Female Directors Make Gains in Hollywood, But Women of Color Still Far Behind

Kasi Lemmons Directs Harriet (Credit: Focus Features)

The number of women directing top-grossing movies in 2019 climbed higher than any previous year. While women of color also saw gains last year, they still lag behind their white counterparts.

A total of 113 directors were attached to the top 100 films of 2019. Of that group, 89.4 percent were male and 10.6 percent were female, according to a USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative study released Thursday.

Twelve women helmed top films last year. Among the women of color were Harriet director Kasi Lemmons [shown above]; Melina Matsoukas of Queen & Slim; The Farewell director Lulu Wang; Tina Gordon of Little; and Roxann Dawson from Breakthrough.

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Other movies directed by women in 2019 included Greta Gerwig’s Little Women; Lorene Scafaria’s Hustlers; and Booksmart from Olivia Wilde.

Overall, the study looked at the number of female directors on top performing films between 2007 and 2019.

Only 4.8 percent of films during the 13-year sample period were directed by women. Just two women of color — Ava DuVernay and Jennifer Yuh Nelson — helmed more than one movie over the 13-year period.

“Hollywood’s image of a female director is a white woman,” the study said.

USC 2019 Directors Study Graphic
Courtesy: USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative

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The study titled “Inclusion in the Director’s Chair” was conducted by Dr. Stacy L. Smith, Marc Choueiti, Kevin Yao, Hannah Clark and Dr. Katherine Pieper.

When it comes to the performances of individual movie studios, Paramount Pictures had the worst record with only three pictures out of 134 from 2007-2019 directed by a woman. In comparison, Universal had 15 female directors over the same period, including Queen & Slim.

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