The percentage of TV episodes directed by women and people of color increased oh-so-slightly vs. last year, according to an annual study released Wednesday by the Directors Guild of America. As the DGA warned in their report, change is frustratingly slow.
Despite efforts at several networks to improve representation among directors, the percentage of African-American directors was unchanged from last year, at 13 percent. Asian-American directors directed 6 percent of episodes, a small tick from 5 percent a year earlier. And Latinos directed just 5 percent of episodes, also a slow climb from 4 percent last year.
All told, directors of color helmed 24 percent of all episodes last season, up only 2 percentage points from the previous year.
The largest gain came from women, and even that was a relatively small climb. In the 2017-2018 TV season, females directed 25 percent of all episodes — an increase of 4 percentage points from 21 percent last year.
“It’s encouraging to see that the compass is pointing in the right direction, yet progress is mixed,” said DGA president Thomas Schlamme. “The bright spot here is that the doors are finally opening wider for women, who are seeing more opportunities to direct television. But it’s disappointing the same can’t be said for directors of color. The studios and networks who do the hiring still have a long way to go, and we are committed to continuing this important fight.”
It’s a particularly weak result given several networks’ well-publicized campaigns to increase representation behind the lens. Most publicly, FX pledged to make major changes after a Variety report in 2016 showed that 88 percent of the network’s episodes were directed by white men. In the months after, FX pledged to create opportunities for women and people of color. Last year, 27 percent of FX’s episodes were directed by women, and 27 percent were directed by people of color.
“We’re moving in the right direction,” FX CEO John Landgraf told reporters this summer. “But since only 36 percent of the total U.S. population is comprised of white men, we still have a lot of work to do if we’re someday hoping to show you numbers that represent true fairness and equal opportunity across the board.”
Impacting this report is another surprising statistic: According to the DGA, which measured every episodic TV series across broadcast, basic cable, premium cable and streaming TV (but didn’t include pilots), the number of episodes produced last season actually dropped — to nearly 4,300 episodes, down from nearly 4,500 the year before. Part of that can likely be attributed to shorter episodic orders, and the continued rise of limited-run series.
That dropoff could affect hiring practices. (A DGA spokesperson said the guild is still examining reasons for the decline.) Looking at episodic count, as opposed to percentages, the number of episodes actually helmed by African-Americans declined by 14.
Other year-to-year changes were better: Asian Americans directed nine more episodes, Latinos directed 12 more episodes, and women directed 131 more episodes. Here’s the breakdown:
o Women directed 1,085 episodes – a 14 percent increase over last year.
o White women helmed 813 episodes, up from 714 last year; and minority women directed 261 episodes, up from 236.
o Directors of color helmed 1,017 episodes, just 11 more than in the 2016-2017 season – a 1 percent increase.
o Minority males directed 756 episodes, 14 fewer episodes than last season.
o White males directed 2,414 episodes, 335 fewer episodes than last season.
Another troubling trend, per the DGA: Insider hiring on shows, in which directing jobs are given to individuals not pursuing a full-time job as a director (such as actors or producers). According to another recent DGA study, nearly 70 percent of first-break directing gigs between the 2009-2010 and 2015-2016 TV seasons were given to show insiders, 75 percent of which went to white men.
“Not only does the practice act as a bottleneck to the pipeline of new directors, crowding out talented diverse directors — it also diminishes the available number of jobs for the increasingly diverse workforce of career track directors,” the DGA writes in its report.
Breaking down last year’s scripted tally by studios, the DGA gave top marks to Disney/ABC, where 51.7 percent of episodes were directed by women or people of color. That was followed by its soon-to-be siblings at 21st Century Fox companies, including 20th Century Fox TV and FX (47.8 percent). Streaming services Netflix and Amazon were less representative, while Viacom was at the bottom, with just 30.5 percent of episodes directed by people of color or females. Here’s the full DGA chart of the 12 “dominant industry employers,” which the DGA said oversaw production of 77 percent of episodes covered by this report: