USC Annenberg’s Inclusion Initiative released its annual “Inclusion in the Director’s Chair” which analyzes 1,500 top films from 2007 to 2021 for gender and race/ethnicity representation.
Overall, there have been significant gains for women and people of color directors but improvement is still needed, the study says.
Notably, the percentage of women directors of top=grossing movies reached 15% in 2020, an all-time high. They include Nia DaCosta, Olivia Wilde, Sanaa Hamri, Ava DuVernay, Cathy Yan, Patty Jenkins, Patricia Riggen, Sam Taylor-Johnson, Lilly and Lana Wachowski, Catherine Hardwicke, Gina Prince-Bythewood, and Loveleen Tandan, among others.
The percentage of directors from underrepresented racial/ethnic groups helming top-grossing films also reached a 15-year high in 2021 though, men benefitted the most, the study finds. The percentage of women of color directors did not change across the study.
According to the report, fewer than 2% of all top-grossing directors were women of color across 15 years. This is a total of only 18 top-grossing films directed by women of color and 15 individual women of color who worked on a top-grossing movie during the time frame.
Women and underrepresented directors fared better in the streaming space at Netflix, Amazon Prime, Disney+, and HBO Max, according to the study.
“While we saw gains for women and directors of color in top-grossing films, the strongest signs of inclusion are on streaming platforms,” Dr. Stacy L. Smith, Founder of the Annenberg Inclusive Initiative, tells Deadline. “There seems to be a recognition that the audience is diverse and wants to see a range of stories from a wide array of storytellers. The company that seems to be getting it right is Prime Video. They are top performers when it comes to WOC and has a policy and playbook that guides decision-making for consideration and hiring. So, it is not surprising that the company that is committed to inclusion in principle and practice is leading the charge in terms of women from a variety of backgrounds.”
The report arrives on the heels of Jane Campion’s Academy Award nomination on Tuesday for Best Director of Netflix’s The Power of the Dog. The nomination makes her the first female director to be nominated twice for the Oscar. The recognition follows Chloe Zhao’s Best Director win for Nomadland in 2021.
“The numbers throughout the report offer a reason to be optimistic, and it’s important to see the recognition for Jane Campion at this level. But we need more than Jane and more than Chloe Zhao to ensure that women—and women of color in particular—have career sustainability and the opportunity to tell stories that reach audiences,” Dr. Smith shared.
The report also announced the new AI2 Accelerator from Dr. Smith and the Initiative with a $25k scholarship to support a woman of color in film school. Notable advisors include Donna Langley, Chairman, Universal Filmed Entertainment Group; Kevin Feige, President, Marvel Studios; Jennifer Salke, Head of Amazon Studios; Academy Award winners Halle Berry, Kathryn Bigelow, and J.J. Abrams and Katie McGrath, Co-CEOs Bad Robot, among others.
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