Women Directed a Record 38% of Indie Films in 2019-20

Latest SDSU study shows indie film industry is inching closer to gender parity

Focus Features

Indie films, much like their big studio counterparts, have predominantly been made by men. But the latest study from San Diego State University shows the indies are getting a bit closer to gender parity as a record 38% of films in the past year were directed by women.

The latest edition of “Indie Women,” an annual study on behind-the-scenes female representation conducted by SDSU’s Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film, surveyed over 800 independently produced feature films and documentaries released between July 2019 and June 2020. The study found that the share of films directed by women increased to 38% compared to 33% in 2018-19 and 29% in 2017-18. Similar increases were seen for female writers, who comprised 35% of films surveyed compared to 32% in 2018-19 and 26% in 2017-18.

Still, there’s a ways to go before the 50/50 target is reached. When all behind-the-scenes roles surveyed are considered — directors, writers, producers, executive producers, editors, and cinematographers — “Indie Women” found that women are still outnumbered 2 to 1, comprising 34% of all roles.

Dr. Martha M. Lauzen, executive director of the SDSU program, says that feature film production needs to pick up the slack as documentaries continue to lead not just the indie sphere but all of Hollywood in providing opportunities for women in key creative roles.

“For years, documentaries have provided more opportunities for women than narrative features. However, over the last couple of years, the employment gains made by women in the world of documentaries have outpaced the increases on narrative films,” she said. “At 47% of producers on documentaries, women are approaching parity with their male counterparts. The same cannot be said on narrative features where women comprise a little more than one third of producers.”

Among documentaries, women directed 40% of the films surveyed, compared to 29% for narrative features. That disparity also extends to festivals like SXSW and Sundance, where on average 12 narrative films directed by men were screened compared to just six by women. On the other hand, festivals on average screen 11 documentaries by men compared to 10 by women.

The full “Indie Women” study can be read here.

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