The number of women working in top films barely increased in 2017

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Jun 3, 2021, 8:00 PM EDT (Updated)

More women worked in the top 250 films of the year in 2017 - but looking at the actual percentages reveals a significant lack of progress overall, according to an annual study from the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University.

In the Center's study, The Celluloid Ceiling, 11% of the directors in last year's top-grossing movies were women, though that only indicates a four-percent increase from 2016 - and the numbers across the board are dismal. 

When looking at the percentage of individuals employed behind the scenes of 2017's top films - whether as directors, executive producers, cinematographers, writers or editors - women only made up 18%, increasing by just one point since 2016. Going back further to 1998 reveals an even more depressing trend - the number of women working in the 250 top films of the year has never exceeded more than 19%.

If the scale is adjusted to the top 100 films in 2017, women working behind the scenes only account for a total of 16%. 88% of the 250 top-grossing domestic films did not have a female director, and 83% did not have a female writer.

"The film industry has utterly failed to address the continuing under-employment of women behind the scenes," said Center executive director Dr. Martha Lauzen. “This negligence has produced a toxic culture that supported the recent sexual harassment scandals and truncates so many women’s careers."

Aside from not tackling the underemployment issue head-on, major Hollywood studios were also found guilty of discriminatory hiring practices in early 2017 by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, in an investigation which claimed every studio systematically discriminated against hiring female directors.

One statistic of note when it comes to Hollywood's top films - when women are involved, they tend to bring on more women. A portion of the Center's study also focuses on what happens when women have a say in who gets hired behind-the-scenes, and 2017's female directors employed a higher percentage of women in other roles than their male peers.

Among the top female directors of 2017 were Patty Jenkins (Wonder Woman), Sofia Coppola (The Beguiled), Greta Gerwig (Lady Bird), Dee Rees (Mudbound) and Niki Caro (The Zookeeper's Wife).

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