Sundance Film Fest 2019: Diversity and Inclusion–New Rules of the Game

“I’ve been to a few Sundances, and this one definitely feels really inclusive. There are a lot of movies I really want to see because of it,” said Jessica Williams, the writer, star, and co-creator of HBO’s Two Dope Queens.

In November, the Sundance Film Institute announced that it had achieved gender parity among its film programmers.

Mostly White Male Critics–No More

It then shuffled its media credentials to favor underrepresented film critics. In an opening day press conference, Sundance Institute Executive Director Keri Putnam said that the festival was horrified to realize it had been admitting “mostly white male critics.”

“This lack of inclusion has real-world implications,” Putnam said. “So we decided to do something about it.”

Sundance shook up its critical ranks to the point where 63% of the press is from underrepresented groups.

At a time when Hollywood is being pressured to become more inclusive, Sundance is taking the lead.

Women Directors: 40 percent

Of 112 films in the official selection, 40% are directed or co-directed by a woman, up 3% from 2018.

Among the directors in the four primary competition categories (56 of 112), 39% are people of color.  That’s also up 3% from the previous year.

Those who identified as LGBTQ directed 13% of the year’s films.  This is the first year that the festival has reported the statistics of that category.

“That’s the game changer, we’re telling our own stories instead of auditioning for someone else’s. When you have that power, it’s harder to take it away, especially from creators,” said Phoebe Robinson, co-creator of “Two Dope Queens.”

HBO’s Main Street lounge held speed-mentoring sessions for aspiring filmmakers from diverse backgrounds. Mentors included “Insecure” executive producer Amy Aniobi and co-producer Ben Cory Jones, “Ballers” story editor Jason Lew, “Westworld” staff writer Gina Atwater and “Camping” cinematographer Quyen Tran.

The festival showed de facto the importance of stronger mentoring in changing the ranks of the executive, directors, and writers divisions.