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Disney Has Worst Track Record Backing Black Directors (Study)

Variety logo Variety 2/1/2017 Brent Lang

The seven major Hollywood studios have failed to elevate minorities and women to the director’s chair over the past decade, according to a new report by the University of Southern California’s Annenberg’s Media, Diversity & Social Change Initiative. The findings come as the topic of diversity and inclusion continues to be widely debated across the media industry. The report also hits days after the recent Oscar nominations were hailed for recognizing a record number of black actors and for singling out a series of films such as “Hidden Figures,” “Moonlight,” and “Fences” that grappled with the topic of race in America.

It’s harder to find signs of that kind of progress behind the camera. Thanks largely to its long association with Madea creator Tyler Perry, Lionsgate has the best track record when it comes to hiring African-American filmmakers. Sixteen of the 86 films that the studio distributed between 2007 and 2016 were made by black directors. Sony Pictures, which makes a number of films geared at African-American audiences through its Screen Gems label, employed the second most black directors with 9 films out of the 155 it distributed.

To get its numbers, the researchers examined the 100 top-grossing movies each year between 2007 and 2016. Disney came in dead last, employing no black directors for the biggest films it released over the past decade. The studio has tried to rectify that situation, tapping Ava DuVernay to oversee “A Wrinkle in Time” and bringing in Ryan Coogler to guide “Black Panther” to the big screen. The company has also given meaty roles to black actors like John Boyega (“Star Wars: The Force Awakens”) and Samuel L. Jackson (“The Avengers”), while also dealing with such weighty topics such as prejudice in films like the recent animated hit “Zootopia.” Moreover, Disney did bring in five female directors, a group that includes Mira Nair (“Queen of Katwe”) and Niki Caro (“McFarland, USA”), as well as four Asian directors.

“When you look across the industry, no one is doing a fantastic job and no one is a top performer,” said Stacy L. Smith, the study’s co-author. “There needs to be some sort of sea change in the hiring process. We’ve seen some minor fluctuations, but no real robust effort has been made here.”

Warner Bros. employed the greatest number of female filmmakers with 10 out of its 174 releases directed by women. Paramount and Lionsgate had the fewest number of female-directed films with three.

Universal backed the most films from Asian directors — 10 of the 152 films it released over the last decade were overseen by Asian filmmakers. Only one Lionsgate release was made by an Asian filmmaker, the lowest result for any of the major filmmakers.

Even when female, black or Asian directors were given chance, they tended to be picked for lower budgeted fair. Directors like Coogler or James Wan (“Furious 7”) were the exceptions to that rule. The USC researchers found that of the 1,114 directors of top-grossing fictional films in the last decade, just 4% are female. No company released at least one movie a year with a female director. Moreover, a mere 5.1% of directors were black across the top 1,000 movies and 3% of directors of the top 100 films were Asian.

See full chart below:

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