Where are the Women directors?

A few years ago I participated in the launch of a campaign called Please Adjust Your Set. It was a study of the labour issues surrounding women in the BC film and television industry. This type of initiative has been repeated in other cities with similar results.

The studies all demonstrate what was “previously understood only anecdotally; women are underrepresented and under-remunerated in many occupations and facets of the industry.”

As the results of our “record and report” strategy came in, it inspired a lot of discussion around why this is the case. When almost half of film school students are female, how come they are so glaringly underrepresented? In what stage does the drop off happen?

There are a lot of theories, from self-esteem issues to the old boys’ network to simple non-consideration for big budget genres (action adventure / thriller / etc). “Follow the money,” some committee members kept saying. “Pay attention to who gives and gets the funding.”

I think it’s a combination of issues, actually, and I think much of the time it’s not even conscious. But I’ve decided to make bring it into consciousness, especially since I recently had a conversation with someone on set who literally couldn’t think of one female director.

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Whenever I’m working on a commercial film set or watching a movie, I always make a mental note of the % of women to men in the “above the line” rolls, which are the roles that have what we call “creative control.”

This includes the writer/s, director, director of photography, producers, and editor. These are the people who make all the decisions and it is not uncommon for ALL of these roles to be filled by men. The lead role/s on 10 of the 12 film productions I’ve worked for have also been male. (Stats say % of women producers has grown over last 20 years, but % of directors has shrunk)

Once when I looked around the studio counting 80 males and 3 females (scripty, hair, and make-up), I wondered why this didn’t strike anyone as odd and if it would were it reversed?

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No female has ever won an academy award for directing (and only 3 have been nominated) and only one woman has ever won the Cannes Film Festival’s Palme d’Or.


  1. Jan Lisa Huttner
    Feb 14, 2009

    Indeed, the statistics are deeply disturbing & I truly believe that people need to give serious consideration to the meaning of all this:


  2. openchannel
    Feb 15, 2009

    yes! They might not even think about it and WHY it is disturbing / needs to change…

    I think I need to do more posts to explain this!

  3. Jan Lisa Huttner
    Feb 17, 2009

    The Women’s Media Center posted a wonderful essay by doc director Kavery Kaul today:


    I won’t add to the ugliness by sharing some of the nasty, intimidating messages I’ve received since I began writing about “my SLUMDOG Brouhaha,” but suffice it to say that posts like yours (& Kavery’s) make it ALL worthwhile!

    Best always,

  4. openchannel
    Feb 19, 2009

    Jan – Thanks for the links – I’ll forward them to Please Adjust Your Set.

    I’m sorry to hear you’ve been the recipient of nasty messages… this really isn’t just about Tandon. There’s a much larger issue here.

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