Women of color badly underrepresented even as number of female directors of top-grossing films reached historic high in 2019

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Ava DuVernay works behind the scenes on “Selma.” [Paramount Pictures photo]

Stacy L. Smith and her cohorts at  University of Southern California Annenberg Inclusion Initiative have revealed more about the status of female filmmakers in the movie business.

Their “Inclusion in the Director’s Chair? Analysis of Director Gender & Race/Ethnicity Across 1,300 Top Films from 2007 to 2019” reveals a 20 to 1 ratio of male to female directors across 13 years, despite the fact that there was no difference in Metacritic scores based on filmmaker gender.

According to Deadline, the new research brief revealed 10.6% of the directors of 2019’s top movies were women, the highest percentage of female directors in the top films in 13 years.

Although 10.6% is a terribly low number that should be much higher, there’s still reason to celebrate. The study found that 12 women each directed one of the 100 top films in 2019. Although 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,” Smith said, per Deadline. “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.”

The study also offers a revealing (and depressing) look at the percentage of directors from underrepresented racial/ethnic groups, examining specifically 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 drop from 2018’s high watermark of 21.4%.

Just four women of color directed a top 100 movie in 2019.

“Less than 1% of all directors across 13 years were women of color,” Smith said. “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.”

Just stop and think: This study is looking at the top 1,300 films from 2007-2019, and there are only 11 female directors of color: 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.

Although there were no differences in average or median Metacritic scores scores for movies directed by men and women, there was a big different for films helmed by women of color, the study found.

“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 said. “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 found that 70 out of 1,448 directors were female in the 1,300 films surveyed.

As previously reported, the dearth of women nominees in the best actor categories at this year’s Oscars, Golden Globes and other awards shows has stirred controversy, but it’s hardly a new story. The study revealed that of the top award nominees from 2008 to 2020, only 5.1% of best director award nominees across the Golden Globes, Academy Awards, Directors Guild of America Awards and Critics’ Choice Awards were women.

That means 94.9% of nominees were male. Only four individual women have been nominated for these awards, with Kathryn Bigelow (“The Hurt Locker”) being the only woman that has won.

“A bias that fails to acknowledge women’s leadership is pervasive throughout the entire awards ecosystem,” Smith said . “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.”

To read the full “Inclusion in the Director’s Chair” report, click here.



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