Are We Finally Making Progress on More Female Directors?

Today I saw Whip It, the rollerderby movie directed by Drew Barrymore. It felt pretty ordinary to me, and would have been disappointing without the excellent Ellen Page and Marcia Gay Hardin. The critics generally liked (but didn’t love) it.

Confronted with a very rainy afternoon, I lingered for a couple of minutes in the lobby of the cinema. I looked over the eight movie posters in the lobby, and was surprised to see that five of the films they promoted had been directed by women. I snapped some bad photos on my iPhone, and made this unpretty collage:

Female Directors

The films are, in order of my dodgy collage:

Of those five films, three are mid-level Hollywood flicks, one is a Canadian indie and one is a feature-length documentary. How surprising is that result? In 2007, of the 13,000 members of the Directors Guild of America, only 7% are women. I don’t claim that my little lobby survey has any sort of authority, but it’s at least a little encouraging. The role of director has always struck as one of the last bastions of near-total male domination.

I’ll admit a little of my own sexism here: I was surprised to learn that best movie I saw all year, The Hurt Locker, was directed by a woman. Kathryn Bigelow has made a minor masterpiece in that movie. I wonder how many other war movies women have directed over the past fifty years?


  1. In my film class in undergrad, we studied Kathryn Bigelow in the “auteur theory” section of the course (the other “auteur” we studied was Fritz Lang). We only watched two of her films – Point Break and Blue Steel – but I really liked her stuff. Hearing that she directed The Hurt Locker, I want to see it now!

  2. Bigelow has made a number of good or at least entertaining movies, many of them what would normally be considered “manly” – among them “Point Break” (Patrick Swayze AND Keanu Reeves! Testosterone!), “K-19” (a Russian submarine movie with Harrison Ford and Liam Neeson that deserved more viewers than it got), and “Near Dark.”

    While she’s gotten well-deserved praise for “The Hurt Locker,” I’ve long had the feeling that if a man had made the same films, he’d be better known than she is by now.

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