Respect Diversity + Inclusion

Most US films in Sundance Film Festival dramatic, documentary competitions directed by women, people of color for first time

Since the festival began reporting demographic data in 2019, the 2023 lineup marks the first time the majority of U.S. directors in the dramatic and documentary competitions identify as women and people of color.
Camera and director's chair.

Story at a glance

  • The film industry has faced growing criticism in recent years for its lack of gender and racial/ethnic diversity. 

  • This week the Sundance Film Festival released its lineup for 2023, and it includes the highest number of U.S. directors in the dramatic and documentary film competitions who identify as female and people of color to date.

  • The festival will take place in January in Utah. 

The annual Sundance Film Festival, which will take place Jan. 19-23 in Utah, showcases the year’s best independent films. 

The largest festival of its kind in the country, this year’s director nominations for dramatic and documentary films mark a significant step forward for representation, as for the first time since the organization began reporting demographic data, the majority of U.S. films in these categories are directed by women and people of color. 

In the U.S. competition’s dramatic category, 61 percent of directors identify as women and the same number identify as people of color. Sixty-three percent of U.S. directors in the documentary category identify as women, and 63 percent as people of color. 

A total of 101 feature-length films from around the world are included in the total lineup. Of these, 53 percent were directed by filmmakers who identify as women, and 45 percent identify as people of color.

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“The program for this year’s Festival reiterates the relevancy of trailblazing work serving as an irreplaceable source for original stories that resonate and fuel creativity and dialogue,” said Kim Yutani, Sundance Film Festival Director of Programming in a release

“In so many ways this year’s slate reflects the voices of communities around the world who are speaking out with urgency and finally being heard. Across our program, impactful storytelling by fearless artists continues to provide space for the community to come together to be entertained, challenged, and inspired.”

This is the first time the festival will be held in-person in two years, following virtual-only programming held in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The festival received criticism in the past after research showed no meaningful change in the number of female directors and producers between 2002 to 2013. In 2013, just 30 percent of all festival films were directed or produced by women. 

The festival began reporting demographic data in 2019. At that time, 45 percent of all projects in the program were directed or created by one or more women, while 41 percent were created by one or more filmmakers of color.  

Additional research carried out by the Sundance Institute and University of Southern California Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism found the number of U.S. women-directed dramatic feature films accepted to the festival grew from 17 percent in 2009 to 37 percent in 2018.  

Although the percentage of U.S. women directors in the dramatic competition also increased from 2015 through 2021, there was a significant decline from 2019 to 2020, data show. But in 2021, 50 percent of directors in this category identified as women. 

Furthermore, between 2017 and 2018, “while roughly one-quarter of dramatic and documentary features submitted to Sundance had a director of color in the U.S., closer to half of dramatic films (46.4%) and 37.5% of documentaries in the international category did,” researchers wrote in another report

This year’s shift in demographics follows a wider reckoning on gender equality in Hollywood in the wake of the #MeToo and Time’s Up movement, and also follows calls for increased racial and ethnic representation in the film business.  

Sundance itself has taken steps to increase diversity by launching the Women at Sundance program and providing stipends to more journalists from underrepresented groups as part of its Press Inclusion Initiative

There were nearly 16,000 submissions to the festival this year. Of the more than 4,000 feature-length films submitted, 1,662 were from the United States.