UPDATED with link to the full report. Dr. Stacy L. Smith and the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative have wasted no time in the new year when it comes to keeping tabs on diversity in Hollywood. On Tuesday morning, they released a new research brief that revealed 10.6% of the directors of 2019’s top movies were women. This marks a watershed moment as it is the highest percentage of female directors in the top films in 13 years. Still, 10.6% is a considerably low number that could afford to be higher — a lot higher.
Nonetheless, the movement of the needle should be celebrated. The study examined the presence of female directors working across the 1,300 top-grossing films from 2007 to 2019. The findings found that 12 women each directed one of the 100 top films in 2019. While the overall percentage of female directors across the 13-year time frame remains 4.8%, 2019’s number was the highest across the years examined.
“This is the first time we have seen a shift in hiring practices for female film directors in 13 years,” said Smith. “One notable reason for this jump in 2019 was that Universal Pictures had 5 films with women directors at the helm in the top 100 movies. Yet there is still much more progress needed to reach parity for women behind the camera.”
It also shed some light on the percentage of directors from underrepresented racial/ethnic groups and looks specifically at women of color working as directors. Female director representation may be the highest it’s been in 13 years, but the number of women of color is still low. The percentage of underrepresented directors reached 16.8% in 2019, a dip from last year’s high of 21.4%. Four women of color helmed a top 100 movie in 2019.
“Less than 1% of all directors across 13 years were women of color,” said Smith. “In fact, 13 women have directed a top film in 13 years. While 2019 is a banner year for women, we will not be able to say there is true change until all women have access and opportunity to work at this level.”
The female directors of color in the study include Ava Duvernay, Gina Prince-Bythewood, Jennifer Yuh Nelson, Kasi Lemmons, Loveleen Tandan, Melina Matsoukas, Patricia Riggen, Roxann Dawson, Sanaa Hamri, Stella Meghie and Tina Gordon. Keep in mind this is from the top 1,300 films from 2007-2019 — and there are a total of 11 female directors of color. This number is terribly low.
In addition, the study examined Metacritic scores for the films. While there were no differences in average or median scores for movies directed by men and women, or for those by white versus underrepresented directors there was one glaring difference.
“Women of color received the highest median and average Metacritic scores for their films compared to white male-, underrepresented male-, and white female-directed content,” Smith points out. “Yet, women of color are least likely to work as directors across the top 100 films each year. These findings suggest that when companies seek to hire ‘the best person for the job,’ they are not relying on objective criteria, but on a subjective view of storytellers.”
The study included a slate analysis, assessing the inclusion of directors across eight companies distributing movies from 2015 to 2019. The results revealed that the overall percentage of female directors across those five years and the eight companies examined was 9.8%, with 2019 coming in at a high of 15%. However, out of the 40 slates studied, 26 did not feature a single woman of color as a director.
Overall, the study found that 70 out of 1,448 directors were female in the 1,300 films surveyed. Universal Pictures topped the eight distributors with 15 out of 220 directors identifying as female. STX and Paramount rounded out the bunch with STX having 3 out of 22 directors identifying as female while Paramount had 3 women in their roster of 152 directors.
The study also took a look at the pipeline for female directors and found that from 2015 to 2019, 34.5% of directors of feature films in U.S. Dramatic Competition at the Sundance Film Festival were women. On top of that, 20% of Netflix’s 2019 directors of U.S. fictional films were women. In addition, it was found that of the top award nominees from 2008 to 2020, only 5.1% of Best Director award nominees across the Golden Globes, Academy Awards, DGA Awards, and Critics’ Choice Awards were women. To put this into more perspective, 94.9% of nominees were male and only four individual women have been nominated for these awards with Kathryn Bigelow being the only woman that has won.were male.
“A bias that fails to acknowledge women’s leadership is pervasive throughout the entire awards ecosystem,” said Smith. “Whether it is the Golden Globes, the Academy Awards, the DGA Awards, or the Critics’ Choice Awards, we see that women’s achievements behind the camera are still not seen or celebrated by their peers or the press. Until we shatter the stereotype of who can be lauded as a director, we will not see change in this area.”