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41 Percent of First-Time TV Directors Were Women Last Season, DGA Study Finds

Number of first-time women directors spikes, 31 percent were people of color

The percentage of first-time TV director jobs going to women and minorities hit record highs for the second year in a row, according to the Directors Guild of America’s First-Time TV Directors Inclusion Study.

The study, which was released Thursday, tracked first-time hiring of episodic TV directors over the last nine seasons, from 2009-10 through 2017-18. It found that:

  • 31 percent (63) of first-time director hires were people of color this past season, an increase from 27 percent from the 2016-17 TV season, and just 12 percent during the 2009-10 season.
  • 41 percent (82) of first-time hires were women this past season, an increase from 33 percent from the 2016-17 TV season, and just 11 percent during the 2009-10 season.
  • 13 percent (27) of first-time hires were women of color this past season, an increase from 9 percent from the 2016-17 TV season, and just 2 percent during the 2009-10 season.

In all, the DGA study said that 202 first-time TV directors were hired by studios, networks and executive producers last season, a decrease from the record-high of 225 during the 2016-17 season. However, the DGA said this was still higher than any other season it tracked for this study.

Of those 202, more than half of them (117) were already affiliated in some capacity with the series they ended up directing for, for example, an actor or a writer on the show. Only 70, (35 percent) were “career-track” directors, meaning they had prior directing experience and were either unaffiliated with the series or their affiliation was the result of their prior directing experience.

“True inclusion is not just a single hire or a line in a speech, it’s a commitment that must be exercised through ongoing action, day by day,” said DGA president Thomas Schlamme. “The hiring improvements covered in this report show an industry that’s headed in the right direction today, but also one with a long road ahead to keep up with the increasingly diverse world tomorrow. What our study tells us is that there’s no shortage of talented women directors and directors of color ready for a first break. But for each hire to truly have an impact on the future, the studios and networks that make the hiring decisions need to open the doors even wider and discover a more inclusive population of candidates who seek directing as a career.”

The DGA argued that this practice of “gifting” out directing jobs to people who are one-and-done has a “damaging” effect and “acts as a bottleneck” to the pipeline of first-time directors.

The study looked at the long-term effects of hiring “series-affiliated” first-time directors, finding that the “vast majority” do not pursue directing after that first-break chance. The DGA tracked the career trajectories of 775 first-time directors initially hired between 2009-10 and 2015-16, found that those who were series affiliated were much less likely to direct in the future.

Only 24 percent of series-affiliated first time directors went on to direct shows they were not affiliated with in any capacity, which the DGA says is a “meaningful” sign that they plan to develop TV-directing careers. On the other hand, 71 percent of “career-track” directors were hired on other series. The most successful first-time directors were career-track women with 88 percent going on to direct other series, with 76 percent of career track directors of color also moving on to other series.

“It seems rather clear: to bring real systemic change for the future–and not just stats from season to season–employers must give even more first opportunities to talented diverse voices committed to a career in directing,” continued Schlamme. “It’s not just the right thing to do, it is vitally important to keep our industry growing, changing and innovating.”