Study Shows Promising Directorial Pipeline for Women and People of Color

Sundance Institute/USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative study shows women are represented at Sundance in significantly greater numbers than ten years ago, but are still far below 50%.

PARK CITY, UT - January 25, 2019 -- Sundance Institute and the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative (AI2) today released demographic data on submissions and acceptances to the annual Sundance Film Festival to reveal key insights on the talent pipeline in the film industry for women and people of color.

The report was issued in partnership with Professor Stacy L. Smith and the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative. It examined more than 26,000 shorts and feature projects submitted to the Sundance Film Festival in 2017 and 2018 across both U.S. and international filmmakers. The report also includes an analysis of the Sundance Institute’s Artist Support programs from 2016 and 2017.

“This study shows us where the pipeline for women and people of color is robust and where more support is needed,” said Dr. Smith. “The gains we saw for women over the past decade reveal that change is possible and where more support is needed.”

The analysis reveals that, overall across the entire Festival, 28% of feature-length and episodic projects submitted to the Sundance Film Festival across 2017 and 2018 had at least one woman director, as did 34.1% of shorts. Examining submissions reveals how interested women and people of color are in showcasing their independent work at Sundance at the earliest stages of filmmaking.

Data on acceptances was included to gauge representation at the Festival over the past two years. Of feature films and episodic content accepted in 2017 and 2018, 35% had a woman director, while 51.4% of short films did.

Separately, Sundance calculated the rates of submissions and acceptances to the 2019 Festival, which are not part of the study but show slight increases over the previous years. 31% of feature-length submissions to the 2019 Festival had at least one woman director, as did 35% of episodic and shorts content. Of feature films and episodic content accepted in 2019, 41% had a woman director, while 52% of shorts did, for a combined total of 45%.

In the dramatic film category, there was an increase of over 50% in films submitted by women since the last study conducted by Smith and her team and funded by the Sundance Institute and Women in Film LA in 2009 (from 13.6% to 21.5%).

Women and people of color were well represented in the Institute’s Labs and artist support programs. More than half of the participants in the Sundance Institute’s Directors Lab were women (55%) and people of color (60%).

“It’s clear from this data that there is a robust and exciting talent pool including women and people of color,” said Keri Putnam, Executive Director of the Sundance Institute. “We are proud of the investments the Institute has made in identifying and supporting underrepresented artists, and we are even prouder of the results those investments have catalyzed, over the two years captured here.”

During 2017 and 2018, 45.5% of U.S. short films and 24.3% of U.S. dramatic features accepted to the Sundance Film Festival had a director of color. Less than 15% of directors of submitted projects within each Festival category analyzed were women of color. Only 7.4% of U.S. dramatic feature directors accepted to the Festival in 2017-18 were women of color.

For the 2019 Sundance Film Festival, 55% of accepted short films and 38% of accepted dramatic features had a director of color. 18% of accepted projects, across features, episodics and shorts, were directed by one or more woman of color.

Gains in representation drop off dramatically as filmmakers advance in their careers. People of color directed 22.3%, and women only 4%, of the country’s top grossing films in 2018. Only nine out of 1,335 directors (<1%) of the most popular 1,200 films across 12 years were women of color, according to another recent report from AI2.

"Good stories depend on diverse perspectives. Those perspectives will only be supported with intentional outreach and support for intersectional voices across the spectrum,” said actor, producer and screenwriter Lena Waithe. “The audience is there to support good stories but we have to work harder to see those stories brought to light.”

“This kind of data practice is a helpful barometer in our work as Festival programmers,” said Kim Yutani, Sundance Film Festival’s Director of Programming. “Our curatorial process operates independently from demographic information, but periodic and holistic studies of statistics and trends among submissions and acceptances allow us to assess how our work reflects our values of inclusion as we make creative curatorial decisions.”

This data also shows that a solid percentage of top-grossing filmmakers have interacted with Sundance earlier in their careers. Of the women and people of color who directed top-grossing films in recent years - 30 - 35% had prior support from Sundance, whether that was a Lab, screening a film at the Festival, or other support.

The findings of the study will be discussed at a panel at the Sundance Film Festival on Friday January 25th moderated by Franklin Leonard and featuring Dr. Stacy L. Smith, Nina Jacobson, Lena Waithe and Sundance Institute’s Director of Outreach and Inclusion Karim Ahmad.

The full report can be found online here.


The Sundance Film Festival®
The Sundance Film Festival has introduced global audiences to some of the most groundbreaking films of the past three decades, including Sorry to Bother You, Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, Eighth Grade, Get Out, The Big Sick, Mudbound, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Fruitvale Station, Whiplash, Brooklyn, Precious, The Cove, Little Miss Sunshine, An Inconvenient Truth, Napoleon Dynamite, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Reservoir Dogs and sex, lies, and videotape. The Festival is a program of the non-profit Sundance Institute®. The Festival is a program of the non-profit Sundance Institute®. 2019 Festival sponsors include: Presenting Sponsors – Acura, SundanceTV, Chase Sapphire, YouTube; Leadership Sponsors – Adobe, Amazon Studios, AT&T, DIRECTV, Dropbox, Netflix, Omnicom, Stella Artois; Sustaining Sponsors – Ancestry, Canada Goose, Canon, Dell, Francis Ford Coppola Winery, GEICO, High West Distillery, IMDbPro, Lyft, RIMOWA, Unity Technologies, University of Utah Health; Media Sponsors – The Atlantic, IndieWire, Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, VARIETY, The Wall Street Journal. Sundance Institute recognizes critical support from the Utah Governor's Office of Economic Development, and the State of Utah as Festival Host State. The support of these organizations helps offset the Festival’s costs and sustain the Institute's year-round programs for independent artists. Look for the Official Partner seal at their venues at the Festival.

Sundance Institute
Founded in 1981 by Robert Redford, Sundance Institute is a nonprofit organization that provides and preserves the space for artists in film, theatre, and new media to create and thrive. The Institute's signature Labs, granting, and mentorship programs, dedicated to developing new work, take place throughout the year in the U.S. and internationally. The Sundance Film Festival and other public programs connect audiences to artists in igniting new ideas, discovering original voices, and building a community dedicated to independent storytelling. Sundance Institute has supported such projects as Sorry to Bother You, Eighth Grade, Won't You Be My Neighbor?, Hereditary, RBG, Call Me By Your Name, Get Out, The Big Sick, Top of the Lake, Winter's Bone, Dear White People, Brooklyn, Little Miss Sunshine, 20 Feet From Stardom, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Fruitvale Station, I’m Poppy, America to Me, Leimert Park, Spring Awakening, A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder and Fun Home. Join Sundance Institute on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube.

About USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative
Launched over 10 years ago by Founder/Director Dr. Stacy L. Smith, the Initiative is globally recognized for its valuable and sought after researched-solutions to advance equality in entertainment. The Annenberg Inclusion Initiative’s findings create valuable and sought after research-based solutions that advance equality in entertainment. Dr. Stacy L. Smith is the Founder and Director of the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative which launched over ten years ago. Dr. Smith and the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative examine gender, race/ethnicity, LGBT status, disability, and age on screen and gender and race/ethnicity behind the camera in cinematic and television content as well as barriers and opportunities facing women and people of color in the entertainment industry. The Annenberg Inclusion Initiative also conducts economic analyses related to diversity and the financial performance of films. In 2015, LA Weekly named Dr. Smith the #1 Most Influential Person in Los Angeles, and she has spoken on research at multiple high-profile engagements ranging from the TED Women stage to the United Nations. In 2018, Dr. Smith was named to the Billboard Women in Music List. Dr. Smith and the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative have been featured in The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, The Atlantic, Newsweek, The Hollywood Reporter, Variety, and NPR, among others. The Annenberg Inclusion Initiative’s most recent research reports include studies on inclusion on screen and behind the camera across 1,100 top-grossing films conducted at USC Annenberg, multiple landmark studies with Sundance Institute and Women in Film Los Angeles and a study of 600 popular songs. The Annenberg Inclusion Initiative is generously supported by The Annenberg Foundation, The Lovell Foundation, The Harnisch Foundation, Sony Pictures Entertainment, EPiX, LUNAFEST, The Jacquelyn and Gregory Zehner Foundation, and other individuals. To learn more, visit or follow on Twitter and Instagram or Facebook.

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