Universal has become the first major studio to accept the 4 Percent Challenge, with the ultimate goal of hiring more female movie directors. In the wake of the sordid revelations regarding film producer Harvey Weinstein that emerged in 2017, and the subsequent accusations of sexual abuse, misconduct and gender discrimination involving various other figures in the movie industry, the Time's Up movement was officially launched in January 2018. Intended to address the prevalence of harassment women are subjected to in Hollywood, the Time's Up movement has received the backing of many top actors, both female and male.
Part of the Time's Up remit in ending harassment involves creating a more equal gender dynamic in the movie industry as whole and one area that desperately needs addressing is the scarcity of female directors working on big-budget movies. In 2018, only 8% of the top 250 grossing domestic releases were directed by women and this figure has been more or less static in recent years, demonstrating a lack of growth despite progression in other roles and industries. In response to this, Time's Up and the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative established the "4 Percent Challenge," a scheme that references studies that show only 4% of the decade's 1000 highest grossing movies were directed by women.
As reported by THR, Universal has now become the first major studio to agree to take on the 4 Percent Challenge after the gauntlet was officially laid down at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival. As per the terms of the challenge, this means that Universal will have to hire one female director within the next 18 months. Universal's commitment was confirmed in a joint statement from president of production Peter Kramer, chairman of Focus Features Peter Kujawski and Dreamworks Animation president Margie Cohn.
Universal's involvement is very much a positive endorsement of Time's Up's 4 Percent Challenge and it's highly likely that other studios will quickly follow suit as the campaign gains momentum. Consequently, it perhaps won't be long before the 18 month-rule becomes standard practice within the industry and this will likely result in female directors being employed on a more frequent and regular basis by the big Hollywood studios.
It's perhaps worth noting however, that 2018 saw Universal release a total of 19 movies. While committing to announcing one female-led project in an 18-month period is certainly a step in the right direction, it will still result in a relatively low percentage of female directors and may not provide a significant boost to the current figures. On the other hand, it could be argued that the Time's Up movement will enjoy more success by starting out with realistic and achievable aims.
Some might argue that setting a quota for female directors actually harms gender equality and that the current system of selecting a movie's director solely on their talent is the best way forward. Clearly, however, that system is not working. The dismal proportion of female directors in 2018 highlights a deep discrepancy and although it's unclear whether this is due to actual discrimination or more general social values that prevent young females from pursuing directing as a career, it is evident that the divide won't simply close by itself and positive action needs to be taken to address it. Universal have taken a small step in doing just that.