Women Still Underrepresented Behind the Camera in Indie Film World

Despite making up over half of the country’s population, women are still underrepresented behind the camera in America’s independent film industry. According to the study “Indie Women: Behind-the-Scenes Employment of Women in U.S. Independent Film, 2021-22” released today by Dr. Martha M. Lauzen—the executive director of the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University—women made up just 39% of all directors, writers, producers, executive producers, editors, and cinematographers working on independent films (either narrative and documentary) that screened or streamed at high-profile film festivals in the US from July 2021 to June 2022.

That percentage fluctuates depending on the type of film, the position, and if there’s at least one woman in the director’s chair on the project. Per “Indie Women,” there’s more parity in the documentary space than the narrative feature space, with women making up 43% of working directors, writers, producers, executive producers, editors, and cinematographers on documentaries rather than 34% of those working on narrative features. 

“Documentaries continue to employ higher percentages of women filmmakers than narrative features, and independent films offer more opportunities for women than larger budget features,” Dr. Lauzen finds. Film festivals screened or streamed almost an equal number of documentaries directed by women as men on average, and the percentage of women working in every role the study examined was higher on documentaries than on narrative features.

However, the narrative for narrative features is somewhat bleaker. On average, U.S. film festivals included six movies directed by at least one woman for every 10 movies directed exclusively by men. Women were best represented as producers in the narrative space, making up 38% of producers in those films in 2021-2022. This, however, is down from 40% of women who served as producers in the independent film space in 2020–2021. 

As for jobs, women are least represented in the visual and audio spaces, as opposed to writing, directing, and producing. While women made up 33% of executive producers, 34% of writers, and 35% of directors,  women only comprised 20% of cinematographers in both narrative and documentary films in 2021-2022. Even more bleak is the composing space, where women represented just 17% of indie film composers in the past year.

Lauzen examined 9,960 credits on 730 films from 2021-2022, comparing them to over 105,360
credits on more than 10,200 films over the period of 2008 to 2022, focusing on high profile titles and film festivals. The study did not include any data about gender non-conforming or nonbinary representation in the indie film space. 

One piece of heartening news: Lauzen found that when a film had at least one woman director, the percentages of women working in other behind-the-scenes positions such as writers, editors, and cinematographers were substantially higher percentages than in films exclusively directed by men. Here’s to women supporting other women. 

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