New Study from USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative: Inclusion in the Director’s Chair

Dr. Stacy L. Smith and the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative are pleased to share their newest report: Inclusion in the Director’s Chair. The study examined the prevalence of female directors working across 1,300 top-grossing films from 2007 to 2019. The report also provides insight into the percentage of directors from underrepresented racial/ethnic groups and looks specifically at women of color working as directors.

For the first time in over a decade, the number and percentage of women working as directors has increased.

Some key findings from the study include:

  • A total of 113 directors were attached across the 100 top movies of 2019. A full 89.4% were male and 10.6% were female. This calculates into a gender ratio of 8.4 males to every 1 female. 
  • Across 1,300 films and 1,448 helmers, only 4.8% of directors were women. Has the prevalence of female directors changed over time? Yes. 2019 had a significantly higher percentage (10.6%, 12 female directors) and number of female directors than 2018 (4.5%, 5 female directors) or 2007 (2.7%, 3 female directors). 

Additional results focused on distributors and critical reception:

  • Of the major studios, Universal Pictures had the most female directors attached to the films they distributed, followed by Warner Bros. and Sony Pictures Entertainment. The company with the worst track record for distributing films helmed by female directors was Paramount Pictures.
  • Critical reception of male- and female-directed films was assessed using Metacritic scores. The average Metacritc score for films with only male directors attached was virtually identical to those with a female director attached. The medians across these two groups were also evaluated, and revealed no difference between male- and female-directed films.

The study focused on women of color working as directors. Here are some prominent findings:

  • Women of color held less than 1% of all directing jobs across 1,300 top films, whereas white males held 82.5% of jobs, underrepresented males 12.6% of jobs, and white females 3.9% of jobs. The ratio of white male directors to underrepresented female directors was 92 to 1. Yet, this group of women represents 20% of the U.S. population. 
  • The average Metacritic score was higher for stories directed by women of color than those stories directed by white males, white females, or underrepresented males. The medians in the distributions followed the same pattern.

Clearly, there is a major disconnect between hiring practices in Hollywood and who has the cinematic heft to carry stories.

The study also went beyond the top 100 to examine film slates distributed by major companies over the last 5 years. The results revealed that the overall percentage of female directors was 9.8%, with 2019 the year in which the highest percentage of female directors worked (15%). Yet, of the 40 slates studied, 26 did not feature a single woman of color as a director.
 Finally, the report assessed the gender of director nominations across 13 years and 4 awards shows: Golden Globe Awards, Directors Guild of America (DGA) Awards, Academy Awards/Oscars, and Critics’ Choice Awards.

  • Overall, a total of 273 nominations were given out across the 4 top award shows with 94.9% allocated to male directors and 5.1% allocated to female directors.
  • All 14 of these nominations were accounted for by 4 women (Angelina Jolie, Ava DuVernay, Kathryn Bigelow, Greta Gerwig). Only 1 director was a woman of color (Ava DuVernay). 

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