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Opportunities for women film directors are few and far between

by John Horn and Monica Bushman | The Frame

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Director Anna Foerster on the set of Screen Gems' UNDERWORLD: BLOOD WARS. Larry Horricks

Hollywood's diversity problem— both on and off screen— is pretty well known at this point. But even after 10 years, it's still not getting better.

A new report from researchers at USC Annenberg's Media, Diversity, and Social Change Initiative focuses specifically on who gets the chance to direct movies.

They analyzed the race, gender and age of directors for the 1,000 top-grossing films of the past decade, and found that directors are still overwhelmingly white and male.

And the problem doesn't stop at underrepresentation.

The study also found that women and minority directors' careers are shorter, and the number of films they make is fewer than their white, male counterparts.

Stacy Smith, the lead author of the study, spoke with The Frame about why change isn't happening.

Interview highlights:

Why things haven't gotten better over the last decade

When these studio executives, when agents think director, they think male. Their perception of who to project into this role is skewed. And until that leadership conceptualization of who can fit in that chair, and who can command a crew — until that changes, outside of that very narrow prototype, these numbers aren't going to move.

What it means to be 'one and done' in Hollywood

Looking at these films, the top 100 each year, across 10 years, 1,000 films — we were really curious: how many opportunities at bat do directors have? And over 50 percent of all directors only get to helm one major motion picture. But for non-Black, non-Asian men, about 54 percent don't get to do more than one— it's "one and done" for them. But when it comes to women, particularly women of color, it's upwards of 80 to 83 percent. And so we really see a lack of opportunity, not just for women, but an erasure of women of color.

On the finding that male directors find work from ages 20 to 80, while women only do from 30 to 60

The takeaway, across all of this data, is if you're a white man, your opportunities are limitless. You get to direct across genre, you get to direct across age, you get opportunities to do lots of things that women simply do not get to do. And your shelf-life as a female is curtailed ... If somebody wants to have a sustainable career in Hollywood and feed a family, being a female director, in light of this data, is a very difficult road to walk down.

How A-listers can create more opportunities for women and minority directors

We've really asked A-listers to step up to the plate in this report. Because as notable talent, when making their contractual agreements with studios and production companies, they can ask for an equity rider in their contract to ensure that when studios are going out and pitching their ideas, that they're thinking about, and including on those consideration lists, women and people of color.

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