Women in documentary film

Women in documentary film describes the role of women as directors, writers, performers, producers, and other film industry professions. According to a 2017 study by San Diego University's Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film, women make up around thirty percent of the population of people working in the documentary film industry, worldwide.[1] In a separate study on the employment of women in indie films, the Center found that overall fewer woman directed independent films were screened at film festivals but that a higher percentage of woman directed documentary films were screened, at 8 films versus 13 documentary films directed by men.[2] In an October 2015 Annenberg study, women documentarians in countries other than the U.S. were 40 percent likely to be “helmers” (in the top position) as opposed to 30 percent likely in the U.S. The study counted films with multiple countries involved “as other countries” but if the U.S. was involved it wasn't counted as “other countries.”[3]

The world of documentary film and the Oscars were criticized in 2016 by entertainment attorney Victoria Cook, who commented that there is a “misperception that the (feature) documentary category is more inclusive, less sexist and less racist than the other categories" and noted that only two female documentary filmmakers have won Oscars in the documentary feature category in the last twenty years.[4]


Prior to the twentieth century women did work in documentary film and the major documentary movements, but their roles were typically limited to less visible ones such as research.[5]: 392  German film director Leni Riefenstahl has been credited as pioneering the modern form of documentary film with her 1935 Nazi propaganda film Triumph of the Will.[6] Other women, such as Ruby Grierson and Frances H. Flaherty, have also been named as pioneers of the genre whose work and influence has been overshadowed by their male counterparts and relatives.[6][7][8] The more modern documentary filmmakers Safi Faye and Trinh T. Minh-ha have also been cited as influences in the University of Illinois Press book Women and Experimental Filmmaking, as they "contribute to a tradition of experimental documentary filmmaking that avoids the objectifying, colonialist tendencies of much documentary and ethnography."[9]: 179 


In China, the field of documentary filmmaking has been named as an emerging field that "[provides] essential resources for women directors".[10]: 135  The creation of courses of study, documentary film festivals and television channels in Taiwan have helped encourage filmmakers and "contributed to a new tide of Taiwan documentary filmmaking", which in turn "helped produce generations of women filmmakers concerned with representing feminist issues and the local cultures, customs, and history of Taiwan."[10]: 135 : 38 

List of female documentariansEdit

External linksEdit


  1. ^ Lauzen, Martha (January 10, 2018). "The Celluloid Ceiling: Behind-the-Scenes Employment of Women on the Top 100, 250, and 500 Films of 2017" (PDF). San Diego University's Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film.
  2. ^ Lauzen, Martha M. (2018). "Indie Women" (PDF). Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film.
  3. ^ Smith, Stacy (2015). "Female Filmmakers Initiative" (PDF). Sundance Institute and Women In Film Los Angeles.
  4. ^ Morfoot, Addie (2016-02-18). "Oscars: Examining Gender Bias in the Documentary Categories". Variety. Retrieved 2018-06-18.
  5. ^ Aitken, Ian (2013-10-18). Encyclopedia of the Documentary Film 3-Volume Set. Routledge. ISBN 9781135206208.
  6. ^ a b c Johanson, Maryann (July 11, 2016). "From Alice Guy-Blaché to Barbara Kopple: The Pioneering Women of Documentary Film". PBS.
  7. ^ "Five pioneering women behind the camera during the Second World War". British Film Institute. Retrieved 2018-06-18.
  8. ^ "Women on the Verge: Pioneer Documentary Filmmakers that History Ignored". International Documentary Association. Retrieved 2018-06-18.
  9. ^ Petrolle, Jean; Wexman, Virginia Wright (2005). Women and Experimental Filmmaking. University of Illinois Press. ISBN 9780252030062.
  10. ^ a b Wang, Lingzhen (2011-08-30). Chinese Women's Cinema: Transnational Contexts. Columbia University Press. ISBN 9780231527446.
  11. ^ "How Female Directors Dominate The Documentary World". Decider. 2017-05-18. Retrieved 2018-06-18.