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Female Filmmakers Are ‘Grossly Underrepresented’ When It Comes to Directing Opportunities, New Study Finds

The latest study from USC Annenberg's Media, Diversity & Social Change Initiative reasserts some familiar stats and some startling new information.

Gillian Robespierre Landline

Gillian Robespierre on set of “Landline”

Jojo Whilden

USC Annenberg’s Media, Diversity & Social Change Initiative (via The Hollywood Reporter) has released its latest study about female directors in Hollywood, a ten-year long look at various metrics across the industry, including not just gender and race, but age as well. Although some of the stats investigated in the study are not new to those even remotely plugged into the state of the industry and its opportunities, they are still startling to see.

And the study is blunt when delivering them, as the study includes findings as seemingly cut and dry as “the director’s chair is white and male” and “age restricts opportunities for female filmmakers” and even “one & done: opportunities for female directors are rare.” It’s the truth, and it’s very hard to swallow.

READ MORE: One-Third of the Films At Sundance Were Directed By Women, But That Shouldn’t Be Confused With the Real World

The study, co-authored by Dr. Stacy L. Smith, Dr. Katherine Pieper and Marc Choueiti, analyzes the gender, race and age of the directors of the 1,000 top-grossing films from the past decade (2007 to 2016).

The study’s major takeaway is a big one: that 80% of the female directors included in the study made just one movie over the analyzed decade (that’s the ol’ “one & done”). For female directors of color, that number was closer to 83.3%. For male directors, the stat is very different — 54.8% of them directed only one film during the same time period (Asian and black male directors clocked in at 60% and 62.5%, respectively).

Anecdotally, when we speak to first-time female filmmakers, one of the concerns that most often crops up is their ability to make a second film. For filmmakers who have been through the process, they often say that getting to make the second film was even harder than the first. It’s a concern that “Lemon” director Janicza Bravo addressed just last week when we spoke to her at Sundance, and one that “Tallulah” filmmaker Sian Heder cut to the heart of when we spoke to her last summer. It’s top of my mind for these filmmakers, and for good reason.

“If you’re trying to feed a family or make your way in Hollywood, having one opportunity a decade is simply not going to get the job done,” Pieper told The Hollywood Reporter.

Age was a new factor studied in the report, and its inclusion unearthed a whole slew of unsettling new information. The study finds that, while the average age of directors is quite close (male directors average out at 46.2, while women clock in at 47.4), it’s the age range that is key. The study found that, of the women included in the study who had worked in the past decade, their ages fell between 30s and 60s, but that range was stretched for male directors, as there were 8 twenty-somethings and 6 octogenarians included.

READ MORE: Female Filmmakers Want to Direct Blockbusters; Here’s Why They Don’t

Additionally, the study finds that, of 1,114 directors of top-grossing fictional films in the last decade, just 4% are female (that’s a ratio of 28.3 male directors to every 1 female director). Of those top-grossing films (1,000 films released between 2007 and 2016), only 3 female directors were black or African American and just 2 were Asian.

In related findings, black directors are most likely to direct movies featuring black actors in the top-billed cast, “suggesting that opportunities are linked to identity rather than talent.” And, if you’re curious about how individual studios treat their filmmakers, the study found that Lionsgate is a top performer in terms of hiring black directors, while Disney is the worst offender.

Last year, Epix deputed the documentary series “The 4%: Film’s Gender Problem,” which uses research from Annenberg — and particularly Dr. Smith — to discuss the vicious gender divide in the industry. It was an illuminating enough series at the time, but it’s proven to be even more essential now.

If you’d like to read the full study from the MDSC Initiative, you can check out check it out right here.

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