National Institute on Aging

American University Report Finds Documentary Film Industry Making Strides in Diversity

A new study from American University’s Center for Media & Social Impact in collaboration with the International Documentary Association has found that the documentary film industry is making huge strides with opportunities for women, racial, and ethnic minorities. The report also found that documentary filmmakers – particularly those from underrepresented groups – face significant economic hurdles in financing their projects.

The study found that almost 70 percent of new documentary professionals, those who have been in the industry less than 15 years, are members of racial and ethnic minority groups. New documentary professionals are also more likely to make short-form documentaries than older members of the industry, but equally as likely to make feature-length films.

However, even though there is a larger percentage of minority documentary filmmakers, career sustainability is more difficult for them than their White peers. While one third of White documentary filmmakers reported making no revenue on their recent films, nearly 50 percent of documentary makers from underrepresented racial and ethnic groups received no revenue for their last film.

Caty Borum Chattoo, director of the Center for Media & Social Impact, was the leader of this project. She stated, “Documentary is not only in the midst of a tremendous moment of transition, with more audiences and platforms for distribution, but nonfiction storytelling remains a vital, important player in democracy by highlighting stories and voices often unheard in scripted entertainment storytelling. The fact that voices of people of color and women are so prominent among newer documentary filmmakers highlights the importance of this exciting moment.”

The full report, The State of the Documentary Field: 2018 Study of Documentary Professionals, may be downloaded by clicking here.


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