Record Number Of Black Directors Helmed Top-Grossing Films In 2018, Annenberg Study Finds


As Hollywood moves at a glacial pace towards representation and inclusion in film and TV, the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative is here to shed some light on the issue and is leading the charge when it comes to unpacking specifics when it comes to the progress of diversity in front of and behind the camera. Just in time for the new year, they released a new study that saw a dramatic uptick in Black directors who helmed movies in the 100 top-grossing films of 2018.

Dr. Stacy L. Smith Rob Latour/Shutterstock

“Sixteen of the directors of the top 100 movies last year were Black—this historically high figure is nearly three times greater than the 6 Black directors working in 2017 and twice as many as the 8 Black directors working in 2007,” said Professor Stacy L. Smith. “While we do not see this finding mirrored among female or Asian directors, this offers proof that Hollywood can change when it wants to.”

The report titled “Inclusion in the Director’s Chair” comes from Professor Stacy L. Smith and the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative and analyzes new data on movies released in 2018. The comprehensive analysis goes beyond and examines a total of 1,335 directors working on the 1,200 top-grossing films released between 2007 and 2018. They assessed gender, race, and age and for the first time, analyzed data on producers and multiple below-the-line film crew positions across 300 top movies from 2016 to 2018. The analysis also focuses on women in executive and leadership ranks at major media companies.

“The results are really the first sign of good news that we’ve seen in the twelve years we’ve studied. The findings point to a seriousness and commitment to diversity and inclusion on behalf of the industry,” Smith told Deadline. “That said, the report also showcases just how much work is still required to see true inclusion across film production. If individuals and organizations expand their focus and efforts toward hiring more women and people of color, it is possible that we will see the changes we’ve observed here on a much larger scale.”


There may be some progress in the industry, but that’s not to say that everyone has a seat at the table. The analysis broke it down and found that only 4.3% of all directors across the 1,200 top films from 2007 to 2018 were female, a ratio of 22 males to every one female director. To add to that, only five Black females, three Asian females, and one Latina have worked as directors on those 1,200 films — those numbers aren’t exactly screaming inclusion.

In 2018 alone only four female directors helmed films listed in the 100 most popular movies — which were Ava DuVernay (A Wrinkle in Time), Kay Cannon (Blockers), Abby Kohn (I Feel Pretty), and Susanna Fogel (The Spy Who Dumped Me).


The success of Crazy Rich Asians may have been a cultural moment, but when it came to Asians, they represented only 3.6% of 2018’s top 100 film directors — the four directors were Aneesh Chaganty, Jay Chandrasekhar, Jon M. Chu, and James Wan. That said, there has been no change in the number or percentage of Asian directors over the 12-year sample time frame. Only 39 top directing jobs have been filled by Asian men and 3 by Asian women.

When it comes to Produced by credits, the report found that on the top 300 movies from the last 3 years 18% of those credits went to women. Broken down even more, 1.6% of producers were women of color and 9.8% of producing credits were earned by men of color, 16.3% by white women, and 72.3% by white men.

For below the line positions, the report saw gender differences in particular roles. The jobs of cinematographers (97%), editors (84.5%), production designers (81.7%), and composers (97.7%) were all predominantly held by males. There were no female gaffers across the films studied, and only 1 woman had the title of best boy electric. Women fared better as 2nd Assistant (33.6%) and 2nd 2nd Assistant Directors (31.9%), and as Unit Production Managers (31.7%), though were still outnumbered by their male counterparts. Very few women worked as 1st Assistant Directors (9%).


The new report also includes a profile of the executive ranks at seven major entertainment companies. Other study findings include an assessment of the age of directors, agency representation, and the genre of films made by women, Black, and Asian directors.

With all the analysis and small strides made in representation, Smith said that the study found women of color are nearly invisible in film production. From directors to producers to below-the-line crew positions, Smith said “a mere 1.4% of editors, 1.5% of production designers, and 1.6% of producers were women of color. Only 1 woman of color worked as a composer across the 300 films we examined and there were no underrepresented female directors of photography.”

In order for Hollywood to see a more drastic and much-needed change in the representation of women, people of color and other underrepresented voices Smith tells Deadline that the industry must take inclusion seriously and treat it as an objective to be accomplished.

“By setting target inclusion goals, making their efforts transparent, and taking conscious steps to improve their hiring and recruiting practices, companies, producers, and individuals can change the composition of film sets,” said Smith.

The “Inclusion in the Director’s Chair” report can be read in full here.

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