Box office hits like “Crazy Rich Asians” and “Black Panther” have brought a new wave of representation to Hollywood. As the conversation surrounding diversity in the entertainment industry continues, the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative has shed light on the matter with the Jan. 4 release of its second report on directors and executives in the film industry, “Inclusion in the Director’s Chair.”
The annual report, led by initiative director and Annenberg professor Stacy Smith, aggregates detailed analyses on directors within the film industry, based on combined demographic data of 1,335 filmmakers who have worked on the 1,200 top-grossing films between 2007 and 2018, according to the initiative’s website. Additionally, the study analyzes data on producers and other workers within the film industry.
Smith and her team of USC graduate and undergraduate students looked specifically at diversity among these key positions and the representation of women and people of color, or lack thereof, in the past 12 years.
Marc Choueiti, Annenberg Inclusion Initiative’s project administrator, said there is one major finding that marks progress in the film and entertainment industries.
“Not much has changed from 2007 to 2018 except for one important deviation — the number and percentage of black directors has significantly increased in 2018,” Choueiti said.
While the number of black directors working on top-grossing films has increased to 14.3 percent -— 2.7 times higher than 2017 — the progress for female and Asian directors remained stagnant, the study found. Of the 1,200 movies sampled for the study, 96.4 percent of directors were male and 3.6 percent were female. Of these female directors, four were black, two were Asian and one was Latina. The researchers found that Asians made up 3.1 percent of all directors in the 12-year sample.
Jiwon Lee, a freshman majoring in cinema and media studies, was disappointed by some of the report’s findings.
“I feel like the part that shocked me the most was that there was no progress in racial representation over 12 years,” Lee said. “I feel like it would be understandable if the study was done quite a while ago or it was just looking at a certain year, but then when you look at the whole progress of 12 years, there hasn’t been any improvement.”
The report found that across the 1,335 directors of top-performing films in the last 12 years, the study reports that 80 were black, and of those 80, 75 were male. From the same sample, 42 directors were Asian, with only three female directors.
However, the study also found that a record number of black directors oversaw some of the highest-grossing films in 2018.
Christopher Meyer, a freshman acting major, said that while the study shines a spotlight on the progress of diversifying the film industry, there are still often too many voices that are ignored.
“The study kind of just highlights for me that when I work, I hope to be working with people from all different backgrounds so that I produce the best work that engages the most people,” Meyer said.
Ellen Seiter, a professor in the Cinema and Media Studies division, was not surprised by the results of the study. She said she often sees women working only as makeup artists, script supervisors and assistant directors when she visits sets, and when she does see successful female directors, they often got their start as part of a husband-and-wife team.
“On a deeper level, I think it is still very hard for the industry to accept a woman in charge … there are many more women directors in television and also as showrunners,” Seiter said. “But in television, the director is not as powerful a role. On the set, it is kind of a boys’ club.”
Choueiti said the study shows that women, especially women of color, are grossly underrepresented as directors in top Hollywood films. There are, however, ways to make progress.
“Companies can set target inclusion goals, promote transparent hiring practices, adopt inclusion policies and partner with leaders on diversity and inclusion in the industry to create meaningful change,” Choueiti said.