Female film directors are highly underrepresented within the U.S. film industry, especially within narrative film (S.L. Smith, Pieper, & Choueiti, 2013). In 2019, only 12% of directors in the top 100 grossing films were female (Lauzen, 2020). There are several obstacles female directors face in their careers. Financing is more difficult to obtain for female directors due to stereotypes of women as risky investments (P. Smith et al., 2013). Closely tied to financing, gendered networks and homophily can prevent women from making relationships with gatekeepers and accessing the same opportunities as men (Jones & Pringle, 2015; Wing-Fai et al., 2015). Having female film directors is an important factor in ensuring that diverse stories are brought to the screen and that women are represented in equal numbers to men (Hammer, 2009; S.L. Smith, Choueiti, Granados, & Erickson, 2010; P. S.L. Smith et al., 2013).

This study aimed to understand the phenomenon of successful female directors and how they are leaders in their field. The study asked the following four research questions:

RQ1: What challenges are encountered/faced by female film directors when directing?

RQ2: What success strategies are used by female film directors to lead a cast and crew through the filmmaking process?

RQ3: How do female film directors measure their success as a leader?

RQ4: What recommendations would female film directors provide to future women entering the industry as a director?

To examine the best leadership practices of female film directors, the study employed a qualitative approach, using the qualitative method of phenomenology. Phenomenology allows the lived experiences of the participants to be examined and interpreted to distill the essence of the experience (Creswell & Creswell, 2018; Moerrer-Urdahl & Creswell, 2004; Moustakas, 1994). For the study, 20 female film directors were recruited from the Director's Guild of America's online member directory. Participants were required to have directed three feature films (with preference given to narrative films), consent to an audio recording of the interview, and be available for a 45-60 minute in-person interview during the first two weeks of March 2020 in Los Angeles. Participants were asked 12 open-ended questions in a semi-structured interview format. Interviews were transcribed by the researcher and the data was coded for common themes. Lastly, the findings were summarized and the results were compared with the current literature.

Library of Congress Subject Headings

Women motion picture producers and directors -- Leadership; Women in the motion picture industry -- Leadership; Leadership in women -- Case studies

Date of Award


School Affiliation

Graduate School of Education and Psychology



Degree Type


Degree Name


Faculty Advisor

Farzin Madjidi