Hollywood's directorial gender gap yields stunning statistics, even among independents. For instance, among Sundance movies made between 2000 and 2012, there were 15.24 male directors to every female director*. More recently, between 2007 and 2013, a whopping 22 female directors** made top-grossing films.
And when whittling down those relatively rare female directors to women of color directors, the numbers swiftly plummet. Of those 22 filmmakers, for instance, just three -- Gina Prince-Blythewood, Loveleen Tandan and Sanaa Hamri -- were women of color. Speaking to The Root, director Amma Asante said "We basically do not register on the scale when it comes to black women; we are under 1 percent [of directors overall]."
But data don't diminish the vital contributions women of color have been making throughout film history and despite gender- and race-based institutional barriers to financing, distribution and mainstream industry recognition. In 1922, Tressie Souders became the first black female director in U.S. film history with A Woman's Error, distributed by the Afro-American Film Exhibitors' Company. Souders and her contemporaries, including Maria P. Williams and Eloyce King Patrick Gist, were not only trailblazing as early black female filmmakers, but also producing silent movies intent on accurately portraying black life and providing social uplift.
It would be nearly 70 years after Tressie Souders' debut that Euzhan Palcy would direct A Dry, White Season (1998), the first major Hollywood studio title directed by a black woman. In the meantime -- and ever since, for many -- independent and documentary filmmaking were the most viable options for women of color behind the camera to bring their stories to life. But pioneers like Julie Dash aren't sitting idly by, hoping Hollywood will one day take notice of talent; she and many other female filmmakers of all ethnicities are vocalizing the need for more movies made by women.
And what can audience members do to help make that happen? It's easy -- just watch.
27 Women of Color Directors You Should Watch:
Thank you, thank you, thank you to Lauren Schacher, The Director List and Lexi Alexander for flexing their Twitter muscle to crowdsource this list. (PS - Getting at-mentioned by Julie Dash and Euzhan Palcy felt like whoa.)
*Source: Exploring the Barriers and Opportunities for Independent Women Filmmakers. Stacy L. Smith, Marc Choueiti and Katherine Pieper. Media, Diversity, & Social Change Initiative. USC Annenberg. Sundance Institute. 2013.
**Source: Gender Inequality in Popular Film: Examining On Screen Portrayals and Behind-the-Scenes Employment Patterns in Motion Pictures Released Between 2007 - 2013. Stacy L. Smith, Marc Choueiti and Katherine Pieper. Media, Diversity, & Social Change Initiative. USC Annenberg. 2013.