Frontline Marketing

Movies Still Lack Director Diversity, Says USC Annenberg Study

diverse directors chairs, icons via the noun project André Luiz Gollo

By | January 5, 2018 |

While marketing films to women and minorities should start with representation at the studio level, the annual diversity survey by the USC Annenberg School For Communication and Journalism suggests that more diverse hiring is still overdue. In 2017, there was no meaningful or sustained change for female, black or Asian directors in Hollywood.

A total of 109 film directors were associated with the 100 top movies of 2017, but only eight of these directors were women. Domestically, the top three grossing movies of 2017 (Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Beauty and the Beast and Wonder Woman) included female leads and one female director (Patty Jenkins)—no coincidence, according to USC Annenberg.

“Consumers have voted with their dollars in extraordinary ways this year,” the report states, “propelling films like Wonder Woman and Beauty and the Beast to the top of the box office charts.”

In recent years, theater audiences have become more diverse. Women made up 52 percent of all moviegoers in 2016, according to the Motion Picture Association of America, and Asians/Other Ethnicities reported the highest annual attendance per capita—going to the movies an average of 6.1 times in the year. Despite the increased diversity in audiences, a majority of 2017 films were directed by white men.

Across the 100 top movies of 2017, only six (5.5 percent) of directors were black, USC Annenberg found. Of these, five were male and one was a female director. The percentage has not changed across the 11‐year sample. USC Annenberg observed that 81 percent of 2017 films with a black director also had a black actor attached as one of the two top‐billed talents.

“This finding suggests that the vast majority of directing opportunities for black directors are linked to the race of the story’s leading characters,” said the report.

In 2017, five (4.6 percent) of the 109 directors were Asian, all of whom were men. Across the survey’s 11‐year sample, only 3.2 percent of all directors were Asian.

Across all nationalities, females are the least-represented group to sit in the director’s chair, and women are twice as likely to direct only one film compared to their male counterparts. This revelation does nothing to help Hollywood’s reputation amid accusations of sexual abuse, harassment and hiring bias.

“The evidence reveals that despite increased attention, there has been no change for women behind the camera,” the report’s author, Stacy L. Smith said in a statement. “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.”

Change, it seems, may become the latest trend in Hollywood this year as studios distance themselves from sexual predators and reevaluate diversity as it relates to box office success. USC Annenberg warns that diversity behind the camera is vital to the industry’s continued success.

“[Consumers] have turned away from film and to other platforms and different content to fulfill entertainment needs,” the report states, “issuing a strong warning to the film industry that business as usual is simply unacceptable.”