Despite ongoing efforts to change it, the number of female filmmakers currently working in the industry is still woefully low, especially in comparison to men. According to an annual study from the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University, only 11% of directors who helmed the top grossing movies in 2017 were women, a 4% increase over the previous year. Now, a new documentary is taking a hard look at the numbers, and allowing those directors — along with other women in the film industry — to tell their own stories.
In her new film, Half the Picture, which premiered earlier this week at the San Francisco International Film Festival, director Amy Adrion sits down with dozens of women in the entertainment industry to find out what’s really going on behind the scenes of Hollywood’s biggest movies and TV shows. Adrion was able to speak to directors like Catherine Hardwick (Twilight), Ava DuVernay (A Wrinkle in Time), and Gina Prince-Blythewood (Love & Basketball, as well as the announced Silver & Black), to hear their first-hand accounts of their struggles in the male-dominated industry.
Adrion takes specific care to delve into the increased struggles faced by female directors of color, allowing several women to talk about how both race and gender have presented themselves as barriers to their careers. As of this writing, Ava DuVernay is the only female director of color to helm a $100 million film from a major studio with 2018’s A Wrinkle in Time.
In addition to her conversations with working directors, Adrion’s documentary also presents a deep dive into the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s investigation into discriminatory hiring practices in Hollywood. The investigation, which began in 2015 and ended last year, found that major studios took steps to discriminate against female directors across the board.
There is statistical evidence to support the idea of moving toward more gender parity behind the camera. A 2017 study from the Department of Computer Science at the University of Southern California found that films which included a woman on the writing team had 50% more female speaking roles. Meanwhile, a portion of the San Diego State study found that when women are involved in major roles behind the camera, they tend to hire more women, raising the overall number of women working on a film and providing more opportunities for aspiring female filmmakers.