Diversity among Hollywood directors flattened out in 2022: new study

It’s been more than five years since the rise of the Me Too movement and nearly three years since the racial bill following the assassination of George Floyd, both of which prompted Hollywood leaders to promise system change. But in 2022, the percentage of women and people of color directing the biggest films at the US box office has flattened from previous highs in recent years, a study published Monday found — one of many signs that such promises may have been largely symbolic.

In 2022, only 9% of the directors behind the top 100 feature films of the year were women and 20.7% were black, according to the University of Southern California’s Annenberg Inclusion Initiative. Both numbers are well below the proportional representation in the US

Now in its 16th year, the group’s annual report, Inclusion in the Director’s Chair, examines the number of women and people of color who headline the top 100 box office films. One of the most striking findings: From 2007 to 2022, only 21 of the highest-grossing films (out of 1,488 in total) were directed by women of color.

“A lot of people have traditions when they look back on the past year and the year to come,” said Stacy L. Smith, who founded the group, in a statement. “It seems to be a tradition at the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative to lament how little has changed for women and people of color behind the camera in popular films. We would like to see not only tradition change, but hiring practices that continue to marginalize women and black directors.”

In 2022, the proportion of women directing major motion pictures had fallen from a record high of 15% in 2020. Overall, progress appears to have stalled, with that percentage typically hovering around 10% since 2019, according to the group.

Put another way, you can easily list the women who have directed the big theatrical releases of 2022 as there were only 10: Olivia Newman (Where the Crawdads Sing), Gina Prince-Bythewood (The Woman King) ), Olivia Wilde (“Don’t Worry, Honey”), Jessica M. Thompson (“The Invitation”), Kat Coiro (“Marry Me”), Rosalind Ross (“Father Stu”), Halina Reijn (“Bodies Bodies Bodies”), Kasi Lemmons (“Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance with Somebody”), Chinonye Chukwu (“Till”) and Maria Schrader (“She Said”). Only three were women of color: Prince-Bythewood, Lemmons, and Chukwu. (The study did not include films that went directly to streaming platforms or that were released in limited theaters in December.)

Directors Gina Prince-Bythewood (left) and Kasi Lemmons at a screening of the miniseries "women of the movement" on June 9 in Los Angeles.  They were two of the only three women of color to direct major films at the US box office in 2022.
Directors Gina Prince-Bythewood (left) and Kasi Lemmons at a screening of the miniseries ‘Women of the Movement’ June 9 in Los Angeles. They were two of the only three women of color to direct major films at the US box office in 2022.

David Livingston via Getty Images

The 20.7% directorship of major color films last year represents a significant drop from 2021, which saw a record high of 27.3%. Across all 16 years, white men directed a whopping 80.4% of the best motion pictures.

The Annenberg Inclusion Initiative’s findings are consistent with other research into the dismal state of representation in Hollywood. In October, the annual UCLA Hollywood Diversity Report looked at how television opportunity continues to be unequally distributed. One of his conclusions: the higher the budget of a TV show, the more likely it was created by a white man. UCLA researchers also issued a grave warning that the current economic uncertainty in Hollywood — with executives at many major entertainment companies trying to cut costs by cutting programs and staffing — could undo any recent advances in diversity.

Similarly, the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative report specifically targets business leaders, noting that even in 2022, several major studios and distributors did not have a single major motion picture directed by a woman or person of color. “Perhaps executives should adopt a mentality described by Taylor Swift: ‘It’s me, I’m the problem,'” Smith said in her statement, referring to the lyrics of the singer’s latest album.

In recent years, Smith and her team have highlighted the lack of advancement opportunities for women and people of color in directing by examining the demographics of directors for episodic television, independent films competing at the Sundance Film Festival, and high-profile theatrical releases . They have documented a sharp decline in women and directors of color entering the highest arenas of filmmaking.

"Add" Director Chinonye Chukwu attends the 2022 Gotham Awards on November 20th.  28 in New York City.
“Till” director Chinonye Chukwu attends the 2022 Gotham Awards on November 27, 2022. 28 in New York City.

Dia Dipasupil via Getty Images

Additionally, compared to their white male counterparts, women and people of color are less likely to be hired to direct major films more than once. Few women or people of color, and especially few women of color, repeatedly appear on lists of the highest-grossing films at the box office each year. According to the study, you can count on one hand the number of women of color who have directed more than one top feature film in the past 16 years: Prince-Bythewood, Lemmons, Ava DuVernay, Jennifer Yuh Nelson and Stella Meghie.

“There have been few or incremental changes over the many years that we have made this data available,” Smith and her team write in the report. “The explanation for the lack of progress is simple: too few women and people of color are being hired for top directing jobs. Ultimately, the solution is also simple: Hire more women and people of color to direct top films. Despite the simplicity of the solution, change remains elusive.”

Read the full study here.

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