Courtesy of Michael Buckner/Variety
The Directors Guild of America’s latest breakdown of TV director employment shows major gains for women and for Black helmers overall but the numbers also spotlight the systemic lack of movement for Latinx and female directors of color.
The share of TV episodes directed by women during the 2019-20 television season across broadcast, cable and streaming hit a record of 34%, up from the 31% share that women commanded in the 2018-19 season and a big lift over the 16% share for the 2014-15 season.
The share of episodes lensed by directors of colors hit 32%, a notable increase from the 27% share in the previous season and 18% share in 2014-15. The DGA studied more than 4,300 episodes from the 2019-20 season, the primetime year that included the start of the coronavirus pandemic. A total of 1,268 DGA members were hired for episodic work last season, per the report.
Directors of color and women also made strong gains in the DGA’s measure of members who landed their first episodic TV directing jobs during the season. But the DGA’s detailed breakdown shows clearly the stagnation in building a pipeline for Latinx female directors and Asian American women helmers.
Latinx female directors accounted for only a 2.4% share of all episodes in 2019-20, while Asian American women just a 2.1% share.
The growth in African American representation — which reached 18% of episodes, up from 15% in the prior TV year — was inflated slightly by the prolific work of one director who handled more than 150 episodes last season. The report does not name the helmer but it is believed to be Tyler Perry, the mogul multi-hyphenate who directs dozens of episodes annually for his TV productions including BET’s “The Oval” and OWN’s “The Haves and the Have Nots.” Because of this, Black directors accounted for 11% of total episodic TV director hires but 18% of total episodes last season.
DGA 2019-20 Episodic TV Hiring Breakdown by Share of TV Episodes:
African American males: 12.5%
African American females: 5.2%
Asian American males: 4.3%
Asian American females: 2.1%
Caucasian males: 43.3%
Caucasian females: 23.4%
Latino males: 4.8%
Latino females: 2.4%
Ethnicity other/unknown/unreported males: 0.9%
Ethnicity other/unknown/unreported females: 1.17%
Of the 1,268 individual directors hired to work in during the season:
35% were women
65% were men
11% were African American
7% were Latino
6% were Asian American
72% were Caucasian
“It’s hard enough to achieve success in the competitive world of TV directing,” said DGA president Thomas Schlamme. “It is vitally important that no group should be disadvantaged when it comes to developing a career. Our most powerful tools to analyze the availability of opportunities have been these in-depth data reports. And while we see encouraging growth in some areas, we will not be satisfied until we see fairness for all. Inclusion is not about one group or another, inclusion means everyone.”
The DGA counted 227 individuals who were hired for first-time episodic directing jobs last season. Women accounted for 47% of those offered crucial opportunities to advance their careers, down from 48% the previous year. Directors of color landed 30% of those jobs, up from 27% the previous year and up from only 10% in 2009.
The DGA also tracks whether first-time directors landed their jobs by being already affiliated with a series in another capacity, such as writer or producer, or whether the helmer is what the guild dubs “career-track” with credits on other projects prior to securing a first TV assignment. DGA members who come into TV on career-track paths tend to see their stars rise faster and farther than directors from the affiliated route. And the numbers show that career-track directors are more diverse as a group overall.
Among career-track directors hired last season, 55% were women and 36% were directors of color. Of the affiliated hires, 39% were women and 21% were directors of color.
Among career-track directors of color, some 77% went on direct other TV series between 2009 and 2017, per the DGA stats. The same was true for 86% of career-track female directors, and 84% of female directors of color.
The DGA report also offers an annual breakdown of the hiring practices of the major studios and networks that produce more than 70 episodes of TV per season. The numbers from the eight conglomerates studied show wide variance and they also underscore the scope of TV production activity at Disney, which towers over the competition with 853 episodes tracked by the DGA. WarnerMedia is a distant second at 546 episodes followed by CBS at 532.
Disney ranked No. 3 for hiring of women (41%) and No. 4 in employment of directors of color (32%). Sony Pictures (with 279 episodes) and WarnerMedia both led among directors of color with a 33% hiring rate. Paramount (70 episodes) led among female directors with a 47% hiring rate. HBO (132 episodes) was last among the majors in with an 18% hiring rate for directors of color; CBS was last among women hires with a 30% rate.
Schlamme emphasized the importance of tracking the seasonal hiring trends and paying attention to where growth is lagging. He urged major employers to be ever mindful of the importance of diversity, equity and inclusion when determining hiring practices and those all-important first-time opportunities.
“Changing the pipeline is key to one day achieving an inclusive industry, and this data on first- time hires shows we are on the road to getting there,” said Schlamme. “The greatest tool that producers have toward that goal is in giving a first break. But to truly achieve the potential of that power, employers must be conscious of the weight and meaning of that incredibly valuable first directing job – which is not only for the enormous benefit of the individual, but for the industry at large.”
Variety's Cynthia Littleton contributed to this post.