Last year was not great for film — again. Women directed just 2.7% of the top 100 grossing films, according to the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative. The racial justice uprisings of 2020 plus #MeToo and #OscarsSoWhite movements seemed like they were going to usher in changes in the film and TV industry, but representation behind the camera actually went down in 2022.
“The numbers are really abysmal,” says Stacy Smith, founder and director of the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative at the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism at USC. “This year, we're seeing a reversal for any gains that were made over the last couple of years. And it's largely due to explicit bias, and not giving access and opportunity to women, people of color, in particular women of color. … There's a real distrust and perceived risk still around individuals that don't fit the white male stereotype.”
While the majority of directing jobs went to white men, the critical acclaim, by far, was awarded to women of color. “They're punching at a higher level,” notes Smith.
Does this reversal mean that the momentum behind those hashtag movements has been lost? Smith thinks it’s still there, but basic change is needed.
“Oftentimes, executives greenlight content, and the only opportunities they give to women and people of color are on those films, where the identity of the director and the identity of the lead character match. This isn't true of white men — they get to direct stories about white men and about anyone else. … [Women of color] should also be given opportunities to direct stories by individuals in the lead that don't match their gender or race ethnicity.”
After 16 years of studying the numbers and advocating for change, Smith wonders, “How many years do we have to see a downturn in these findings to see that folks need to be given an opportunity behind the camera?”