Diversity among Hollywood directors improves, but insiders still get fast track

Janet Mock

Women and people of color directed a greater proportion of TV shows in the last season, but Hollywood is still giving a majority of first-time jobs to a less diverse pool of insiders.

The Directors Guild of America’s latest report on diversity in its ranks highlighted limited opportunities for first-time directors, even as TV episodes in the 2018-19 season directed by women rose to 31% and directors of color to 27%, up from 25% and 24%, respectively, a year ago.

“We’ve pushed the studios, networks and producers to do better in their hiring,” DGA President Thomas Schlamme said in a statement. The survey examined 4,300 episodes, a number that is shrinking due to fewer basic cable dramatic series and a trend toward shorter seasons.

Still, the DGA’s annual survey also found evidence that employers were continuing to hand out plum industry jobs to a less diverse pool of industry insiders. Employers hired insiders for 55% of first-time TV directing jobs last season, according to the report.

That makes it even harder for women and people of color to get their first directing gig, the report found. While 49% of its first-time hires in 2018-19 were women, up from 41% last year, the number of first-time directors of color hired fell to 29% from 31%.

The guild said that a key driver behind a drop-off in first-time directors not going on to develop directing careers was fueled by a “widespread and growing” practice of employers giving “perk” directing assignments to people already working on a show, who are a less diverse group than non-affiliated directors. Such insiders typically don’t succeed as TV directors, the guild said.

Some producers are actively recruiting directors from diverse backgrounds. Ryan Murphy’s hit show “Pose” for FX Networks, which tracks the underground New York ball scene of the 1980s, has been one of the series to open doors to diverse new directors. Janet Mock, a writer on the show and a trans woman of color, had her first-time directing opportunity in 2018 with an episode. Billy Porter, who stars in the show, will get a chance to direct an episode in its upcoming season.

Ava DuVernay’s Array production company has also used her shows to give women of color opportunities to direct — with women directing every episode of her show “Queen Sugar.”

Hollywood has been under pressure to diversify its ranks after campaigns like #OscarsSoWhite showed how white men continued to dominate the top awards shows and the industry. Actress Natalie Portman threw light on the frustration in the industry when she presented the 2017 Golden Globes for director, announcing “And here are the all-male nominees.” The prize has gone only once to a woman, Kathryn Bigelow.

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