By Krista Daly
Results of a new USC Annenberg study show that there are more opportunities for women directors in indie films rather than mainstream films.
The Sundance Institute and Women in Film Los Angeles commissioned the study, co-authored by Stacy L. Smith, Katherine Pieper, and Marc Choueiti.
After examining 820 feature films screened at Sundance from 2002 to 2012, they found that 22.2 percent of the festival’s U.S. narrative-competition films and 41.1 percent of the U.S. documentary-competition films were directed by women.
Smith told The Atlantic that ingrained attitudes about female directors and stars play a big role in what accounts for the gap between Sundance and Hollywood in regards to women: “In Hollywood, women in front of or behind the camera still seem to be perceived as a risky investment.”
An earlier study led by Smith in 2010 showed that movies with male directors featured only 29.3 percent female actors, whereas in movies with at least one female director, that number rose to 44.6 percent.
In the 85 years that the Oscars have taken place, 81 of those years had no nominations for a woman Best Director. This year was no different.
Even though women buy 50 percent of movie tickets and form a majority of the U.S. population, only 4.4 percent of Hollywood’s top 100 studio movies are directed by women in any given year. The disproportionately small number of female directors in Hollywood seems to have a direct impact on the number of women seen on-screen.
But research shows that the gender of the lead protagonist—or the gender of the director—plays little role in the box-office success of a film. According to Smith, a 2007 USC Annenberg study she carried out with Rene Weber of UCSB and Marc found that what is most important in the success of a film is the size of the production budget, the breadth of distribution, and the strength of the story.