Black Directors Hit Historic High in 2018, Study Finds

Warner Bros. Pictures; Photofest (3)
Clockwise from top left: Ryan Coogler ('Black Panther'), Antoine Fuqua ('The Equalizer 2'), Spike Lee ('BlacKkKlansman'), Ava DuVernay ('A Wrinkle in Time')

But intersectionality and representation for other groups remains flat, according to the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative's annual Inclusion in the Director's Chair report.

Let's start with the good news: 2018 saw the best turnout yet for black directors, with 16 helmers behind the camera of the year's 100 top-grossing films.

That showing, as reported in the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative's newest Inclusion in the Director's Chair study, is by far the most representation of black filmmakers across the report's 12-year time frame. The previous best turnout was eight, all the way back in 2007.

"This year really illuminates that the pictures of what a director 'should' look like are ways of old, and that storytellers who are given the resources and support of major companies and distributors [can come] from many different backgrounds," Annenberg Inclusion Initiative founder and director Stacy L. Smith tells The Hollywood Reporter. "The only thing that is restricting more individuals from being let in is the imagination of the people who greenlight."

However, only one of the 16 black directors is female: Ava DuVernay. The Wrinkle in Time helmer had the year's highest-grossing movie directed by a woman, yet remains just one of the seven women of color to direct a top 100 movie since George W. Bush was president. The numbers for female directors in general remain dismal, staying flat at four percent across the top 1,200 films from 2007 and 2018. And this year was actually worse than last, with just four women (DuVernay, Blockers' Kay Cannon, I Feel Pretty's Abby Kohn and The Spy Who Dumped Me's Susanna Fogel) seeing a movie released in enough theaters to land in the top 100 at the box office.

Speaking of distribution, five out of Sony's 14 releases in 2018 were by black directors, more than any other studio last year. Disney upped its roster from zero black directors since 2007 to two, including Ryan Coogler, who was responsible for the No. 1 overall movie at the box office. Warner Bros. employed half of 2018's four Asian directors —James Wan and Jon M. Chu, whose movies both finished in the top 20. Disney, Universal, Lionsgate and STX released a top 100 movie directed by a woman in 2018. Fox, Paramount, Sony and Warner Bros. did not.

As inclusive hiring practices often don't occur in a vacuum, the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative also examined the gender breakdown in the executive ranks, noting a year-over-year increase in female representation on the boards of the seven major media companies (21st Century Fox, AT&T, Comcast, Sony, Walt Disney Company, Viacom, Lionsgate) to 25 percent, with half of Viacom's seats held by women. The company also had the most gender-inclusive C-suite (31.8 percent female), while Sony and Comcast had no women in its top executive tier. The seven major media companies collectively employ eight women of color on its executive film teams and five women of color as corporate directors.

For the first time, the Inclusion in the Director's Chair study also looked at gender and race of title-card producers and below-the-line roles across the top 300 films from 2016 to 2018. It found that 710 (72.3 percent) of the producing jobs were held by white men, 160 (16.3 percent) by white women, 96 (9.8 percent) by men of color and just 16 (1.6 percent) by women of color. Projects in which an underrepresented producer was involved were also more likely than those with all-white male producing teams to attach an underrepresented director.

Hair, makeup, costume design and casting director departments continue to be predominantly female, whereas the inverse was true for cinematography, editing, composing and art. In fact, just four women (or 3 percent, none of them of color) served as a DP in the 300-film sample, 58 (15.5 percent, five of color) as editor, seven (2.3 percent, one of color) as composer and 49 (18.3 percent, four of color) as production designer.

In terms of below-the-line, it's easiest to list the number of people per position who are not white men. Out of the 300-film sample from 2016 to 2018, 42 men of color and four white women worked as directors of photography. Five women operated a camera during that time (none last year), eight served as best boy grip, one as best boy electric, four as key grip and none as gaffer. Out of 375 editors, 53 were white women, 16 were men of color and five were women of color. Out of 301 composers, 28 were men of color, six were white women and one was a woman of color.

"We're seeing the erasure of underrepresented women in a way that is so problematic to ensuring an inclusive and humanized production process," Smith says. "By looking at data intersectionally, it reveals just how much work Hollywood has to do to create a culture of belonging, and that has to change immediately."