Sundance Increases Representation For Women & People Of Color With Plenty Of Room For Improvement- Study

As the ever-changing landscape of Hollywood heads towards 2020, we have seen progress when it comes to directorial inclusion and representation for women and people of color — or have we? A study by the Sundance Institute and USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative shows that even though there has been an increase of women represented at the Sundance Film Festival it is still far below 50%.

Sundance and the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative released a study today at Sundance that shows a significant increase in numbers in the past 10 years when it comes to female representation. The study also revealed data on submissions and acceptances to the annual Park City film fest that reveals insights on the talent pipeline in the film industry not only for women, but for people of color. The findings of the study will be discussed today at Sundance in a panel moderated by Franklin Leonard featuring Annenberg Inclusion Initiative boss Dr. Stacy L. Smith, super producer Nina Jacobson, Emmy-winning writer and all-around queen Lena Waithe and Sundance Institute’s Director of Outreach and Inclusion Karim Ahmad.

Sundance teamed with Dr. Smith and the diligent team at the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative for the report and they unpacked over 26,000 shorts and feature projects submitted to the Sundance Film Festival in 2017 and 2018 across both U.S. and international filmmakers. The report also included an analysis Sundance Institute’s Artist Support programs from 2016 and 2017.


“This study shows us where the pipeline for women and people of color is robust and where more support is needed,” said Dr. Smith. “The gains we saw for women over the past decade reveal that change is possible and where more support is needed.”

The analysis breaks down the data and reveals some numbers that could be a whole lot better. Across the entire fest, 28% of feature-length and episodic projects submitted to Sundance in 2017 and 2018 had at least one woman director. For the shorts, it was 34.1% of shorts. Of feature films and episodic content accepted in 2017 and 2018, 35% had a woman director, while 51.4% of short films did.

In a separate study, Sundance calculated the rates of submissions and acceptances to the 2019 Festival and revealed there has been a slight increase over the previous years. 31% of feature-length submissions to the 2019 Festival had at least one woman director, as did 35% of episodic and shorts content. Of feature films and episodic content accepted in 2019, 41% had a woman director, while 52% of shorts did, for a combined total of 45%.


Seems like that female directors are making waves in the short film department, but still struggling to tally up points when it comes to feature-length and episodic projects. There are many factors that lead to fewer women submitting feature films to the festival  — and the representation figures mirror those of the Oscar nominations we saw this week. This includes gendered financial barriers that make it harder for women to get their films funded. This data shows that the pipeline for women and people of color is strong and that more work needs to be done to close that gap for feature films.

When it comes to drama, there was an uptick of over 50% in films submitted by women since the last study conducted by Smith and her team and funded by the Sundance Institute and Women in Film LA in 2009 (from 13.6% to 21.5%).

Meanwhile, the Institute Labs and artist support programs are making strides when it comes to inclusion with more than half of the participants in the Sundance Institute’s Directors Lab were women (55%) and people of color (60%). Kudos to the Institute.

“It’s clear from this data that there is a robust and exciting talent pool including women and people of color,” said Keri Putnam, Executive Director of the Sundance Institute. “We are proud of the investments the Institute has made in identifying and supporting underrepresented artists, and we are even prouder of the results those investments have catalyzed, over the two years captured here.”

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The report card for 2017 and 2018 for dramatic features accepted isn’t terrible — but it isn’t something to pop bottles for. 45.5% of U.S. short films and 24.3% of U.S. dramatic features accepted to the Sundance Film Festival had a director of color. Less than 15% of directors of submitted projects within each Festival category analyzed were women of color. Only 7.4% of U.S. dramatic feature directors accepted to the Festival in 2017-18 were women of color. For the 2019 Sundance Film Festival, 55% of accepted short films and 38% of accepted dramatic features had a director of color. 18% of accepted projects, across features, episodics and shorts, were directed by one or more woman of color.

Props to the increase in numbers, but it still seems that the numbers are lower than they need to be — specifically for women and women of color. Baby steps, I guess.

“Good stories depend on diverse perspectives. Those perspectives will only be supported with intentional outreach and support for intersectional voices across the spectrum,” said actor, producer and screenwriter Lena Waithe. “The audience is there to support good stories but we have to work harder to see those stories brought to light.”

“This kind of data practice is a helpful barometer in our work as Festival programmers,” said Kim Yutani, Sundance Film Festival’s Director of Programming. “Our curatorial process operates independently from demographic information, but periodic and holistic studies of statistics and trends among submissions and acceptances allow us to assess how our work reflects our values of inclusion as we make creative curatorial decisions.”

In addition to the above info, the data unpacks information that shows a solid percentage of top-grossing filmmakers that have interacted with Sundance earlier in their careers. Of the women and people of color who directed top-grossing films in recent years, 30-35% had prior support from Sundance, whether that was a Lab, screening a film at the Festival, or other support. Again, baby steps.

Read the full report here.

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