The number of female directors who worked on top-grossing films decreased in 2021, a new report by the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University reveals.

According to the study, women accounted for 17% of the directors of 2021’s top 250 films, down from 18% in 2020. Zeroing in on last year’s top 100, the number gets even smaller, with 12% of directors being women. In 2020, women directors comprised 16% of the year’s top 100 films.

Dr. Martha Lauzen, Founder and Executive Director of the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film, said that in light of the success of directors like Chloe Zhao and Nia DaCosta, studying the numbers was integral to gaining a more realistic understanding of women’s progress in the male-dominated film industry.

“Appearances can be deceiving,” Lauzen said. “While Chloé Zhao won the Oscar last year for directing Nomadland, and Jane Campion is a front-runner in this year’s race for The Power of the Dog, the percentage of women directing films actually declined in 2021. Basing our perceptions of how women are faring on the well-deserved fortunes of just a few high-profile women can lead us to inaccurate conclusions about the state of women’s employment.”


As the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact box office sales, Lauzen’s study analyzed films viewed both in theaters and at home. The study found that women accounted for 10% of directors working on films in the “Watched at Home” category, up from 9% in 2020. All told, they comprised 20% of all directors, writers, executive producers, producers, editors, and cinematographers working on the top films watched at home in 2021, up from 19% the year before.

Despite the decrease in representation for female directors, women have continued to lay claim to other important roles in the film industry. Last year, they comprised 25% of directors, writers, producers, executive producers, editors, and cinematographers working on the top 250 grossing films, up from 2020’s 23%.

Last year, Chloe Zhao made Oscars history by becoming the first woman of color to win Best Director. Her film, Nomadland, also won the award for Best Picture. In August, Nia DaCosta became the first Black woman to direct a box office No. 1 with CandymanAnd, with the stacked cast of gritty western The Power of the Dogwriter-director Jane Campion could be up for an Oscar sweep herself.