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Women Directors Gain Greater Creative Control In a Mixed Year For Female Cinema

Women Directors Gain Greater Creative Control In a Mixed Year For Female Cinema

We have been tracking UK film releases by women since June 2017. We define films by women as directed and/or written by (or co-directed and/or co-written by with at least 50% female credit). Our definition of women includes cis-women, trans-women and femme/feminine-identifying genderqueer and non-binary people. 

The percentage of female made films continued to increase in 2021 (see chart below): 166 films by women were released accounting for 30% of all UK film releases this year. However, this figure was up just a single percentage point from 2020 (29%). The year on year increase between 2017-2020 was around 3%. Further analysis is required to understand why there has been very little growth, but it does indicate that even the slow yet steady gains made over the previous four years cannot be taken for granted. Both the number of films directed/co-directed and written/co-written by a woman/women this year remained unchanged from 2020 at 20% and 23%, respectively. 

However, a more optimistic picture emerges if this data is broken down further, with the chart below revealing a marked rise in female creative control over film projects during this period. In other words, there have been significantly more releases directed solely by a woman compared to those co-directed (with men) in the last two years than compared to the previous three: in 2017 the ratio of films directed by a woman to those co-directed with men was 6 to 1, compared 12 to 1 in 2020 – in 2021 the ratio was 9 to 1. A similar pattern emerges when looking at screenwriting but it is far less pronounced: in 2017 for every 4 films written exclusively by a woman or women there were 3 co-written with men and in 2020 this ratio was, by contrast, 2 to 1.

But this optimism is tempered by the low representation of non-white female filmmakers since 2017 – a minority within a minority across the key creative roles in cinema. The results in the graph below show them as a percentage of the data above and does not include personnel working on titles that do not meet our definition (directed by and/or written by a woman/women, with at least 50% representation in any one role). 

As the graph shows, between 2017 and 2021 the percentage of writers remained fairly consistent at between 22% and 26%. The percentage of non-white female directors, by contrast, has risen and fallen twice over the same period: the steepest drop-off occurred this year with 22 non-white female directors out of a total of 118 female directing or co-directing films that were released in the UK, or 19%, which stands in stark contrast to 33% the previous year and is just two percentage points above the 2017 level (17%). This is clearly very concerning and evidence that not nearly enough is being done within the industry to improve diversity of representation behind the camera. 

This analysis thus presents a very mixed picture and strengthens the continuing case for gender and diversity initiatives such as Birds’ Eye View and Reclaim the Frame. It is also important to note that there are further gender imbalances in relation to production budgets, marketing budgets, critical coverage, the number of cinemas/screens films by women go out to and so on that are not covered here.

These are all issues we hope to explore in future blog articles.

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