing Movies of the Year Were Directed by Women

We’ve written at length about how sexism and the film and TV industries negatively affects the number of women behind the screen, most noticeably when it comes to directing. Not that this it at all surprising, but the trend continued in 2013: Movies with female leads made bank, but of the 100 top-grossing movies of the year only two of them were directed by women.

Say that it’s because women must not want to direct as much as men do and I will spit fire at everything you love.

The two movies in question are Kimberly Peirce‘s Carrie and Frozen, co-directed by Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee. Lee broke the ice ceiling and became the first female to direct one of Disney’s princess movies, so we can chalk that into the “good things that happened in 2013″ category. But the 98 other movies in the top 100: All directed by dudes. This continues the tradition from the last two years (and the entirety of Hollywood history); according to San Diego State University’s Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film only 5 and 9 percent of the top-grossing films were directed by women in 2011 and 2012, respectively.

There are a lot of reasons for this, but most of them can be wrapped up in a handy package the name of which rhymes with rinstitutionalized rexism. Women aren’t any less capable of directing movies than men. They come out of film school (or not) with the same experience, the same desire to make it in the industry. And yet female directors are often denied the same opportunities as their male counterparts.

To see that, you need look only at indie film. It’s demonstrably more friendly to female directors than Hollywood is; of the 10 top-grossing films directed by females in 2013 (numbers 3-10 are, in order: Enough Said, Peeples, Black Nativity, The Bling Ring, The To-Do List, In a World…, Austenland, Blackfish), all but Frozen and Carrie are indies. Tons of male directors get handed the reigns to big-budget films after having success with a low-budget indie, if that! There’s Godzilla (Gareth Edwards), Jurassic World (Colin Trevorrow), Tron: Legacy (Joseph Kosinski). They’re good, but they’re not well-known, so the studios can get them on the cheap. Where’s the female director being plucked from relative obscurity to direct some Hollywood reboot or sequel after scoring big with a festival hit? Why does a high level of success in the indie circuit—where I hypothesize gender isn’t so much of a barrier in part because things are 100 times harder across the board, plus there aren’t so many old white dudes in expensive suits serving as gatekeepers—not translate to big-budget opportunities the way it does for men?

Rinstitutionalized. Rexism.

(via: Variety)

Previously in Female Directors and Hollywood

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  • AnnaB

    Starts from the top. There’s not enough diversity up there, particularly with regard to gender, so the lady directors have no powerful advocates, or at least their advocates are outnumbered.

  • Daniel E. Jacobs

    if you want real to life female characters you need to have female writers and female directors…

  • Lady Commentariat

    I bet Scooby Doo would say no to rinstitutionalized rexism. Also: I don’t have the data, but aren’t women better represented in the producer’s circle? Probably not at full parity, but I wonder if there isn’t something that could be done there since the studios themselves aren’t picking up the slack.

  • Anonymous

    Not invariably true. The Hunger Games had a male director and great female characters.

  • Anthony John Woo

    But most of the material from the Hunger Games came from a book that was written by a female author.

  • Saraquill

    I disagree. There are movies i enjoy that feature believable women characters, which happened to be directed by men. Peter Jackson’s “Heavenly Creatures” and Kim Ji-Woon’s “Tale of Two Sisters,” for example did a bang up job of portraying their female characters.

    I think it’s more about realizing that women are also people.

  • Jamie Jeans

    Only Two Of The 100 Top-Grossing Movies Of The Year Were Directed By White Women…

    There, just added in a bit more detail to that title. I say this not just because it’s true but also because of a comment I saw on tumblr about how we HAVE to support Frozen because it’s directed by a woman while overlooking its racist, cultural appropriation of cultures from people of colour and ignoring how it had NO people of colour in it.

  • EleniRPG

    I can’t help but think of something from Lean In (which I guess is based on a 2011 McKinsey study?), which says that in general, men are promoted based on potential, while women are promoted based on past accomplishments. So you can see how this gives men the opportunity to be trusted with big-budget films even if they’ve only done smaller movies before–they have potential!–while women are never given the opportunity to direct big-budget films because they’re never given the opportunity to direct big-budget films (yes, that is a tautology, which is why it sucks).

  • Rebecca Pahle

    Just as liking something doesn’t mean one can’t examine its problematic elements, the fact that something HAS those problematic elements doesn’t mean one can’t appreciate it as a whole. Should Frozen have been racially diverse? Absolutely. That should be acknowledged and discussed, as we’ve done on the site. However, it doesn’t mean that we can’t celebrate its positive elements.

  • Alexa

    This is definitely a slow process to break this very unfair practice. There has been a good amount, not great but good, of headway to make women be more involved. This I think has a lot to do with people, especially on this site, realizing the absurdity of just leaving people out because of their gender. But yeah generally speaking it again is a slow process, and there is a really good documentary, basic but very insightful, called Miss Representation which deals with of course the representation of women in the media. And they delve into the topic of how women aren’t hired to direct films, even the films that deal with female leads.

  • Moirae

    From what I saw Frozen depicts a Scandinavian culture. How does that relate to cultural appropriation or people of color? Don’t get me wrong I totally agree that cultural appropriation is a real issue in Hollywood and America in general but I didn’t see that in Frozen.

  • Moirae

    It’s not that there aren’t female writers and directors, it’s that they don’t get hired.

  • Ashe


    With Hollywood, it’s impossible to be completely positive or negative about any form of progress they make. It’s always slow, arduous and with at least a few hiccups.

    I’m very glad to see that women were in positions usually reserved for men. I’m not glad that it was yet more straight, cis, able-bodied white women doing work about yet more straight, cis, able-bodied white women.

    Baby steps!

  • Xomyx

    From what I understand (haven’t seen it yet) the leading male in the film is wearing Saami clothing but isn’t actually Saami.

    I love Disney but sometimes I get frustrated that the only PoC they show are usually in films that come off as token films.

  • Tiger Park

    I have my issues with crap PoC reppin as a whole but this comment is not a totally fair criticism for Disney – they are not ‘token’ films at all as ‘token’ typically implies a lack of invested value and a sort of throwaway/shallow attempt. They ABSOLUTELY had their problems, but Disney’s PoC-only films (with no animal-related copouts) like Aladdin, Mulan, Lilo & Stitch, and Emperor’s New Groove were ALL big deals, and had massive impact in a variety of ways.

  • Joanna

    Most of the Disney films set in present day Europe and America didn’t have much in the way of racial diversity which I find harder to forgive. I sort of let slide those that are set in say medieval Scandinavia or whatever because we also have movies set in China, Arabia or India. There’s no excuse for modern day settings though.

  • Moirae

    I don’t really know that he is in Saami clothing but it’s definitely set in a Nordic type country so it’s possible. It’s also possible he is meant to be Saami. Saami appear to be Anglo Saxon so he wouldn’t appear to be of another ethnicity. But it looks more like they were simply showing a Nordic mountain men (who often wear clothing similar to the Saami in real life). Just for clarity.

  • Maggie

    It was mentioned on Jennifer Lee’s twitter that Kristoff was indeed intended to be Saami.

  • Anonymous

    On the plus side, eventually the old white guys in suits who are acting as gatekeepers will die.
    Hopefully we won’t need to wait for that to happen for there to be significant progress for women in the film industry. As a woman who wants to be a film editor someday (and I have no idea what the stats about women in that part of the industry are like), seeing things like this just makes me….I don’t know.

    Things will change. Probably. Eventually. If people make enough noise and refuse to let the issue go and fight enough.

  • Xomyx

    the Saami sometimes appear white today because of assimilation and marginalization. If you look at old photos of Saami you see that they’re visibly PoC. It would be like casting Pocahontas white because many aboriginal folk today pass as white.

  • Xomyx

    They all had issues with racism, though. They cut the line about Arabs being barbaric from Aladdin, Mulan is depicted with slanty eyes, you’d die if you drink every time someone said honor, etc.

    Honestly I’ve heard a lot of love for Lilo and Stitch and Emperor’s New Groove, and I do think those were seriously labours of love, but they’re the only ones I can think of that don’t have a lot of racist baggage with them.

  • Caravelle

    Not to mention, the beginning and end of the film definitely involve what I assume is Saami-style music (I sure hope it isn’t “randomly ‘ethnic’”). I found using the music but nothing else pretty appropriative. I guess it’s different if Kristoff was intended to be Saami and wears Saami clothing but it didn’t come across that way to me.

    I’ll note that there were people of color in the crowd scenes. Well, at least one that I noticed during Elsa’s coronation. This doesn’t negate Jamie Jeans’ statement that there are no people of color in the movie because, well, do random extras in a crowd scene count as “characters” ? But it is something the animators did that they might not have (and could have not thought of doing given the whole “Scandinavian” thing).