Northwestern University Scholars Examine a Century of Women’s Participation in the Film Industry

A new study by researchers at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, tracks the status of women in the film industry for over a century.

Using the American Film Institute Archive and the Internet Movie Database, researchers examined more than 26,000 films made between 1910 and 2010 to measure how many women worked as actors, screenwriters, directors, and producers. They found that women were active in the early days of American film. From 1910 to 1920, according to the study, women actors comprised roughly 40 percent of casts. Women wrote 20 percent of movies, produced 12 percent and directed 5 percent. By 1930, acting roles for women were cut in half; producing and directing roles hit close to zero.

The data suggest that the studio system, which emerged between 1915 and 1920, is most likely responsible for the shift. The industry condensed from a somewhat diverse collection of independent filmmakers scattered across the country to just five studios, which controlled everything.

Luis Amaral, the Erastus Otis Haven Professor of Chemical and Biological Engineering in Northwestern’s McCormick School of Engineering and lead author of the study, explains that “as the studio system fell under the control of a small group of men, women received fewer and fewer jobs. It looks like male producers hired male directors and male writers. This is association, not causation, but the data is very suggestive.”

it was not until the 1940s and 1950s, when lawsuits lessened the power of the major studies, did opportunities for women in the industry began to reappear. And while progress has been made, women continue to hold few positions as screenwriters, directors, and producers. (See WIAReport post.)

The full study, “Long-Term Patterns of Gender Imbalance in an Industry Without Ability or Level of Interest Differences,” was published on PLOS One. It may be accessed here.

Filed Under: Research/Study


RSSComments (0)

Leave a Reply