Gender Equality in the UK Film Industry

Following on from our research into gender inequality with UK directors working in TV and our recommendations to bring balance and change to an unfair system, Directors UK are now turning the camera towards the UK film industry and has commissioned a study titled Cut Out Of The Picture by Stephen Follows, which explores factors affecting women directors, such as career progression, industry culture, budgets, genres, critics, audiences and public funding. 


Directors UK carried out this research in response to what we perceived to be a worryingly low number of women directors represented in the UK film industry and the fact this has remained stagnant for nearly a decade. The research drew from 2,500 UK films released over ten years revealing there has been little improvement in prospects for women directors and that they faced barriers and obstacles at every stage of their careers. 


To build our understanding of the causal factors behind the long-standing and persistent gender inequality facing women directors working in the UK film industry and develop a campaign focusing on practical solutions. Many of the reasons put forward as to why men get to direct so many more films that women, are when properly challenged proved to unfounded and often centred on myths that have become accepted as fact. 

The aim of the campaign and the study’s commission the study was to step away from the industry’s working culture and assumption in order to analyse the problem in its full context. To understand, to influence, to change. 


On 4 May 2016 Directors UK published its commissioned study Cut Out of the Picture - A study into Gender Inequality Amongst Directors within the UK Film Industry, by Stephen Follows. It studied 2,591 UK films released over a ten-year period (2005-2014) and found that just 13.6% of working film directors in the last decade were women.

The report also revealed there has been no real improvement in prospects for women directors, with the percentage of films directed exclusively by women only increasing from 11.3% in 2004 to 11.9% in 2015.

Despite women making up 50.1% of all film students in the UK and 49.4% of new entrants in the film industry, only 27.2% of short films and 21.7% of publicly funded films studied were directed by women. As budgets rise fewer women are hired with just 16.1% of low budget films (under £500,000), 12.8% of mid-budget films (£1-£10million) and as little as 3.3% of big budget films (£30million) were directed by women.

This filtering effect has resulted in the disappearance of women directors at every level as they try to progress their careers. In addition, public funding support for films with women directors has fallen dramatically in the past seven years.   In 2008, 32.9% of films with UK-based public funding were directed by a woman whereas in 2014 it was just 17.0%. 21.7% of the films with UK-based public funding had a woman director.  Although publicly funded films are the best performing area of the industry, if this decline continues, they will be performing no better than the commercial sector on gender equality. 

Women directors are also disproportionately under-represented within certain genres, such as action, crime, horror and sci-fi.

This means that on average:


This report concludes that gender inequality is caused by unconscious bias stemming from systemic issues already within the industry, which includes an absence of a regulatory system to monitor, report and enforce gender equality and no structured hiring and recruitment practices. The industry’s lack of certainty means it leans towards greater risk-aversion causing a greater reliance on the stereotype of the male director. Meaning old habits remain ingrained and the short-term nature of film projects discourages long-term thinking and preventing the use of positive HR practices.  All of these have resulted in a vicious cycle which perpetuates and enforces the low number of women directors.  


Directors UK and its board, committee and members will continue to lobby key organisations across the industry.  In May we are launching the study findings that will be followed by our panel discussion at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival, where we will call on the 200 industry experts, we presented our recommendations:

50% of films backed by UK-based public funding bodies to be directed by women by 2020.
Public funded film offers one of the most direct opportunities to impact the gender inequality in the film industry.  A realistic time-frame (4years) to put in place suitable schemes and initiatives to meet this target. A requirement for public funders to monitor and report on gender.  

Development of the Film Tax Credit Relief system to require all UK films to take account of diversity.
This aspect of government support for the UK film industry touches all films produced in the UK, and therefore is the most powerful mechanism that can directly influence industry-wide change.

Industry wide campaign to inform and influence change
Government, industry leaders, agencies, production companies and public organisations to take decisive action to tackle gender inequality, and to work together as one industry to support equal opportunity regardless of gender.

Directors UK will continue to campaign and lobby the film industry on gender equality and push for firm, tangible commitments that directly addresses the discrimination and unfair treatment of women directors. 

We recognise the part we have to play in leading industry wide change happen with our own clear commitment: By 2020 Directors UK members of working age will be 50:50 men and women.  

Directors UK will continue to support women to become directors and advance in their careers as directors through: 

  • advocacy, 
  • career development
  • information and advice
  • collaboration and partnerships with industry
  • events, skills training and networking opportunities

We hope you play your part in tackling gender inequality in UK film by joining our campaign and supporting the cause. 

Members are invited to continue to contribute and help develop the campaign whether it be through the Gender Equality Working Group, or by contacting Ali Bailey, Head of Campaigning. We would also encourage everyone join our campaign to put in place suitable schemes and initiatives to ensuring by 2020 women directors receive 50% of funding from the pot. 

The consistently low numbers of women working as directors in the film industry has long been acknowledged as a serious problem but any real progress on improving those numbers has yet to be made. Directors UK commissioned a study, as part of our on-going gender inequality campaign; to find out what lay behind the numbers and identify the root causes as to why women directors are consistently disadvantaged when trying to become a director and progress their careers. 

This study provides our campaign with a strong evidence that shatters many of the myths often put forward as fact and the ‘reasoning’ as to why more women don’t get the same opportunities to direct. The research looks into a number of related areas: Industry culture, budgets, genres, critics, audience, public funding, career progression and helped us to develop practically focused recommendations that would, if implemented, bring about industry-wide change. The outcomes is research provides the industry with new insight and understanding into what is causing the problem and a campaign that is built around practical solutions and making permanent change. 

The campaign’s ability to draw on the knowledge and experience of Directors UK members has given it strength and credibility. By staying in touch with what’s really happening we have come up with real solutions to real problems. The campaign has worked in an open and flexible way led by the Gender Equality Working Group, and has held open meetings to allow us to consult with the wider membership and stay in touch with the issues. 

Support our campaign

If you’d like to help us spread the word, or have any questions about the campaign please message us on Twitter, post a comment using the #DUKFilm5050 hashtag, or share this post on Facebook.

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You can also download our campaign badge and post it on your website to show your support for the campaign and our recommendations.

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Have Your Say

Illy Hill

excellent report, well done Ali.

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