Laura Poitras image

Laura Poitras

White men still largely dominate the film industry and the societal implications of inaccurate representation are huge, meaning filmmaking itself is a radical act for women and people of color.  But those groups are moving forward to make documentaries and take on an industry that has largely excluded them.


It should come as no surprise that the film industry is embattled over a lack of diversity and the gender gap. This year has been full of efforts to address the disparities in Hollywood and filmmaking in general. We have seen #OscarsSoWhite boycotts and recently, federal officials decided to take a look at reasons behind the gender gap. According to the Center for Study of Women in Television and Film, in 2014, 85 percent of films had no female directors, 80 percent had no female writers, 33 percent had no female producers, 78 percent had no female editors and 92 percent had no female cinematographers. In October 2015, the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission began interviewing women filmmakers to determine what action can be taken to prevent discrimination against women in the film industry. In addition, Prof. Stacey Smith at the University of Southern California conducted a similar study examining this issue. Smith’s study found women filmmakers are often more successful making documentaries, but regardless of genre, many face obstacles relating to finding funding and creating longer-form content.


A 2015 study by Temple University also found that women have a greater presence in documentary film, but that gender disparities still exist. This study found that women made up 28 percent of directors of documentaries and 15 percent of directors of narrative films. How do these disparities impact the available content for consumption? The USC study found that women find obstacles in funding specific topics, such as films about females, or individuals from underrepresented groups, or female-oriented subjects. With women making up 50.8 percent of the U.S. population, why is there a resistance to funding female-geared films? USC’s study also found that of women who had never created a feature film, more than half reported financial obstacles to creating longer-form work.


The studies go on to show the lack of the representation of women and racial minorities in film production allows for the continuation of incomplete gendered and racial narratives in movies, therefore reinforcing stereotypes. Maryann Erigha wrote in Temple University’s report, “Still today, disproportionate representation of racial/ethnic minorities and women translates to the creation of a societal culture with stereotypical images and limited creative visions on screen.” Sexist and racist attitudes and stereotypes are not only influenced by this lack of representation, but also perpetuate the system that restricts their participation in the film industry.


Organizations have stepped forward to assist women documentary filmmakers to continue efforts to end the cycle of lack of representation. Here is a list of resources for women across every aspect of filmmaking:


Support and Mentorship:

Film Fatales

This organization is dedicated to creating a web of mentorship and networking for women filmmakers. Each month, women directors meet in their local groups to share resources, foster collaboration and build a support system. To acquire membership, women must have written or directed at least one feature length narrative or documentary film.


Women Make Movies

This organization is a multicultural and multiracial non-profit that works to address the underrepresentation of women in film industry by facilitating the production, promotion and distribution of films made by women.


Funding and Production:

Chicken and Egg Pictures

This organization offers up to $35,000 in mentorship, development, and grants for first and second time female documentary filmmakers. Chicken and Egg Productions looks for filmmakers whose “artful and innovative storytelling catalyzes social change.”



At this year’s Sundance Film Festival, Refinery29 announced a new program called ShatterBox Anthology. This film series will support women filmmakers by highlighting 12 short films from female directors, writers, and animators.


Film Festivals and Distribution:

Citizen Jane Film Festival

Citizen Jane finds its home in our very own Columbia, Missouri. This festival screens films of all genres, including shorts, features, and documentaries directed or co-directed by women.


Vimeo: Ladies with Lenses

Vimeo now has a dedicated channel for women filmmakers. The channel describes itself as being for “super cool women who create beauty and magic on film.”

About Meg Vatterott