Directors Guild of America Study Says Diversity Among Film Directors Remains Low

Here’s your unsurprising piece of news for the day. Film directors remained overwhelmingly white and male among the movies released in 2017, a new Directors Guild of America study finds. Just 12 percent of helmers were female, and onlty 10 percent were people of color, in a review of the films that earned at least $250,000 at the box office.

Those figures are not markedly different from previous years. In an unusually harsh statement, the DGA said that financiers, studios, producers, distributors and agents were responsible for the lack of progress. Here’s what DGA president Thomas Schlamme had to say:

“It’s outrageous that we’re once again seeing such a lack of opportunity for women and people of color to direct feature films. Our new study shows that discriminatory practices are still rampant across every corner of the feature film business. These numbers hit home how the chips are stacked against women and people of color.”

For the generally secretive DGA, Schlamme laying the blame at the feet of those doing the hiring and gatekeeping is a rare move and the Guild even publicly disclosed that the they have repeatedly tried to get the studios to agree to a negotiated improvement.

“Inclusion is a fight we’ve been fighting with the industry for four decades now, and it’s been an uphill battle to get them to change their hiring practices. In our two most recent negotiations, we pushed for the industry to adopt the Rooney Rule into their hiring practices, but they wouldn’t budge on the issue. Neither will we — we are committed to keeping at this for as long as it takes.”

The Rooney rule, named after former Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney, is an NFL policy that requires interviewing minority candidates for certain key football positions. It doesn’t set quotas or targets, but guarantees access to the hiring process.

Although not mentioned in the DGA report, it’s notable that the hiring for the movies covered by the study actually predates the #MeToo era of heightened awareness to sexual harassment. That awareness is having some spillover effect on diversity, including efforts to incentivize gender and ethnic diversity in film tax credits, with new California legislation requiring diversity reporting and a renewed effort in New York that would involve additional tax benefits. The effects, if any, of the new sensitivity won’t be seen for a year or two given the lead times for producing and releasing films.

The number of U.S.-produced, domestically released live action films analyzed in the report, released today, totaled 175, studied for their gender diversity, and a smaller number, 141, which were studied for ethnic diversity due to unavailable data. Documentaries, animated films and re-releases were excluded from the analysis.

Even when including micro-budget pictures with limited releases — a universe of 651 live-action movies (including foreign productions) released domestically in 2017 — the study found that women made up only 16 percent of directors. Ethnicity data were not available for this larger group of films.

“There is a misconception that things are better in the smaller, indie film world, but that’s simply not the case,” said Schlamme. “From financing and hiring, to distribution and agent representation – every aspect of the entire system disadvantages women and people of color.”

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