Who’s Behind Your Favorite TV Shows? Certainly Not Women

The Directors Guild of America (DGA) this week released its annual report on the gender and ethnicity of TV directors, and the results are less than promising for women and people of color: When it comes to directing TV, white men still vastly outnumber every other group of people.

The “DGA TV Diversity Report” breaks down all types of episodic TV, including broadcast, both basic and premium cable as well as Internet “high-budget original content series,” produced in the 2014-2015 network television season and the 2014 cable television season. This adds up to 3,910 episodes from over 270 shows.

On one hand, as the report puts it, “the pie is getting bigger.” There is simply more television to go around, as the total number of TV episodes produced grew 10 percent from the previous season. The number of episodes directed by women increased from 509 episodes to 620, as did the number of individual women directors hired, from 129 to 150.

On the other hand, over 80 shows—nearly a third of the total number of TV series that DGA examined—did not have a single women serve as director this season. In fact, women only directed about 16 percent of all TV. While this is a 2 percent increase from the 2013-2014 season, the total number of directors of color (both women and men) decreased by one percent from the previous season, from 19 to 18 percent. And though the number women of color directors technically increased, they still only direct 3 percent of all episodes.

The numbers for first-time directors—those who have never directed episodic TV before—were even more grim. Of the 128 first-time directors hired this season, 84 percent were men—a bump of 4 percent from last season. This first-timer metric is significant, the report points out, because it lays the groundwork for future trends in television. If only very few women and minorities are being given the chance to try out their directorial skills, it delays possible changes in the status quo.

“We hear a lot of reasons from studios, networks and series showrunners about why they are powerless to make a change when it comes to diverse hiring,” said Bethany Rooney and Todd Holland, the DGA’s Diversity Task Force co-chairs, in the report. “It’s time for everyone to look closely at exactly how hiring decisions are made, and for employers to take ownership and develop plans outlining the steps they will take to bring their hiring practices into the twenty-first century.”

The DGA also creates a “Worst Of” List for shows with the worst hiring records. In order to qualify, the studio must have used less than 15 percent women and people of color as directors. Masters of Sex and Boardwalk Empire, for example, are not only repeat “Worst Of” offenders, but hired zero non-white men. It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia is another disturbing case study: In 10 seasons and 115 episodes, no woman has ever yelled, “Action!” Shows on Internet platforms, like Netflix and Amazon, also show up on the “Worst Of” List, which means that new types of content creators are continuing the old model’s discriminatory practices.

Yet there is hope: The “Best Of” List, an inventory of shows that have 40 percent or more women directors or directors of color, expanded to 57 series from 49. Three shows on the list—Being Mary JaneThe Game and Single Ladies, all of which star people of color and are associated with BET—exclusively hire women and people of color as directors.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user SDPD, licensed under Creative Commons 2.0.





Carter Sherman is a former Ms. editorial intern. She recently graduated from Northwestern University, where she studied journalism and international studies, and has previously interned at Elle and Los Angeles Magazine. Follow her on Instagram at @heyyymizcarter.