A new study from USC found that only 4% of all directors across the 1,000 top-grossing films during the past decade were female – a ratio of 24 males to every one female director. And only three of the films were directed by black women, three by Asian women and one by a Latina.
Despite the industry’s numerous diversity programs, the report concludes that “there has been no change” in the percentage of women and minority directors during the past 10 years (2007-2016). And minority female directors continue to be the film industry’s most underemployed professionals.
“For the last decade, female directors of color have been nearly invisible in the director’s chair,” said report co-author Stacy L. Smith, a USC professor at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism and director of its Media, Diversity and Social Change Initiative. “The data speak loud and clear. When Hollywood thinks female director, they think ‘white woman.’ When only seven directing opportunities across 1,000 go to women of color, hiring practices need to change. These findings also show researchers cannot simply report on gender any longer. The experiences of white women differ dramatically from women of color.”
According to the researchers, ageism also hits female directors harder than men. “Male directors work on top-grossing films throughout their adult lives – from their 20s to their 80s,” the report said. “Females, in contrast, work across just four decades – their 30s to their 60s.”
Warner Bros had by far the most female directors of films it distributed during the past decade (10 out of 174 films), followed by 20th Century Fox (seven of 137), Universal (seven of 152) and Sony Pictures (seven of 155), and Walt Disney Studios (five of 101). Paramount Pictures had the lowest percentage, with just three out of 108 films (2.8%).
The study found that females most often helmed dramas (40.9%), followed by comedies (29.6%) and animated features (11.4%). Females rarely directed movies that were science fiction/fantasy (6.8%), action (4.6%) or thrillers (4.6%). Only one woman directed a horror film (2.3%). “Females rarely direct in lucrative genres such as action or thriller but overwhelmingly work on drama or comedy films,” according to the report. “Males, in contrast, work across all genres.”
The report, titled “Inclusion in the Director’s Chair?,” found that 97% of the women directors included in the survey had agency representation and that that 42.4% of them are currently repped by CAA. WME and UTA each represents 24.2% of the women directors surveyed. “While women have allies in the entertainment industry,” the report states, “they still rarely work behind the camera.”
“Our research consistently shows that behind the camera, directing is predominantly an occupation held by white males,” Smith said. “When the lens is this skewed, it offers a tilted view of society to audiences – one that lacks the perspective of women and people of color.”
Films distributed by Lionsgate during the past 10 years had, by far, the most black directors – 16 out of 86 films (18.6%), while none of the 101 films distributed by Disney had a black director.
And when black directors do get a chance to direct, the study found, it’s usually is black-themed films. Over three-quarters of the top-grossing films they directed featured one or two top-billed cast members who were black or African-American. “These findings suggest that black directors are attached to content that aligns with their racial identity, rather than their talent,” the report concluded.
The report also found that black directors are less likely to work repeatedly than directors who are not black. “Two-thirds of black directors only worked once across the decade evaluated, which is 11% higher than directors that are not black. None of the black female directors in this sample directed two or more top-grossing fictional films across the 10 years examined.”
Nearly 89% of the black directors surveyed had agency representation. Of those, 36% were represented by CAA, while WME and UTA each represented 24% of the black directors in the sample.
Among films directed by Asians and Asian-Americans, Universal was the leader, with 10 movies distributed in the last 10 years. Lionsgate released just one movie helmed by an Asian director, while Sony and Warner Bros. distributed two films each by Asian directors.
Only 34 Asian directors (3% of all directors) worked across the 1,000 top films of the past 10 years. Of these, 91.2% were male and 8.8% female. “Consistent with female and black helmers,” the report found, “there has been no change in the percentage of Asian directors from 2007 to 2016.”
Nearly one-fifth of the movies helmed by Asian directors featured one or two top-billed actors who were Asian, while more than 80% of the films by an Asian director featured two top-billed actors who were not Asian. “In contrast to black directors, Asian directors’ opportunities do not seem to be linked to their racial heritage,” the report found.
Limitations related to database accuracy led the researchers to focus on race over ethnicity. “Despite a desire to assess how other groups fare behind the camera (e.g. Hispanic/Latino filmmakers, Middle Eastern filmmakers), available data did not allow for this analysis,” the report states.