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USC Annenberg Releases Groundbreaking Animation Industry Gender Study

‘Inclusion Initiative’ study results, presented at 3rd Annual Women in Animation World Summit in Annecy, reveal some positive industry gains, but mostly areas of startling gender inequality and bias.

According to a major USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative study conducted in partnership with Women in Animation and released today during a riveting and eye-opening presentation by project authors, women seem to be increasing their numbers and positions of responsibility within certain areas of the animation film and TV business, but overall, remain incredibly underrepresented across the board in almost every area and level of creative and business leadership, particularly with respect to hiring and career development for women of color.

Against the backdrop of the Annecy International Animation Film Festival, where the world gathers each year in early June to celebrate the art, craft and industry of animation, the 3rd Annual Women in Animation World Summit kicked off earlier this morning, a full day of presentations and panel discussions focused on both asking and answering important questions concerning diversity and inclusion in the animation industry, with a particular focus on strategies for changing an entrenched and often rigid studio production system steeped in a history that at the very least, is indifferent to and often, openly hostile to, the equal participation of women.

Presented by the two lead study authors, Dr. Stacy L. Smith (the Inclusion Initiative founder) and Dr. Katherine Pieper, the research report, titled “Inclusion in Animation,” is the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative’s most comprehensive and in-depth analysis of animation entertainment done to date. The quantitative portion of the study examined animation across film and popular TV series, evaluating the prevalence of women above and below the line in key roles, and in the executive ranks across major companies and studios. The pipeline for women in animation was also assessed across prestigious animation education programs as well as the production of animated short films in competition at premiere festivals. The report also includes a qualitative investigation, which consists of 75 in-depth interviews with early-career women and decision-makers, as well as survey data from more than 250 individuals in the Animation Guild. The report concludes with solutions to inequality in organizations connected to the animation industry.

Smith and Pieper shared that the quantitative results reveal a few positive trends. First, women comprise roughly half of the executives in animation and fully half of the most powerful positions in major film animation companies and studios. Second, data from animation programs and film festivals reveals that a robust pipeline exists from animation classrooms into early career.

“Another area in which we see some progress is with female producers of animated films,” Dr. Smith noted. “In the last 12 years, 37% of producers of animated movies were women, while for live action films, the figure was 15%. The proportion of women in this leadership role in animation, and the progress made in the last decade indicates that there are spaces where the industry is taking inclusion seriously and affecting change. However, only 5% of producers of animated films and 1% of live action producers were women of color. The movie industry is completely out of step with the audience in this regard.”

According to data on film directors and unit heads in animated movies and TV series, once women enter the animation field, they opt out or are pushed to other work as they navigate the career paths to this prominent creative job. Only 3% of animated film directors over the last 12 years were women, while 13% of episodes evaluated across popular animated TV programs from 2018 had female directors. Only 1 female film director and 3 female TV directors were women from underrepresented racial/ethnic backgrounds. All 4 were Asian.

“Women from a variety of racial/ethnic backgrounds were not working as directors across film or TV,” Dr. Smith added. “The lack of Black or African American women, Hispanic/Latina women, Native women, or women from Middle East/North African communities, multi-racial or other groups means that the voices and stories of animated films and programs reflect a very narrow demographic of storytellers.”

The authors went on to reveal that in contrast to film, 20% of executive producers, 17% of co-executive producers, and 34% of producers in TV were women. Only 6 women of color were executive producers, while 8% of producers were women from underrepresented racial/ethnic backgrounds. Seventeen percent of “Created by” or “Developed by” credits in TV were held by women, with just 3 earned by women of color.

In below the line roles, women are still outnumbered in film and TV. Across 52 top animated films from the past 5 years, only 7% of head of story positions were filled with women, as were 8% of animation heads, and 14% of art directors . Women of color held 6%, 3%, and 4% of these positions, respectively. Across 100 popular animated TV series, females comprised 16% of animation directors, 20% of lead animators, and 11% of lead storyboard artists. Slightly higher percentages of women of color were observed in these roles in comparison to film, as 8%, 13%, and 3% of positions across these respective jobs went to women from underrepresented racial/ethnic backgrounds.

Marge Dean, president of Women in Animation and a driving force behind the organization’s ongoing outreach and awareness efforts, put the results in perspective. “This study validates what we have known all along, that women are a hugely untapped creative resource in the animation industry. Now that we have a greater understanding of how the numbers fall into place and what solutions may help rectify this deficiency, we can take bigger strides towards our goal of 50-50 by 2025.”

Of equal importance, and just as revealing as the hard study numbers, are the results from the qualitative analysis, which demonstrate the major impediments facing women in the animation industry. Responses indicated that a male-dominated and masculine culture affects females, that the industry views women as less valuable, and that women are perceived to be less interested in the field. Unique impediments facing women of color were also explored, namely the negative consequences that emerge from being a “token,” including feelings of isolation.

“One sentiment that emerged from the qualitative responses was a sense of distrust and skepticism from animation industry members about current efforts surrounding inclusion,” Pieper shared. “As organizations and individuals grapple with how to support and extend the careers of women in the industry, including women from all backgrounds and communities, the goal must be to ensure that everyone feels a sense of belonging and that men and women are committed to target inclusion goals and working collectively toward achieving them.”

The report is the latest from the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, and can be found online here.

Source: Women in Animation

Dan Sarto's picture

Dan Sarto is Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Animation World Network.