Assessing the Gender Gap in the Film Industry

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IMDb, the Internet Movie Database is a massive resource, offering a unique picture of the global film industry. The IMDb list of Actors and Actresses is one of the many databases that we’ve used to evaluate how accurate our Gendre API is in predicting gender from personal names.

IMDb also provides a list of world film directors. The file does not include a title or a gender. We’ve set a task for ourselves: to independently measure the gender gap among movie directors globally.

A previous study found -from assessing the gender of 11,197 directors, writers, producers, cinematographers, and editors-  that only one quarter of all narrative content creators were female. Can we confirm the findings of this study by enriching the gender information of 337,548 IMDb film directors, in all countries of the world?

IMDb Movie Directors – the Gender Gap

Our findings confirm the previous study. We were able to infer gender from 98% of the names in minutes. That’s the power of OpenData combined with APIs : they can do a lot of work for you!



A previous study : ‘Exploring the Barriers and Opportunities for Independent Women Filmmakers’

We reproduce the main quantitative findings below:

Executive Summary

Sundance Institute and Women In Film Los Angeles
Women Filmmakers Initiative

Exploring the Barriers and Opportunities for Independent Women Filmmakers
Stacy L. Smith, Ph.D., Katherine Pieper, Ph.D. & Marc Choueiti

Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism

University of Southern California

The purpose of this research is to examine how females are faring in American independent film. Studies have been conducted in the past on women in the mainstream U.S. film industry, but little research has yet been done in the U.S. independent film arena. To this end, we developed
a research strategy with a two-prong approach.
First, we quantitatively document the involvement of female content creators of U.S. films at the Sundance Film Festival, assessing the gender of 11,197 directors, writers, producers, cinematographers, and editors across 820 films classified as U.S. narratives (534 films) or documentaries (286 films) between 2002 and 2012.
The second prong documents the qualitative experiences of female filmmakers through interviews with emerging and seasoned content creators as well as key industry gate-keepers. Here, we surveyed 51 individuals to unpack the specific obstacles that face female directors and producers in the independent film arena. We also assessed participants’ perceptions of opportunities that may increase women’s involvement behind the camera. Below is a summary of key findings.

Quantitative Findings: American Films at the Sundance Film Festival 2002-2012
• At the Sundance Film Festival from 2002-2012, one quarter (25.3%, n=1,911) of all narrative content creators (i.e., directors, writers, producers, cinematographers, editors) were female and 39.1% (n=1,422) of all documentary content creators were female. This translates into a behind-the-camera gender ratio of 2.96 males to every 1 female in narratives and 1.56 males to every 1 female in documentaries.
• Females were half as likely to be directors of U.S. narratives (16.9%) than U.S. documentaries (34.5%). Similar disparity by storytelling platform (narrative vs. documentary) was found among female writers (20.6% vs. 32.8%), female producers (29.4% vs. 45.9%), female cinematographers (9.5% vs. 19.9%), and female editors (22% vs. 35.8%).

The full report can be download here.

Considering cultural differences

Can we dig deeper? As in any global industry, cultural differences are key to explain any phenomenon. But in the case of a cultural industry, the gender gap is not just a phenomenon – it’s also a causal factor: with films reproducing cultural clichés from one generation to the next, or conversely introducing cultural revolutions in a particular country. The role of foreign films directors in this process is essential.

At NamSor, we invented a simple yet efficient tool to represent cultural differences and diversity, the onoma(s)tic millefeuille:


Combining gender and cultural information, we found -for example- that women represent 26% of film directors having a French name, whereas for Algeria that figure drops to 19% and Japan 14%.

Meet us on 29 April 2014 at DataTuesday Paris with Girls in Tech Paris, on the topic ‘Women & Data’.

Further reading: