Diversity Among Film Directors Remains Low, DGA Study Says

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Thomas Schlamme

"Every aspect of the entire system disadvantages women and people of color," charged guild president Thomas Schlamme.

Film directors remained overwhelmingly white and male among the movies released in 2017, a new Directors Guild of America study finds. In a review of the films that earned at least $250,000 at the box office, just 12 percent of helmers were female and only 10 percent were people of color.

Those figures are not markedly different from previous years. In an unusually harsh statement, the DGA said Thursday that financiers, studios, producers, distributors and agents were responsible for the lack of progress.

"It's outrageous that we're once again seeing such a lack of opportunity for women and people of color to direct feature films," DGA president Thomas Schlamme said. "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."

Schlamme laid the blame at the feet of those doing the hiring and gatekeeping and, in a rare move for the generally secretive DGA, publicly disclosed that the guild has 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 is notable that the hiring for the movies covered by the study precedes 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 Thursday, amounted to 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 rereleases were excluded from the analysis.

Even when including microbudget 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."