Black Men Make Strides in Hollywood, But Women Still Struggle

January 5, 2019, 2:00 PM UTC

African-American men made measurable progress in gaining top jobs in Hollywood last year, though women — and particularly non-white women — continue to miss out, according to the latest annual survey from the University of Southern California.

Sixteen of the top 100 movies produced last year were made by black directors, a historically high figure that shows Hollywood can improve diversity, according the annual report from the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative. However, only one of those directors was a woman: Ava DuVernay, who helmed “A Wrinkle in Time.” That ’s one of many signs of slow progress for women and Asians, the study said, with a scant percentage of directing jobs going to those groups over the past dozen years. That was especially true for women of color.

The progress for African-American men in Hollywood comes after years of pressure. The #OscarsSoWhite campaign that emerged in 2015 drove the motion-picture academy to increase the diversity of its membership by highlighting awards shows that routinely overlook noteworthy performances by black actors. Against the backdrop of sexual-harassment scandals rocking Hollywood, the new Annenberg report shows women continue to confront a lack of opportunity.

“Women of color are nearly invisible in film production — whether as directors, producers, or in below-the-line crew positions,” said Stacy Smith, the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative’s founder and director, as well as author of the study.

For the first time, the University of Southern California study looked at data on producers and so-called below-the-line positions — film crew jobs — across the top 300 movies from 2016 to 2018.

‘Produced by’

Just 11 percent of the “Produced by” credits over the last three years went to individuals from underrepresented groups. Men held 97 percent of the cinematographer jobs and 84.5 percent of the editing jobs, the report said.

“Only one woman of color worked as a composer across the 300 films we examined and there were no underrepresented female directors of photography,” Smith said.

Not surprisingly, the study also found that films with underrepresented producers were more likely to be directed by an individual from an underrepresented racial or ethnic group. That was true, though also less pronounced, with female producers and female directors.

On the other hand, women fared much better in lower roles: They accounted for 34 percent of second assistant directors and 32 percent of unit production managers. Few women worked as first assistant directors, at 9 percent.

The researchers also looked at the executive and board ranks of seven major entertainment companies. Women made up 25 percent of board members, an improvement from 19 percent last year. The study found 17 percent of top management positions were held by women.

Looking more deeply at the film divisions, women held 23 percent of the president and chairperson roles, with higher percentage in the executive vice president, senior vice president and vice president ranks. Women of color held just 6 percent of film executive team roles, the report said.

Sony Pictures distributed five films with black directors last year, the highest-performing company in the analysis. Walt Disney Co. released two films with an African-American director, the first ever for the company across the 12-year stretch the researchers have looked at.