Study Finds 80 Percent of Female Directors Made Only One Movie in 10 Years

(Photo by Josh Brasted/Getty Images for OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network)

Adding age to its latest study on Hollywood representation, USC Annenberg's Media, Diversity & Social Change Initiative has uncovered sobering evidence that the lifespan of a female director's career is a lot shorter than that of her male counterpart's.

Analyzing the gender, race, and age of the directors of the 1,000 top-grossing films from the past 10 years, the researchers found that 80 percent of the female helmers were "one and done" — that is, they made just one movie from 2007 to 2016. This percentage rose to 83.3 percent for women of color. By contrast, 54.8 percent of the men directed just one film during that span (with Asian and black male directors faring slightly worse, at 60 and 62.5 percent, respectively).

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"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," Dr. Katherine Pieper, who co-authored the study with Dr. Stacy L. Smith and Marc Choueiti, tells The Hollywood Reporter.

Although the average age of male and female directors was similar (46.2 and 47.4 years, respectively), the age range for each gender differed. All of the women who worked in the past 10 years were in their 30s to 60s, while eight 20-something men and six octogenarians released at least one movie during that span, including Clint Eastwood, whose eight titles make him the second-most prolific director of the past decade. Tyler Perry is first, with 14, while the highest-ranking woman, The Proposal's Anne Fletcher, shares 24th place with 31 male directors, with four films each.

Dr. Stacy L. Smith/Graphics: Patricia Lapadula

In assessing the race and gender of directors of the annual 100 highest-grossing movies, the researchers found that over the past 10 years the share of films directed by women, black, or Asian filmmakers (4, 5.1, and 3 percent, respectively) has experienced no significant statistical shift. These proportions represent movies, not individuals; Perry, for example, is singlehandedly responsible for nearly a quarter of the movies helmed by black directors over the past decade, while James Wan, Justin Lin, and Jon M. Chu held more than 40 percent of Asian directors' credits, thanks to their franchise work.

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In terms of unique individuals, 27 black and 17 Asian directors sat in the director's chair. Five were women: Ava DuVernay, Gina Prince-Bythewood, Sanaa Hamri, Jennifer Yuh Nelson, and Loveleen Tandan, who was credited as "Co-director (India)" on Danny Boyle's Slumdog Millionaire. Although the study did not evaluate ethnicity, its authors noted that Miracles From Heaven's Patricia Riggen was the only Latina director among the 1,000-film sample of the last decade.

Going forward, the USC researchers intend to continue their qualitative and quantitative examination of the entire pipeline to further pinpoint where and why women and people of color are losing opportunities to work. Although the majority of those included in this study had agency representation, "there's a breakdown in the process of getting women and people of color these top jobs," Smith says. "More inquiry needs to be conducted to find out where are they falling out, and what can be done to shore up those leaks or cracks in the consideration process."

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To that end, the authors have included a number of proposed solutions tailored for various sectors of the industry, from buyers and sellers, who can set specific proportions (i.e., 30 percent female/underrepresented race) for people they consider for a job, to A-list talent, who can add "equity riders" to their contracts.

Says Smith: "It's about asking what are all the levers that need to be pushed to open up the gates for more storytellers interested in developing their talent so that they can have opportunities over time?"

Dr. Stacy L. Smith/Graphics: Patricia Lapadula

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