Published on: 04 May 2016 in Directors UK

Cut Out of the Picture: A study of gender inequality among directors within the UK film industry

Reading time: 14 minutes and 21 seconds

Directors UK today urges the film industry to take decisive action to tackle the issue of gender inequality among film directors in the UK, calling for 50% of publicly funded films in the UK to be directed by women by 2020.

This call comes off the back of a new report commissioned by Directors UK, which shows that the figures for women film directors have not improved in ten years, with women making up just 13.6% of working film directors. The report explores the factors that have led to these figures, such as career progression, budgets, genres, critics, audiences and public funding, and discovered how the industry culture leads to vastly different outcomes for men and women directing film.

Films command a great deal of influence on everyday society and the role of directors as storytellers is fundamental to this. This is why it is incredibly important that film directors reflect the audience they serve. By diversifying the pool of directors we open film up to a greater range of perspectives and stories.

Gender inequality in the film industry has long been acknowledged as a serious problem, but despite high profile discussions and debates progress has yet to be made on the disparity between the number of men and women working as film directors. Directors UK wanted to get behind the numbers and identify the root causes as to why women directors are consistently disadvantaged when trying to become a director and in progressing their careers. This study provides us with new insight and understanding as to what is causing this inequality and has helped us formulate a number of recommendations that would, if implemented, bring about industry-wide change.

There are also a number of important things you can do to help support our campaign. Find out more.

The problem

The study, conducted by Stephen Follows and Alexis Kreager, looks at 2,591 UK films released over 10 years (2005-2014).

From examining these films, we found that:

Over the ten-year period studied, the percentage of UK films directed by women increased by only 0.6%.

Women directors make fewer films in their career and are far less likely to direct a

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

This means that on average:

For more stats and a detailed explanation of these figures and where they came from please DOWNLOAD THE FULL REPORT.

The causes

As well as investigating specific film releases, the study also looked at the wider issues affecting women directors throughout their careers. The study concludes that gender inequality is primarily due to unconscious bias caused by systemic issues, which are sustaining and creating these biases and resulting in fewer films being directed by women. It identifies four key systemic isssues:

  • There is no regulatory system to effectively monitor, report and enforce gender equality, therefore there are no structured hiring and recruitment practices.
  • The lack of certainty within the industry leads to greater risk-aversion and a greater reliance on the pre-conceived stereotype of the director as a man.
  • The short-term nature of projects discourages long-term thinking and the use of positive HR practices.
  • Existing gender inequality in the film industry creates and supports a vicious cycle:

For more information about how the study explored these issues please DOWNLOAD THE FULL REPORT.

Public funding

Both publicly funded and commercial film sectors have a role to play in ensuring a healthy and diverse range of voices in UK film.

Despite being the best performing area of the industry, public funding support for films directed by women had fallen dramatically in seven years, from 32.9% in 2008 to 17% in 2014. If this decline continues publicly-funded films will soon perform no better than the commercial sector on gender equality.

The consequences

All these issues have the effect of limiting and inhibiting women directors at every stage in their careers. By looking at film school intakes the study was able to confirm that women entering the industry are there, it’s just that very few of them are getting the opportunity to go on and make films.

And what’s more, as budgets rise fewer and fewer women are hired as directors.


The number of women directors working in the UK film industry will only ever improve with direct industry wide intervention. The study makes a number of recommendations which Directors UK believes will improve gender inequality in the UK film industry:

1. 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 gender inequality in the film industry. Four years is a realistic time-frame to put in place suitable schemes and initiatives to meet this target. In addition, we recommend a requirement for all public funders to monitor and report on gender.

2. 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 for directly influencing industry-wide change. We suggest that in order for any film to qualify for UK tax relief it should be required to fulfil ‘diversity’ criteria, including gender, as part of the test.

3. Industry-wide campaign to inform and influence change

Government, industry leaders, agencies, production companies and public organisations all need to take decisive action to tackle gender inequality in UK film, and to work together as one industry to support equal opportunity regardless of gender.

Our response

Beryl Richards, Chair of Directors UK and Chair of the Directors UK Gender Equality Group said:

“It cannot be acceptable that in 2016 any industry with this level of inequality continues to go unchecked - not least the film industry that plays such an influential role in our economy, our society and our culture. The first step to tackling this is by understanding why these disparities are happening in the industry. With such comprehensive evidence we can now pinpoint and address the areas that need the most attention and focus on rectifying it. Our suggestion of a 50:50 split in public funding is something that has been achieved in other countries, such as Sweden. Equality of opportunity in UK film making is something we should all be working towards”.

Andrew Chowns, Chief Executive of Directors UK commented:

“We are calling for strong action because we don’t believe that the situation will change without it. This report shows that women directors are limited and inhibited at every stage of their career – from making their first short films to working on big budget productions. Gender inequality must be tackled at every level by everyone involved in hiring and funding decisions, including directors themselves. The time for talking about low numbers has passed. Now it’s time for change”.

Directors UK also spoke to a number of other directors, including Sarah GavronSusanna WhiteOliver ParkerBeeban KidronDebbie Isitt and Mat Whitecross. We asked them for their views on the study and the impact of gender inequality within the industry. Read what they had to say in this separate article.

Directors UK campaign

We will continue our campaign calling on all parts of the UK film industry to make clear their commitments to tackling the causes of gender inequality among directors. Recognising our role in supporting women to become directors and progress their careers we commit that:

By 2020 Directors UK members of working age will be 50:50 men and women.

Our campaign will develop support in the following areas:

  • Advocacy
  • Career development
  • Information and advice
  • Collaboration and partnerships with industry
  • Events, skills training and networking opportunities

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.

You can also download and share the image below.

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


For all press enquiries, please download our press pack or contact Tolu Akisanya. Email: [email protected], phone: 02078 459707.

In the news 

Women should direct 50% of publicly-funded films, says Directors UK

Women make up just 13.6% of film directors in the UK

BBC Radio 
The Today Programme (link expires May 31)
0740- In 2005 just over one in ten UK films was directed by a woman. But despite attempts to improve gender equality within the industry in over a decade, hardly anything has changed. Susanna White is film director of Nanny McPhee, Jane Eyre and Bleak House.

BBC 5Live online
Director Sarah Gavron: 'Shocking' lack of films by women 

Women filmmakers Cut Out of the Picture

Creative England
Making Change Happen: Industry Recognises Creative England’s Backing of Female Talent in the Film Industry  

Financial Times 
Openings: Lights, Camera, Equality

The Guardian
Give half of UK film funding to projects led by women, directors say
Are you a woman working in the film industry? Share your experiences 

The Guardian Blogspot
The movies are a boy's club, so break it up, Zoe Margolis 

Hearst UK (Empowering Women)
5 Feminist Wins And Losses, final paragraph - Film Fail

Give half of UK film funding to projects led by women, directors say 

British female film directors cut out of picture due to ‘systemic bias’ 

London Evening Standard
Rashid Razaq: Blockbusters need a woman’s touch (3rd story down)  

Raising Films
Raising Films, raising questions: making change with Directors UK, EWA and Women Call the Shots

Women should direct 50% of publically funded films, says Directors UK

Screen Daily
Directors UK calls for 50:50 male-female film funding
Hidden gender: analysing the Directors UK report
Asante backs Directors UK report

Revealed: the shocking extent of gender inequality in the UK film industry

Directors UK calls for more films to be directed by women

The Times
Sexist film trade cuts women out of directing  

Women in Hollywood blog
Directors UK Research: “Systemic Bias Against Women Directors”

Women should direct 50% of publicly-funded films, says Directors UK

You may also like

Remembering Michael Apted

25 years of Directors UK


Cookies help us deliver our services. By using our services, you agree to our use of cookies. Learn more