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Hollywood’s Hiring Freeze: Female, Black And Asian Directors Rarely Worked In 2017 Films

The results are in: 2017 was no different than the last 11 years for female, Black or Asian directors working on 1,100 top films

LOS ANGELESJan. 4, 2018 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — The Golden Globe Awards will present yet another man its Best Director award this Sunday, giving the cold shoulder to female directors such as Greta GerwigDee ReesPatty Jenkins and Kathryn Bigelow. But a new report on films from 2007 to 2017 reveals a larger problem than a lack of award nominations for female directors. Diversity in the director’s chair is virtually nonexistent, and gender in the executive ranks of major companies remains grossly imbalanced.

The report, entitled “Inclusion in the Director’s Chair?” analyzes new data on movies released in 2017. Authored by Professor Stacy L. Smith and the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, the report is the most comprehensive intersectional analysis of directors of motion pictures to date, combining data on the gender, race and age of 1,223 filmmakers working on 1,100 top-grossing films released between 2007 and 2017. The analysis also focuses on women in executive and leadership ranks at major media companies. The results reveal that for female, Black and Asian directors, the doors to Hollywoodremain mostly closed.

Only 4% of all directors across the 1,100 top films from 2007 to 2017 were female, a ratio of 22 males to every one female director. Moreover, only four Black females, two Asian females, and one Latina have worked as directors on those 1,100 films over the span of 11 years analyzed. There has been no change over time.

Hollywood’s ‘female director problem’ has been the source of much dialogue over the past several years. The evidence reveals that despite the increased attention, there has been no change for women behind the camera,” said Dr. Smith. “Mere conversation is not the answer to these problems—and the time for conversation is up. Until major media companies take concrete steps to address the biases that impede hiring, nothing will change.”

The majority of female directors (83.7%) worked on only one top-grossing film across the time frame, including all four of the Black female directors. Slightly more than half (55.3%) of male directors only worked once over the 11-year sample. Notably, the 8 female directors added to the list in 2017 are all new to the study—which the authors state is another indicator that little progress has been made.

“As we said last year, most female directors are ‘one and done’ when it comes to helming popular films, particularly women from underrepresented racial/ethnic groups,” said Dr. Smith. “In 2017 none of the women entering the ranks of 100 top film directors appeared in our study previously. This is not true progress. Real change means that we see women working across multiple years and that the number of opportunities for female directors expand each year.”

The number of films directed by both males and females over the 11-year time frame was assessed. Male directors worked on as many as 15 films, while females did not exceed 4. One explanation for this disparity is the age at which directors work. Men create films over a span of nearly 60 years, from their 20s to their 80s. Women, however, work across only four decades, from their 30s to their 60s.

The study also explores the small percentages of Black and Asian directors working behind the camera. Only 5.2% of the 1,223 directors of 1,100 top films were Black, and 3.2% were Asian. This translates into 31 individual Black directors and 20 Asian directors of popular movies released from 2007 to 2017. Again, no change over time was observed.

The researchers suggest that the lack of opportunities for Black directors is tied to who appears in the films they direct. For Black directors, 81% of the movies they helmed had a Black actor among the two top-billed cast. “Hiring patterns that rest on ‘matching’ director race to the race of the top cast partially explain why we see little change over time,” said Dr. Smith. “The identity of the director must be uncoupled from industry expectations about what kind of stories he or she can tell if any progress is to be made.”

The report details the number of films by female, Black, and Asian directors released by each of the major film distributors over the 11 years studied. Warner Bros. released the most female-directed films, with 12 movies between 2007 and 2017. Lionsgate topped the list for Black directors, putting out 18 movies—15 of which were helmed by Tyler Perry. Universal released 13 movies with an Asian director between 2007 and 2017, the leader in that category. Importantly, Disney did not release a single movie with a Black director from 2007 to 2017.

Women are Underrepresented in the Executive Ranks at Major Media Companies

The new report also includes a profile of the executive ranks at seven major entertainment companies. Across all seven corporations, 18.8% of the board members are female, along with 17.9% of the C-suite positions (CEO, CFO, CTO, etc.). Looking more closely at film executives in particular, 31% of those ranks are filled by women. In the executive ranks, females are more likely to appear in EVP, SVP, and VP positions than at the apex of organizations in President or Chairperson jobs.

“It is no surprise that an industry which does not hire female directors also lacks women in leadership roles across the organizations that finance and distribute content,” said Dr. Smith. “Inclusion is not a one-time problem to be solved, it is a systemic issue that must be addressed by individuals at all levels of these companies. If these companies are going to meet the push for 50/50 by 2020, this data shows how far they have to go.”

Alongside executives, agency representation of directors was examined for female, Black and Asian directors. Most directors in the study had representation at one of the three major Hollywoodagencies, with Creative Artists Agency (CAA) representing the largest number of female and Black directors. “While the directors in this study have agents, they are still not getting work at the same rate as their white male peers,” said Dr. Smith. “All of the agencies must work to determine where the disconnect is between signing director clients from diverse groups and ensuring they are actually hired to the same extent as white males.”

Other report highlights include an assessment of the genre of films made by women, Black, and Asian directors. The authors also offer solutions for consumers and shareholders to address the ongoing disparities behind the camera. The report is the latest from the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, and can be found online here.

About USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative

Launched over 10 years ago by Founder/Director Dr. Stacy L. Smith, the Initiative is globally recognized for its valuable and sought after researched-solutions to advance equality in entertainment. The Annenberg Inclusion Initiative’s findings create valuable and sought after research-based solutions that advance equality in entertainment. Dr. Stacy L. Smith is the Founder and Director of the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative which launched over ten years ago.  Dr. Smith and the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative examine gender, race/ethnicity, LGBT status, disability, and age on screen and gender and race/ethnicity behind the camera in cinematic and television content as well as barriers and opportunities facing women and people of color in the entertainment industry. The Annenberg Inclusion Initiative also conducts economic analyses related to diversity and the financial performance of films. In 2015, LA Weekly named Dr. Smith the #1 Most Influential Person in Los Angeles, and she has spoken on research at multiple high-profile engagements ranging from the TED Women stage to the United Nations. Dr. Smith and the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative have been featured in The New York TimesLos Angeles TimesThe Atlantic, Newsweek, The Hollywood Reporter, Variety, and NPR, among others.  The Annenberg Inclusion Initiative’s most recent research reports include the Comprehensive Annenberg Report on Diversity (CARD), multiple landmark studies with Sundance Institute and Women in Film Los Angeles and two studies on inclusion on screen and behind the camera across 900 top-grossing films conducted at USC Annenberg.  The Annenberg Inclusion Initiative is generously supported by The Annenberg Foundation, The Harnisch Foundation, Sony Pictures Entertainment, EPiX, Humana, LUNAFEST, The Jacquelyn and Gregory Zehner Foundation, and other individuals. To learn more, visit or follow on Twitter @Inclusionists or on Facebook.

About the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism
Located in Los Angeles at the University of Southern California, the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism is a national leader in education and scholarship in the fields of communication, journalism, public diplomacy and public relations. With an enrollment of more than 2,200 students, USC Annenberg offers doctoral, graduate and undergraduate degree programs, as well as continuing development programs for working professionals, across a broad scope of academic inquiry. The school’s comprehensive curriculum emphasizes the core skills of leadership, innovation, service and entrepreneurship and draws upon the resources of a networked university in a global urban environment.

Key Findings

Gender. A total of 109 film directors were associated with the 100 top movies of 2017.  A full 92.7% were male (n=101) and 7.3% were female (n=8). None of these female directors have appeared previously in the 100 top films across the 11-year time frame investigated.

Across 11 years and 1,100 movies, 95.7% of all directors were male and 4.3% were female.  This translates to 22 male directors hired to every 1 female director.  The percentage of women directors in 2017 (7.3%) was not meaningfully different (5%) than 2016 (4.2%) or 2007 (2.7%).  The highest number and percentage of female directors was observed in 2008, when 8% (n=9) of all helmers were women.

Only 4 Black female directors — Ava DuVernayGina Prince-Bythewood, Sanaa Hamri, and Stella Meghie — have worked across the 1,100 top movies from 2007 to 2017. Three Asian female directors worked across the entire 11-year sample of films.  These findings should be qualified, however.  Two of the Asian female helmers were Jennifer Yuh Nelson who directed multiple movies in the Kung Fu Panda Franchise. Only 1 Latina (Patricia Riggen) was hired to direct across 1,100 popular movies.

Male directors start their careers earlier (20s) than female directors and some continue working into their 70s and 80s.  The latter is not the case for women directors.

A total of 665 individual or unique directors were attached to the 1,100 movies, with 622 males (93.5%) and 43 females (6.5%). Gender differences also emerged in the range of directing experiences.  Males directed between 1 and 15 movies during the 11-year time frame whereas females directed between 1 and 4 movies.  The top performing male director across the sample was Tyler Perry, with 15 films.  The top performing female director was Anne Fletcher, with 4 films.

Most directors only worked one time across the 11-year sample, but pronounced gender differences emerged.  55% of the male directors only helmed one film whereas 84% of the female directors did.  The “one and done” phenomenon is far more likely for females than males. Males were almost twice as likely as females to have directed two films (21.5% vs. 11.6%) and over five times as likely to have helmed three (12.1% vs. 2.3%).

Action films were the prowess of male directors, with a gender ratio of 60 male directors to every 1 female director.  Drama, and to a lesser extent comedy, were more likely the terrain for female directors.  Though, males were 10 times as likely to direct a drama and more than 15 times as likely to helm a comedy as their female peers.

Of the female directors, 97.6% had current agency representation. Creative Artists Agency (CAA) represents the highest number and percentage of female directors (41.5%) followed by William Morris Endeavor (WME, 24.4%) and United Talent Agency (UTA, 24.4%).

A “fiscal cliff” faces female directors, as they move from helming independent narrative competition movies at Sundance Film Festival (27.5%) and episodic television (17%) to top-grossing films (4.3%).  Flipping the story, the opportunities for male directors only seem to increase from directing independent features (72.5%) to episodic television (83%) to top-grossing motion picture content (95.7%).

Race. Across the 100 top movies of 2017, a total of 6 or 5.5% of directors were Black. This overall percentage is 7.8% below the U.S. Census (13.3%).  Of the Black directors, 5 were male and 1 female. The percentage has not changed across the 11-year sample. The total in 2017 is lower than the total in 2016 (5.8% or 7) or 2007 (7.1% or 8). Matter of fact, 2007 has the highest percentage of Black directors across the 11 years evaluated.

Across 11 years and 665 different directors, 31 individual Black helmers (4.7%) were attached to 63 of the 1,100 top movies. Most Black directors only make one film (71%), which is 14.5% above the percentage of non Black directors with only one movie.  Only four Black directors have made two films (David E. TalbertDenzel WashingtonGeorge Tillman Jr.Lee Daniels) and 1 has made three (F. Gary Gray).  Five films were helmed by Tim Story and Malcolm D. Lee and Antoine Fuqua directed 6 movies.

Of the films with one or more Black directors attached, 41.3% were dramas, 36.5% comedies, 11.1% action adventures, 3.2% horror movies, 3.2% sci-fi/fantasy, and 3.2% thrillers.  Only 1 animated movie was helmed by a Black director.  Similar to female directors, Black directors were less likely to be attached to financially lucrative and action packed comic book or tent-pole type action films.

81% of the films with a Black director also had a Black actor attached as one of the two top-billed talent. This finding suggests that the vast majority of directing opportunities for Black directors are linked to the race of the story’s leading characters. 90.3% of Black directors had agency representation. CAA represents the most Black directors (42.9%) followed by WME (21.4%) and UTA (21.4%).

In 2017, 5 (4.6%) of the 109 directors were Asian.  All of these directors were men.  This point statistic is slightly below U.S. Census (5.7%).  Across the 11-year sample, there has been no meaningful change over time.  Only 3.2% (n=39) of all directors were Asian, with 2013 (5.6%) and 2015 (5.6%) featuring the highest percentage and 2014 the lowest (0).

20 individual Asian directors worked across the 11-year sample.  The range for Asian directors is from 1 to 5 movies, with James Wan and M. Night Shyamalan the top performers. Jon M. ChuJustin Lin and Pierre Coffin each have directed 4 features in the 100 top films from 2007 to 2017.  A full 65% of the Asian directors only worked once across the time frame, which is higher than the percentage for non Asian directors (57%) but lower than the percentage for Black (71%) or female directors (84%).

Asian directors helmed a total of 38 movies with the most frequent genres animation (26.3%), horror (21%), and action films (21%).  Fewer Asian directors were attached to sci-fi fantasy films (13.2%), dramas (10.5%), or thrillers (5.3%).  Comedies were the least likely genre to be directed by Asians (2.6%). 13 or 65% of the 30 Asian directors in the 100 top films over time have an agent. Of those with representation, 38.5% are signed with CAA and 38.5% with WME.  Only 15.4% are represented by UTA and 7.7% with Paradigm.

Domestic Distribution. Across the 11-year sample, a total of 997 (90.6%) of the 1,100 movies were distributed by 7 major media companies. Of those 997 films, the company with the highest number of female directed movies was Warner Bros. Pictures (12 movies) and the lowest was Paramount (3 movies) and Lionsgate (3 movies).

Films with Black directors were most likely to be distributed by Lionsgate, where 15 of the 18 movies were helmed by Tyler Perry.  Walt Disney Studios has not attached a Black director to any of their top-grossing films in the sample. Universal Pictures was the most likely to distribute a movie with an Asian director (13 films) and Lionsgate was the least likely (1 film).

Corporate Decision Makers.  Looking to corporate decision makers, a total of 95 individuals comprised the C-suites across the 7 major media companies evaluated.  A full 82.1% of prestigious C-suite jobs were held by males and only 17.9% by females.  Among these women, only 4 were from underrepresented racial/ethnic groups.

Focusing on Boards of Advisors, 18.8% (n=15) of seats were filled with women and only 3 of these females were underrepresented. The top performer was Viacom, where women comprised 45.4% of board seats.  Four (21st Century Fox, Sony, Comcast, Lionsgate) out of the 7 companies evaluated only had 1 female on their Boards.

Among the executive film teams, only 2 of the chairs (25%) across the major media companies evaluated were women.  Females filled almost a quarter (23.9%) of the President and Chief positions on executive film teams and roughly 41.2% of all EVPs, SVPs, and VPs.  While the latter findings are encouraging, few women are holding the keys to the most powerful executive positions in Hollywood.

In sum, the largest media companies in the world continue to underperform when it comes to hiring female and diverse directors and that inequality begins at the apex of these organizations. The report concludes by offering tangible solutions for companies, shareholders and consumers to facilitate systemic change.

SOURCE USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism

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