Please send American women directors “smoking gun” e-mail evidence of job discrimination!
Please send American women directors “smoking gun” e-mail evidence of job discrimination!
REReprinted from “Women and Hollywood” – IndieWire – September 24, 2014
By Maria Giese
The DGA hosted an event Saturday night to celebrate the six women who created the Women’s Steering Committee 35 years ago. The 600-seat theatre was packed, with impassioned cheering and prolonged standing ovations punctuating speeches that just may become historic.
To women directors in Hollywood those six, “The Original Six,” are giants. They are the heroes who launched the landmark 1980’s class action lawsuit that sent women directors’ employment numbers soaring from .05% in 1985 to 16% in 1995—in just 10 years.
They are: Susan Bay, Nell Cox, Joelle Dobrow, Dolores Ferraro. Victoria Hochberg, and Lynne Littman. Remember those names.
From 1979 to 1985 these women risked their careers to create change for all women in our industry. The work they did altered the landscape for women directors and their teams—forever. There is not a single woman director working in Hollywood today who does not have the Original Six to thank for their jobs.
Hollywood, for all its outspoken liberalism, is an industry that has consistently kept women shut out. In the 35 years since the Original Six initiated legal action to get Hollywood to accept America’s hard-won equal employment opportunity laws, women directors’ employment numbers have dropped. Today, in 2014, fewer women directors are working in American media than two decades ago,
On a global basis, this means that nearly 100% of U.S. media content—America’s most influential export—reflects a mostly male point of view. Thus the astounding potential our nation has to share our passion for equality and female empowerment is lost to people everywhere—to women and girls—around the world. As Nell Cox put it, “Does it matter that one half of the population sees only a distorted image of itself on screen, and what purpose does this distorted picture serve?”
Great words were spoken Saturday night, even by Guild leaders who had initially expressed reluctance about the event. Guild President Paris Barclay said in his opening speech: “Why is the DGA making such a big deal about this? We’re making a big deal because it matters.” And DGA leader and WSC co-chair, Millicent Shelton, called for women “to be brave enough to take action.”
Yet it took a new generation of women DGA members years, and rancorous infighting in the DGA Women’s Steering Committee, to get this event voted on and approved by the Guild leadership. Why? Because the DGA leadership, and particularly women Guild leaders, worried that such an event would be perceived as “negative”—that it could be “embarrassing.”
As women in Hollywood fight to smash the celluloid ceiling, nothing could be more important than understanding our struggle in the context of history. And ultimately, on Saturday night, we all have the DGA to thank for hosting an event that highlighted that history and some of our most inspiring pioneers.
The speeches made by the Original Six were poignant and rousing. Joelle Dobrow praised Michael Franklin, the DGA’s Executive Secretary in the 1980’s who finally ordered the landmark class-action lawsuit to commence, calling him “Our point-man, our guru, our gladiator.”
And while inspiring the need for new action, Lynne Littman despaired that in all these years, little has changed: “We women have literally been disappeared from the profession because of our gender.” Victoria Hochberg, the very spearhead of the group, spoke most enthrallingly about how new action is demanded of both women and Hollywood’s studios and institutions today. She stated, “There is a growing new wave of rebellion against sexism barreling towards the film industry. And everyone knows that 20 years of the same excuses will not work anymore.”
The work that The Original Six did came on the heels of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960’s, and the Women Liberation Movement in the 1970’s. Those were revolutionary times. Today, after more than two decades of complacency among American women, perhaps it should be no surprise that the job numbers for female directors has declined.
And likewise, it’s no wonder that the DGA Diversity program that resulted from the work of these women has failed female Guild members. The only rulebook for diversity hiring that studios consider emerges from the DGA-studio Collective Bargaining Negotiations every three years. These agreements are almost completely ignored by Guild signatories, and they are not enforced by the DGA.
As so rightly reported in “The Hollywood Reporter” yesterday: “It remains an obstacle to spell out a formula that will ultimately end discrimination toward women in the entertainment industry. The DGA says it will continue to take concrete action until statistical progress reflects gender equality among male and female directors.” But will it?
What really needs to happen next?
Hope for women directors today comes from a new generation of female directors/activists—and it mostly taking place on-line. Collective wisdom reaped from numerous sources: from the ACLU and the EEOC to stats gurus like Martha Lauzen and Stacy Smith, and from leaders in gender in media like Geena Davis and Jennifer Siebel Newsom, and blogs like this one, and from the individual voices of women director/activists around the world—from Jane Campion to Lexi Alexander.
These are the voices that combine to call forth sweeping changes in our industry:
1. The DGA must no longer stand as the primary policing entity for gender employment equity for its members in Hollywood. The DGA, as a union run by its vast-majority male membership, is in an intrinsic conflict-of-interest in advancing women.
2. Revise Collective Bargaining Agreements between the DGA and the studios to create a double-mandate system to address the specific needs of women of all ethnicities, separate from male ethnic minorities. Today Guild signatories can fulfill their diversity obligations by hiring male ethnic minority members, and hiring no women at all. Women are not a minority. Our challenges are unique and require separate treatment.
3. Commence legal action for women directors and their female teams, targeting Hollywood studios and institutions that violate Title VII.
4. Initiate a paradigm shift in cultural thinking about women directors though an ongoing campaign in mainstream and grassroots media.
5. Create a dedicated program within the industry to provide individual advocacy for women directors.
Some of these efforts have already begun: the ACLU has recently begun a new campaign to address this problem that many people see as a national embarrassment. Women directors are encouraged to contact the ACLU (anonymously or openly) to tell their stories of discrimination. https://www.aclu.org/secure/my-story-woman-director
Thanks to Saturday night’s DGA tribute to “The Original Six,” we are reminded that employment opportunity equality is a right that we women must continue to fight for. Standing on the shoulders of giants, of those who fought for Title VII, and those great women who are “The Original Six,” we can create change.
Women directors in Hollywood can achieve employment equity, but we—like so many women before us—must pick up the torch and prepare for battle. As Victoria Hochberg proclaimed to immense applause: “This is our time! This is our time! Live the word that begins all cinema. Live the word ACTION!”
Maria Giese directed the feature films, “When Saturday Comes,” starring Sean Bean and Academy Award-nominee Pete Postlethwaite. She also directed the award-winning indie feature, “Hunger,” based on the novel by Nobel Prize winner, Knut Hamsun. Educated at Wellesley College and UCLA Graduate School of Film and Television, she is an active member of the DGA and currently serves as the Women’s DGA Director Category Rep. Check out her activist/agitator web forum: www.womendirectorsinhollywood.com
A Whole New System to Advance Women Directors
By Maria Giese
In the past 20 years female director employment numbers in Hollywood have been in stasis and decline, even while those of ethnic minority males have moved steadily up.
It is good news that diversity among directors is increasing, but why are women being left behind? As always in the United States, men of every ethnicity come before women of any ethnicity.
For this reason, in 2013 the DGA Women’s Proposals Committee drew up a detailed proposal to include women’s issues in the 2014 Guild-studio Collective Bargaining negotiations. Longtime DGA Executive Director, Jay Roth, led the negotiations last fall, but newly elected DGA president, Paris Barclay (himself an ethnic minority male), was an important voice.
Primary to the proposal was that, if female directors are to move forward, they need a program solely dedicated to the advancement of women. Unfortunately, when the negotiations concluded last December, women remained buried within the general category of “diversity” in all DGA-studio Agreements.
Under the new contract, the studios can continue to address diversity requirements without hiring any women at all. In fact, there is no legal obligation for producers and studio executives to advance women in any way; the only legal stipulation is that ‘diversity’ hiring improves. This can (and often does) mean hiring men of diversity—not women.
In order for the Agreements to benefit women, especially women of color, the DGA and studios must create a separate program for women of all ethnicities as a category in their own right.
How would it work?
The Guild and the studios would adjust their diversity agreements (the DGA Basic Agreement, Article 15 & the FLTTA, Article 19) from a single diversity mandate to include an additional program solely dedicated to increasing female employment.
It’s very simple:
If the DGA and the studios agree to create a distinct program for women, the studios will then have a legal obligation to hire more female directors. Today their only mandate is to increase diversity hires (usually meaning men), but under the two-pie system, studios would have to BOTH increase ethnic minority hires and female hires.
How will this impact women of color?
Under the double-mandate, two-pie system, female ethnic minorities would be counted twice, so it is greatly to their advantage. Women of color are often under the mistaken impression that they are currently counted twice (“twofer tokenism”) because administrators involved in diversity hiring often erroneously believe that themselves. Counting an individual twice in a single pie, however, is a mathematical impossibility.
On the other hand, in a two-pie, double-mandate system, women of color could be counted twice: once in the female category, and once in the ethnic minority category. That would give them a numerical edge. Women of color are the most disadvantaged population of all, so this increase in potential opportunity seems defensible. Recent DGA statistics showed that in 2013 the employment of women directors of ethnicity had dropped from a “criminally” low 4% to 2%.
Where the advancement of women is concerned, it is better to allow an advantage to women of color, rather than leave all women directors to languish under the current single-mandate diversity system that has indisputably proven to fail females for decades.
To clarify, women directors must be provided their own program, because under the current system:
1) Women get buried under the general category of “Diversity.” The studios can fulfill obligations to the DGA Diversity Agreements simply by hiring male ethnic minorities, without hiring females at all.
2) Women are not a minority population, yet they are treated as such under the current system. Today, only 13.6% of the DGA director category is comprised of women, but the pool of eligible women from which show-runners and executives hire directors, is actually much larger.
This is so because the executives and showrunners do not hire directors strictly from the Guild. Anyone can flow into the employment stream— film school graduates, production executives, writers and editors, show cast and crew, and so on. There is no defined skill-set required to direct. Everyone is a first-time director at one point. In terms of calculating percentages of qualified directors by gender, therefore, the general population is a more accurate pool than the director membership at the DGA.
In addressing the question of breaking women out as a separate class, Paris Barclay recently indicated that it would not happen during his presidency. As he put it: “We (diversity members) have got to stick together in this.”
Sticking together, in fact, has been just one more reason women have fallen so far behind in their employment numbers. Today, ethnic minority males comprise 7% of the director membership, but helm over 14% of TV episodes. Women, on the other hand, comprise nearly 14% of the director membership, but only direct 12% of TV episodes.
This itself reveals a cunning circle. The Guild and the studios point their fingers at each other in an endless blame-game to seek a scapegoat for Hollywood’s almost complete and certainly unlawful exclusion of women directors. A woman cannot become a member of the Guild unless she is hired for work, yet the number of female hires remains miniscule, keeping the percentage of women DGA directors low.
Although the DGA is now ramping up efforts to increase the number of female DGA director members (the number rose from 1,160 to over 2,020 just in recent months), it has traditionally used those the disparate gender ratios to justify the low number of female hires.
As Paris Barclay stated at the 2013 DGA Women Director’s Summit: “Considering the ratio of male to female directors in the Guild, I’d say the studios are doing pretty well.” The studios may be doing well, but women are not. And there is no reason to believe things will ever improve without a sweeping change to the current industry diversity policy.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has recently called attention to the rampant discrimination faced by female directors. As the Melissa Goodman, Senior Staff Attorney at the ACLU of Southern California wrote:
“Gender bias – like all forms of bias – is complex and hard to dismantle, but the statistics alone strongly suggest that more action is needed in the industry. The DGA says it is working to address the problem and reportedly has new diversity agreements with the studios that strengthen enforcement and require improved programs to help women and people of color break into directing work (…) No doubt truly effective diversity programs and real enforcement of these agreements (and employers’ legal obligation not to engage in sex discrimination) would make a real difference.”
The ACLU is currently calling for women directors to contact them to tell their stories: https://www.aclu.org/secure/my-story-woman-director
Please click on that link and tell your story today. And please support efforts to initiate a new DGA-studio program solely dedicated to the advancement of women. The creation of a separate mandate for women is an essential step in solving on-going sex discrimination in the American film and television industry.
Maria Giese directed the British feature, “When Saturday Comes,” starring Sean Bean and Academy Award-nominee Pete Postlethwaite. She also directed the award-winning indie feature, “Hunger,” based on the novel by Nobel Prize winner, Knut Hamsun. Educated at Wellesley College and UCLA Graduate School of Film and Television, she is an active member of the DGA and currently serves as the Women’s DGA Director Category Rep. Check out her activist/agitator web forum: www.womendirectorsinhollywood.com
THREE CRITICAL EFFORTS MUST COME FIRST:
1. LEGAL ACTION (individual, or preferably class-action)
2. BREAK WOMEN OUT AS A SEPARATE CLASS FROM ETHNIC MINORITY MALES. Last December, the 2014 DGA-studio “Collective Bargaining” negotiations sadly left women buried within the general category of “diversity.” Thus, under the new contract, the studios can continue to demonstrate compliance with the agreements by simply hiring more ethnic minority males, while failing to hire women directors at all. It is essential that women directors are broken out into their own class, separate for ethnic minority males, if their employment numbers are to rise.
3. DETERMINE WHETHER THE DGA SHOULD BE THE PRIMARY ENTITY IN THE U.S. overseeing industry compliance of American equal employment opportunities among directors? The DGA is an organization heavily weighted by men, biased toward serving the interests of men, and which stands fundamentally in a conflict of interest where advancing women directors is concerned. Shouldn’t this issue be overseen by a Federal organization? A private organization? An objective, impartial civil rights coalition?
4. Renegotiate the terms of BA Article 15 & FLTTA Article 19 to make the agreements to hire more women DGA members more binding and rigorous.
5. “Best Efforts” (or another valid term) to replace “Good faith Efforts” in BA Article 15 & FLTTA Article 19.
6. Create a binding set of “Goals & Timetables” to apply to these above agreements such that employment of women DGA members in episodic TV increases to 30% by 2023, and 40% by 2033.
7. Negotiate the terms of the above agreements to encourage the widening of the pool of female DGA members such that MORE DIFFERENT female DGA members are employed on a greater number of episodic TV shows.
8. Structure future DGA Studio Shadowing Fellowship Programs to include a mandate that will result in guaranteed jobs for a set percentage of the fellows (ie. 30% of women DGA members who receive studio TV shadowing fellowships must be hired on an episode during the following season).
9. Implement a studio/DGA fund for women DGA members, starting with an initiative to support the development of feature films directed by women and women DGA teams. The goal should be to move the current 95/5 ratio of male to female directors of feature films to a 75/25 ratio by 2023, and a 60/40 ratio by 2033.
10. Redefine the interactions between the DGA Diversity Task Force and the Studios. Diversity Task Force members must not be active, working directors competing for the same jobs as the women the officers are serving. DGA-DFT members are currently eligible to be employed as directors on the shows on which they are helping oversee compliance of agreements BA Article 15 & FLTTA Article 19. Re-examine the Diversity Task Force for potential “conflicts of interest” for its members. This committee MUST BE COMPRISED OF OBJECTIVE, IMPARTIAL individuals.
11. Create a “DGA Women Employment Diversity Task Force” dedicated to overseeing compliance of an accordingly revised BA Article 15 & FLTTA Article 19, and insuring compliance of the above agreed to “Goals & Timetables.”
12. Create a web-based database for women directors to present their reels and heighten their visibility.
13. Create a system by which women directors can be introduced or re-introduced to representation by industry agencies. Currently the vast majority of women directors are invisible. We must seek ways to INCREASE VISIBILITY of all qualified and new-coming women directors.
By Maria Giese
In America, it’s not enough to get into top schools, win awards, establish one’s ability, spend one’s adult years making award-winning shorts and indie features, often for little or no pay. It’s not enough if you’re a women director.
No. In fact, in Hollywood, when a woman has worked for the right to earn a living, all too often she is then denied that right as if it is not a right at all, but a privilege she does not deserve. There are thousands of TV episodes directed each year in America (3,300 in 2013)– that’s thousands of job opportunities. Why are women directors so conspicuously denied access to those jobs?
This year only about 4% of American studio feature films and just 12% of American TV episodes will be directed by women. In an industry full of well-trained, creative and talented women—those percentages are literally “criminally” small; they represent irrefutable numerical proof of industry-wide Hollywood violations of U.S. civil rights laws. In a national population comprised of 51% women—those ratios are not just unlawful, they are perversely skewed.
Television directing, and the residuals that follow, is the bread and butter of the majority of DGA directors, and forms the bedrock of the Directors Guild’s health and pension plans. Yet when a female DGA director member attempts to gain entry to this regularly working group, entry is blocked— by habit, by design, by custom, and by the passivity of the DGA itself. Could this be simply a microcosm of a larger primate gender war for resources?
In feature films, an art form that is the voice of our entire culture, America appears unwilling to accommodate any more women than can fit in a single-digit percentage. There are more women in the US Congress than there are women who direct US movies. Unless you are a movie star like Jodie Foster, Drew Barrymore, or Angelina Jolie, or a pop star like Madonna or Barbra Streisand, or the daughter of a famous director, like Sophia Coppola or Alison Eastwood, or an actress who is a regular on a TV series, you are out in the cold.
Other women who are not movie stars or wives or daughters of celebrities, and who have still made successful careers as directors, are almost all non-Americans. After NYU film school professor and director, Spike Lee, recently failed to include any women’s films on his list of “100 Essential Films,” he quickly made amends by adding eight films directed by women— six by non-Americans. Four films are by the great Italian director, Lina Wertmuller alone, one is by New Zealand’s Jane Campion, and one by Euzhan Palcy from the French West Indies. Only two films by American-born directors, Kathryn Bigelow and Julie Dash, made the cut.
He then drew up another list of “25 Movies by Female Directors Every Aspiring Filmmaker Should See.” Nineteen of these 25 films are directed by non-American women: Sally Potter, Naomi Kawase, Claire Denis, Isabel Coixet, Agnes Jaoui, Chantal Akerman, Claudia Llosa, Liv Ullmann, Maya Deren, Deepa Mehta, Margarethe von Trotta, Susanne Bier, Catherine Breillat, Cheryn Dunye, Mary Harron, Agnes Varda, Samira, Makhmalbaf, Agnieszka Holland.
Only six films on the list were directed by American women (none of whom had been movie stars): Nora Ephron, Ava DuVernay, Lisa Cholondenko, Zoe Cassavetes, Allison Anders, and Kasi Lemmons. It often seems that Americans think that only foreign women could possibly be truly talented. They sometimes seem to share the prejudice of the rest of the world that American women are, for the most part, some sort of ersatz stereotype of Stepford wives– conformist Connecticut blonds, happier polishing their Sub-Zero appliances than digging in the dirt, mining the human collective unconscious for great stories to tell— certainly not the image of gifted, competent, creative leadership required of an auteur feature film director.
But that is unmitigated bullshit, so what about actively seeking redress? After a decade of being a DGA member, two years ago I began attending monthly DGA Women’s Steering Committee (WSC) meetings as a last resort effort to finding work. What I found instead was a group of confused, frightened, and subservient women acceding to the unspoken demands of the DGA to be quiet and not make waves– not so different from Stepford wives, ironically.
Worse, it was every woman for herself. The DGA women TV directors I met through the committee seemed hell-bent on keeping other women shut out and off their turf. A few may allow another woman director to shadow on their shows, but they almost never make sure the observer can advance to actually directing an episode of her own.
The beleaguered Women’s Steering Committee is overseen by a DGA staff member who earns an annual salary in excess of $100,000, according to the 2013 LM2. As amiable as she is, she is mostly a court eunuch who says “no” far more often than “yes.” During her nearly 20 years heading up diversity at the Guild, the percentage of employed women directors has gone down. Simple as that.
Director Betty Thomas, First Vice President of the DGA under Paris Barclay, recently made her first-ever appearance at a WSC meeting– she admitted that she had been asked to come, to try to calm the waters, so to speak. She stated upfront: “I’m not here as one of you. I’m here as one of the boys. I’m part of the boys’ club. It’s Paris and me and it’s good.” She referred apologetically to the WSC at that time as an “orphaned committee.”
She was right: it had been a dead committee for over a decade. The leaders of the Women’s Steering Committee had no interest in political action or changing the status quo whatsoever. They did not see the need for solidarity because they did not want change. When I reminded the members that the origins of the committee were rooted in political action, one co-chair scoffed, “That’s just because the whole women’s lib thing was going on back then.”
The WSC leaderships’s lack of interest in social justice was right in line with the fact that the Guild does not want to increase the pool of women TV directors. After all, it would certainly mean decreasing the number of men getting gigs. As the women in that select pool also participate in Guild governance, working in accordance with the Guild agenda has its rewards. In fact, many of those women get significantly more TV episodes each season than an average successful male TV director— but there are only around a dozen or so women in that pool.
That select pool of women are also included on a mysterious “Diversity List” that, according to the Guild’s official website (www.dga.org), is sent upon request to producers and show-runners who may feel obliged to hire a female now and again. It benefits the Guild to keep that pool small and manageable. If a woman does not work for more than 16 months, according to the head of Diversity, she is dropped from the list. Women TV directors should not plan on having children, and if they do, they can forget about maternity leave.
Show-runners who “need” to hire a female director call the agents of the women on the “List,” but often those DGA Preferred Women Directors are so booked each season they can’t accept another gig. If the show-runner is at all concerned about the potential stigma of ending up on a DGA “Worst Of” list (a list the Guild publishes annually to “embarrass” producers who fail to hire directors of diversity), they may be forced to hire a female from among their writers, producers, cast or crew. Or they can just hire one of the many male directors available—
– but they will have no way whatsoever of finding out who the other women DGA directors are, or what they’ve done to have become Guild members in the first place.
Most producers laugh about the DGA “Worst Of” lists and think it’s funny when they end up on it season after season. In any case, thanks to the “Diversity Director Lists,” the other 1,150 or so women director members of the Guild don’t have a chance. The Guild claims that it is not involved in getting its members jobs, but in fact, for the select few, the DGA is completely integral to the decisions about who works and who does not. It’s important to note that Lists (Rosters) can be illegal— a union may not disseminate lists if they benefit some members and disadvantage others, which this one does.
Needless to say, the women on the committee weren’t prepared for challenge. I saw at once that the whole thing needed to be torn down, its very foundation uprooted and built up again completely anew— returned to the spirit of its 1970’s origins. My view was that the DGA is the most powerful organization in the world representing the creative and economic rights of directors; the DGA-WSC should stand at the same level for women directors.
To educate myself regarding verifiable data, I asked for the statistics of female employment from 1979 to present in episodic TV, commercials, and features. I won approval vote for the request after three months of trying, and the Guild promised to provide the stats within a few months. Today, however, nearly two years later, the DGA has still not provided us with the numbers they claim to have prepared. Not one of us, not even the most loyal of women Guild members, wonders why.
My request made the Executive Director of the DGA, Jay Roth, suspicious and I think concerned about another lawsuit like the one initiated by the “Original Six.” These six women DGA members (Susan Bay, Nell Cox, Joelle Dobrow, Dolores Ferraro, Victoria Hochberg and Lynne Littman) founded the committee and transformed the directing landscape for American women forever. From 1983 to 1985, the DGA led their class-action suit against three major studios which sent the number of women directors soaring from one half of one percent (.5%) in 1985 to 16% in 1995— just ten years.
1995 was the very year Jay Roth was hired to run the Guild. Roth’s first task, which was successfully executed in haste, was to expel Jamaa Fanaka from the DGA. Fanaka who died in 2012, was the African American radical director and founder, in 1994, of the DGA African American Committee. He is known as the “real” initiator of the “L.A. Rebellion” movement in cinema, even before Spike Lee.
As a new-comer to the committee, and one of the few who had directed feature films, I was able to speak convincingly in support of a WSC Summit event that several women, including veteran TV director, Rachel Feldman, and the young director, Melanie Wagor, had been fighting to get going for several years. This event was intended to bring attention to the overall underemployment of women DGA members, and I thought it was a great idea. Unfortunately, it was not supported by the leadership who only wanted to use their small annual events budget on individual glorifications, like the “Kathryn Bigelow Tribute.”
I argued that the global media already provides Bigelow with enough tributes. Surely, even she would prefer that our committee spend its humble resources on helping all women in the Guild, not just further glorifying individual women. It was time to solve the appalling industry-wide problem of discrimination against women directors in general. This line of thinking was very meaningful to the rank and file of the committee, all of whom were victims themselves. The event was voted on and passed almost unanimously, even while the co-chairs voted against it.
A few months after the vote, however, we had not gotten an official go-ahead from the Guild to start working. I had lunch with the Guild’s diversity officer, Regina Render who told me, “The event is not going to happen.” I ask her why. She said the Guild perceived it as “negative.” According to her, they thought it might make the Guild “look bad”– it could be “embarrassing.”
We decided to write a letter to Regina. We wrote: “Jay Roth is not going to want to go down years from now as having been the guy in charge when the DGA is found to be in violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Title VII.” Two days later, the event was officially approved. We had the go-ahead. About 9 or 10 months later, on March 2, 2013 (almost exactly a year ago) the most important, fully inclusive event for women directors ever hosted by the DGA took place.
Everyone– from Jay Roth to directors/Guild leaders Paris Barclay, Lesli Linka Glatter, Mimi Leder, Betty Thomas, and nearly 200 participants (many of whom are America’s top film and TV directors) indicated it was an immensely successful event. As Betty Thomas later said to the WSC: “There was before the Summit and after the Summit. Everything changed in my thinking after the Summit.”
Jay Roth is acutely intelligent and, like an accomplished chess player, thinks many steps ahead. He had not been able to prevent the politically provocative Summit for just one reason: for the past 34 years, the WSC had not actually been legally bound to the DGA. In fact, the committee was an independent, ad-hoc group that simply held its meetings in the Guild offices and enjoyed a Guild budget for monthly meetings and events. It had no by-laws whatsoever and operated solely on Robert’s Rules. Roth must have thought: “Time to lay down the law.”
While we were planning the Summit, Roth called for the DGA National Board to vote in mandated new by-laws to be imposed on the Women’s Steering Committee. The bylaws they presented to us were draconian: they were designed to create a situation in which the Guild could assume total control over the committee. First, there was a bylaw called the “Working in the Trade Requirement” relegating under-employed women DGA members to a lesser, stigmatized class in which they could not even run for co-chair seats on the very diversity committee that was created for the primary purpose of helping support under-employed women DGA members.
Another bylaw took co-chair elections out of the WSC meeting room such that every woman in the Guild could vote for co-chairs by mail. This sounds like a good idea, but in practice turns the election into a popularity contest. Most of the nearly 3,500 women DGA members don’t know what’s going on in the WSC; they vote for the names that are most familiar to them which invariably belong to women directors who are “known names,” are high up in the Guild leadership, and benefit most by doing the Guild’s bidding.
A third bylaw gave absolute power to the three newly elected co-chairs: “The co-chairs may set the agenda.” An additional “No Longer Working in the Trade” co-chair alternate could be elected in room, but she would be provided absolutely no power, and is not even included in co-chair correspondences. My constantly-employed friend, Melanie Wagor, eventually won that seat by vote in the room, but was later told by a new co-chair: “You are nothing.” I wish I could say she was joking, but she wasn’t.
Overall, the new bylaws added up to a simple new reality. The new DGA Women’s Steering Committee would be chaired by women who were already Guild leaders, who had been deputized by the Guild to act in the Guild’s interest, and could select subcommittee co-chairs at their will.
In a move that sounds Orwellian, the three key WSC Subcommittees: Events, Communications, and Rules were all headed up by friends of the co-chairs who had helped run the WSC before the Summit. (“There was before the Summit and after the Summit”). Wagor and I were selected to head up the Proposals Subcommittee, but since the next DGA-Studio Collective Bargaining negotiations were not to take place for three years (in 2017), and the positions were to last for two, we were advised by a new co-chair to “do nothing at all.”
The DGA WSC was created 35 years ago, in 1979, by six incredibly courageous women directors, all highly accomplished women who had won numerous awards and honors, but year after year, could just not find work. They founded the WSC, the first DGA diversity committee ever created, and it was intended as a political action group to help all DGA women. Now, in 2014, the committee these women created had been stripped of its ability to accomplish anything for women except what was to be determined by the Guild leadership.
It’s so interesting to see how much of Roth’s job, even from his start as National Executive Secretary in 1995, has involved restraining the success of diversity efforts that might upset the status quo for the “white male industry power establishment.”
Of course, today it’s not really just the “male power establishment.” Not being white is no longer such a handicap for male directors. Today we have Alfonzo Cuaron, Ang Lee, John Singleton, Guillermo del Toro, Steve McQueen, Pedro Almodovar, Walter Salles, Takeshi Kitano, Lee Butler, among countless others. Many of these men are considered by elite international critics to be among the top auteur directors in the world ( I don’t think there is such a thing as a “women auteur director” of any ethnicity, but that is up for debate). It’s not like the old days when it was just a lot of white guys, and then the great Akira Kurosawa.
The women at the DGA WSC Summit were very passionate. We had a brainstorming session that everyone participated in and came up with dozens of proposals to create change for women. ACLU, EEOC, Lawsuits, protests, rallies, websites, publicists, media involvement, and significantly, preparing a document articulating the pressing need to separate women directors of all ethnicities into their own class, separate from men of diversity.
We event creators were supposed to follow up on all these proposals– and we did. I met with the US Department of Justice, EEOC, and the ACLU. I spoke to countless lawyers and started a website: www.womendirectorsinhollywood.com (with the feminist/journalist, Heidi Honeycutt) where we women directors could unravel and examine our history, past legal action, and tell our stories. We revamped the DGA-WSC Facebook site, increased its membership and made it politically active. We also drew up a detailed proposal to include DGA women’s issues in the upcoming 2014 Collective Bargaining negotiations.
There was a huge amount of solidarity about the need to make radical change. Women’s employment numbers were moving down, even while those of male directors of diversity were moving steadily up. As always, men of every ethnicity come before women of any ethnicity. Our newly elected African American Guild President, Paris Barclay, used the diversity platform, a foundation laid first by women in 1979, and then by Jamaa Fanaka in the early 1990’s, to benefit ethnic minority males, starting with himself.
Jay Roth led the recent 2014 Collective Bargaining negotiations this past fall, but Barclay, as the DGA President, was an important voice. While several adjustments were made on behalf of diversity in general, mostly based on the proposal recommendations we women had officially put forth through the WSC, none of the proposals they chose to “fight for” would help advance women.
Unfortunately, in the new Agreements, women remain buried within the general category of “diversity.” Under the new contract, the studios could continue to advance diversity without advancing women. In fact, there is no legal obligation for them to advance women in any way; the only legal requirement is that ‘diversity’ hiring improves. This can mean, and often does, hiring African American men, Hispanic men, and Asian men—not women.
In order for the agreement to benefit women, it must specifically refer to women of all ethnicities as a separate class, in their own right. If women are to be aided in this reach-out, then their employment numbers need to be measured specifically and tracked. That can only be accomplished if the Guild and the studios specifically break out women as a separate class.
In a recent WSC meeting in which Jay Roth and Paris Barclay both spoke briefly and entertained a Q&A session, I asked what they thought about breaking women out as a separate group. Roth seemed open to discussing this with women members, but appeared strangely concerned about the potential “costs.” While saying he would be willing to consider the possibility, he suggested that the DGA does not have the resources to do certain things.
The Directors Guild of America is the most powerful union in our industry. Guild leaders are always quick to boast of being the richest union in Hollywood, perhaps having in excess of $100 million in their coffers. The membership pays Roth millions of dollars a year in deferred bonus alone– that’s on top of a $750,000 salary. Yet they can’t cough up ten or twenty thousand dollars to promote equal employment opportunity for women directors? Something they are legally bound to do in accordance with Title VII? There is something curiously awry in that valuation disparity.
In addressing the question of breaking women out as a separate class, Barclay immediately negated the possibility clearly indicating that it would not happen during his presidency: “We (diversity members) have got to stick together in this.” A smattering of women applauded, but most of us knew that his words signified more difficult times ahead.
Sticking together, in fact, has been just one more reason women have fallen so far behind ethnic minority male directors in our employment numbers. Today ethnic minority males comprise 7% of the director membership, but helm 14% of TV episodes (many of those by Barclay himself). Women, on the other hand, comprise nearly 14% of the director membership, but only direct 12% of TV episodes.
This itself is a cunning circle. A woman cannot become a member of the Guild unless she is hired for work, yet the number of female hires remains criminally low, keeping the percentage of women DGA directors low. Then the Guild uses those ratios to justify the low number of hires. As Paris Barclay stated at the Summit: “Considering the ratio of male to female directors in the Guild, I’d say the studios are doing pretty well.”
This month’s DGA Quarterly Magazine just came off the press in time for the one-year anniversary of our DGA WSC Summit (March 2nd). Its contents say it all: there are 16 feature films being screened, none of them directed by a woman. There is an African American male (Tyler Perry), a Mexican male actor turned director (Diego Luna), a French male actor turned director (Guillaume Canet), a Canadian male director (Denis Villenueve), a Spanish (from Barcelona) male director, a few Jewish guys, an Italian-American guy (Ray De Felitta), and the usual white male director suspects. The “DGA Directors Finder Series” also features a white Iranian male.
Although women make up more than half the US population, for some reason no woman has managed to have a film shown this month. Instead, males from Canada, France, Mexico, and Spain have succeeding in screening features in our country— but not our own women. In the body of the magazine, there are no females in the “Meet The Nominees” section for commercials, no female nominees in the reality section, no female nominees in the feature film section, or in the TV movies section.
The most important developments that have taken place since the DGA-WSC Summit are politically motivated actions that directly resulted from the Summit itself. That extraordinary organization, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), has announced that it will be taking up the cause of women directors. As the Melissa Goodman, Senior Staff Attorney at the ACLU recently wrote:
“The ACLU has a long history of defending the rights of content creators in television, film and the arts. At the same time, we advocate for gender equity, particularly in job sectors traditionally dominated by men. Gender bias – like all forms of bias – is complex and hard to dismantle, but the statistics alone strongly suggest that more action is needed in the industry. The DGA says it is working to address the problem and reportedly has new diversity agreements with the studios that strengthen enforcement and require improved programs to help women and people of color break into directing work.
“No doubt truly effective diversity programs and real enforcement of these agreements (and employers’ legal obligation not to engage in sex discrimination) would make a real difference. But real change often requires making problems more visible, human and clear: to translate cold statistics into human stories so that talk turns to action. Many brave women in Hollywood are speaking up about their experiences. If you are a woman director who has been discriminated against, excluded from directing jobs in television or get less TV work than your male peers, we’d love to hear from you. Tell us your story” (aclu.org)
This is a powerful expression of support for women directors. In the United States, it’s about as powerful as it gets. The ACLU is our nation’s strongest independent “guardian of liberty, working daily in courts, legislatures and communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties that the Constitution and laws of the United States guarantee everyone in this country” (aclu.org).
Furthermore, American media seems to be talking about the problem of the under-employment of women directors every day— in print, on the radio, on TV. It’s ever-present now. I know we have made great strides in the past two years, but there is much, much work to be done.
If we women directors cannot find resources for legal action, then we must rely on our American media to spearhead a paradigm shift in thinking among all Americans about the value and abilities of our own women. Thirty years ago few bothered about recycling, the Green Movement was just sprouting. Today, every American is conscious of the need to recycle, to take care of our environment.
I have no doubt that the same can be done for women directors, but American women certainly deserve a hasty resolution. There is no need for our small, powerful industry to amble in first gear toward gender equity among directors. Change only requires that executives make the choice to include women.
We Americans teach our sons and our daughters equally that they are free to choose their careers— it’s just a matter of choice. Well, the same must be said for honoring the choices our children make: it’s just a matter of providing the opportunity— equally—regardless of gender. Some will succeed and some may not, but everyone deserves a level playing field upon which to compete.
Maria Giese is a feature-film director, a member of the Directors Guild of America, and an activist for parity for women directors in Hollywood. She writes and lectures about the under-representation of women filmmakers in the United States. A graduate of Wellesley College and UCLA graduate school of film and TV, Giese was recently elected DGA Women’s Director Category Representative.
Re-published by permission of Melissa Silverstein “Women and Hollywood” http://blogs.indiewire.com/womenandhollywood/to-sue-or-not-to-sue-a-lesson-from-history-for-women-directors
By Maria Giese
When the Director Guild of America’s Women’s Steering Committee was officially established in 1979, women comprised just 0.5% of episodic TV director employment. One half of one percent! According to Guild lore, meetings opened with the words “Fellow Directors and Mrs. Lupino.” At some general meetings, the audience was referred to as “Gentlemen,” until the few women members in attendance complained.
By 1979, a few more women had gained membership in the Guild, but they frequently found themselves unable to land jobs. Frustrated, six of them (the “Original Six”) began assembling statistics.
The following year, they presented the results of their research to Michael Franklin, then National Executive Secretary of the DGA. Stunned by the numbers, he agreed that something had to be done. Franklin was a labor leader in the old sense, and deeply concerned with discrimination against women members of the DGA. He inspired the Guild’s conscience. He brought the Board and the Guild to a higher level of responsibility and accountability, struggling for a higher vision for all workers.
Franklin made it clear that the Guild would support the Original Six, and together they went before the DGA’s National Board to request the formation of a DGA Women’s Committee. He also tried to get the studios and TV production companies to improve the hiring of women DGA members. The Guild, in conjunction with the Women’s Committee, set up meeting after meeting to encourage production companies to interview women members. They circulated directors’ reels, discussed possible “set-asides” (a specific number of directing slots for women) — all to no avail.
These meetings were based only on voluntary compliance and went on for a year with negligible results. The studios and production companies were intransigent. Franklin became convinced that the only effective strategy would be a legal one.
After one final attempt, when none of the invited executives showed up for a scheduled meeting, a fed-up Franklin made his historic decision to launch the groundbreaking DGA-led, class-action lawsuit against three major studios in 1983. It was time to sue, and the Guild would lead the suit. The legal action was groundbreaking because women directors in Hollywood had never before used U.S. civil-rights laws to challenge gender discrimination.
For laymen, the leader of a class-action suit is a named party who brings the suit on behalf of other potential class representatives. In the case of this lawsuit, the women did not have the financial means to hire legal representation sufficient to take on the studio giants. Therefore, the DGA very generously offered to take on the lawsuit and act as the leading named plaintiff.
However, a legal requirement of a class representative is that it must hold interests that are typical of the rest of the class, and it must be able to fairly and adequately represent all other members of the class. It was because of these requirements — and not on the merits of the case — that in 1985, Judge Pamela Rymer refused to assign class-action status to the case at that point in time and disqualified the Guild from leading the class. The court found that some of the Guild’s own policies discriminated against the very women they were representing, which put the guild in a position of conflict of interest.
Significantly, Rymer supported the validity of the case and stated that it could continue without the DGA. Unfortunately, the women did not have the financial means to finance the lawsuit and were forced to step down. Even so, this legal action led to a striking surge in the number of women TV directors, as well as the creation of numerous DGA-Studio Agreements promoting diversity hiring.
By 1995, just 10 years later, the percentage of TV episodes directed by women had risen from 0.5% to 16%. Sixteen percent! This was certainly thanks to the crucial support that Michael Franklin and the DGA leadership provided women Guild members at that time.
As Franklin himself stated in an article entitled “The Man Behind the Women’s Movement at the Guild,” “there were new people in the positions of leadership within the Guild. People like Gil Cates, Gene Reynolds, Jay Sandrich, Boris Sagal, Norman Jewison, Tom Donovan, John Avildsen, Marilyn Jacobs, Enid Roth, Elia Kazan, Jane Schimel, Karl Genus, John Rich, Arthur Hiller and Jackie Cooper. They merged together to support the [Women’s] committee, authorize funds and really move ahead in a broad front” (DGA News 1990/1991).
Unbelievably, thirty years after the landmark lawsuit, the number of working women directors in the DGA has gone down. Today, only 12-14% of TV episodes are directed by women — an unfortunate reversal during a time of unprecedented industry growth and abundance, particularly in television. Why?
* * *
The problem lies in part in the squandered opportunities by the individuals who are in leadership positions in the Directors Guild of America. The DGA is a highly respected and powerful organization. When the DGA speaks, the entertainment world listens. It is the only entity in America that effectively has the power to demand gender equity among directors in our industry because its primary function is to represent the creative and economic rights of directors.
By its own admission, the DGA is the richest, most powerful Guild in our industry. It is a well-funded organization that routinely enters into collective bargaining negotiations with studios and producers on behalf of directors, and it is the union that women directors who are already professionals belong to. Our current DGA Executive Director, Jay Roth, is a civil-rights expert and a brilliant lawyer who has successfully led negotiations on the Guild’s major collective-bargaining agreements seven times since becoming National Executive Director in 1995.
The DGA-Studio Collective Bargaining Negotiations take place every three years, and Roth has succeeded in making many great forward strides for the interests of all Guild members. In the recent 2014 round of negotiations, the Guild, under his leadership, did include diversity as one of its four key issues. Some advancements were made, including making it easier to arbitrate discrimination in certain situations. For this achievement, he, and those who worked with him, should be applauded.
Unfortunately, women remain buried within the general category of “diversity.” Under the new contract, the studios could continue to advance diversity without advancing women. In fact, there is no legal obligation for them to advance women in any way; the only legal requirement is that diversity hiring improves. So women must rely on the good faith of studios and producers to increase gender equity in hiring. But as we know, in the case of women TV and feature directors, that good faith has not gone far and in fact has resulted in a reversal of numbers.
In order for the agreement to benefit women, it must specifically refer to women of all ethnicities as a separate class, in their own right. If women are to be aided in this reach-out, then their employment numbers need to be measured specifically and tracked. That can only be accomplished if the Guild and the studios specifically break out women as a separate class.
Why do we have this paradox of declining stats even as the world has supposedly become more enlightened about gender equity? The issue may point to a sea change in the new media landscape. Originally, the Guild cared about a sense of equality and fair play. Has that been lost or buried under more pragmatic concerns, for instance the DGA Health Plan? New media? Piracy? Wages? These issues have taken precedence in the past negotiations over the issues of diversity, and especially the dismal progress of women DGA members.
It also may be true that the first surge in female director employment was easier coming from the ridiculously low numbers of the 1970s, and after a decade or so, a certain complacency may have set in. And it may be true that while the male membership of the DGA (in general an enlightened and liberal body) favored gender equity in theory, they may have balked at the prospect of sacrificing a piece of the pie. After all, director employment is a zero-sum game to some extent.
Nonetheless, the subsequent growth of the industry should certainly have resulted in more pie to share around. But putting food on the table is a priority for artists, and a certain amount of selfishness can’t be helped. For instance, even the women who have enjoyed the lion’s share of episodic TV directing jobs in the past decades since the lawsuit do not seem to be making efforts to help widen the job pool to include more, different women.
Some of the women who hold leadership positions in the Guild have demonstrated little support for any change that could be construed as controversial. This has resulted in a failure to get more women through the door to TV directing. If those women are attempting to protect their turf, so to speak, they are hindering the opportunity for our industry to work toward equity among directors, they are perpetuating tokenism, and they are stifling the hopes of the next generation of America’s women filmmakers.
Almost every woman director who is currently a DGA leader got her start after the lawsuit, and therefore benefitted directly from the hard work and sacrifices made by the Original Six who founded the Women’s Steering Committee. Indeed, since all DGA diversity committees and efforts to support ethnic minority hiring emerged from the work of these women, even our new DGA President, Paris Barclay, who is African American, benefitted from their work. The DGA African American Steering Committee was officially only established in 1994, nine years after the lawsuit.
* * *
Now, in 2014, as the numbers slip ominously backwards, it is not just women DGA members we must look to for solutions. We must also understand why our male leaders are failing to take on the power establishment that has so impeded the potential of this generation of women filmmakers — and profoundly threatens the next. If the problem is as ignoble as to be defined as a gender war for resources, then we must bring to bear the laws of our great nation to insist upon equity.
A high-level DGA executive recently said that if women directors press for more work, they will be waging war, that they will be threatening to take the food from the plates of the families of male directors. But women directors have families, too, and it is only fair that the playing field for directing jobs be level and free of gender bias.
Women directors must have the courage to speak out fearlessly if they feel they have been “shut out.” In an industry based on personal relationships, it is very hard for anyone to muster the courage to speak out against discrimination. Fear of blacklisting is always present, but an industry — a society — that condones fear is oppressive.
To solve this problem, women directors must openly demand the advancement of women directors through the DGA and studio and network diversity programs. We must help create a paradigm shift in public thinking about the abilities and competence of women directors. We must make the issue of the under-representation of women directors common knowledge. We should seek out investigative journalists to expose conscious and unconscious complicity within the Hollywood power establishment to keep women out.
No one wants to bring lawsuits: they are bad for business, they are bad for careers, they are time-consuming and expensive. But sometimes — like wars — they are necessary, as was the case back in 1983. Hopefully, we do not need one now, but we will have to see how sincere the commitments, and the intent of those commitments, are as spelled out in the recent Collective Bargaining Agreements. The possibility of future legal action rests in the hands of the DGA and the studios. Let’s see if they can find it incumbent upon them to place social justice and equity before fear of change.
Previously: “The New DGA/Studio Agreement: Nothing New for Women”
Maria Giese is a feature-film director, a member of the Directors Guild of America, and an activist for parity for women directors in Hollywood. She writes and lectures about the under-representation of women filmmakers in the United States. Giese was recently elected DGA Women’s Director Category Representative.
“TV in ten years is going to be 100% streamed. On demand. Internet Protocol. Based on computers and based on software. The next generation won’t even know what live TV is— they live in an on-demand world.” ( The New Yorker – 2-3-14)
By Maria Giese
It’s not just the weather that’s changing these days—global media is on the verge of a seismic shift and, as we all know, change means opportunity. This new media revolution could be the moment of opportunity women directors have been waiting for to seize a piece of the employment pie. Les Moonves, CEO of CBS was recently quoted as saying: “For 25 years, I’ve been hearing that Network television is dead. We’re thriving like never before” (The New Yorker). But truth be told, he’s a dying, old dog— and a misogynist one at that. (Save your tears: Moonves will still get a hell of a lot richer before the game is over. He earned over sixty million dollars last year).
All of these moribund Network heads— male and female alike— of ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, The CW, and so on, whose paternalist sensibilities have been keeping women directors of all ethnicities buried for decades, are about to get swallowed whole by a new generation of media giants whose universal perspectives may just suggest a sea change in thinking about gender equity.
Will the old Hollywood TV networks, that have been in rampant violation of U.S. gender employment equity laws for decades, drag their biases against women helmers out the exit door with them when they go? The emerging mavericks– Reed Hastings, Jeff Bezos, and Susan Wojcicki– of America’s growing on-demand streaming media, like Netflix, Amazon, and Google, may be able unveil a promising new horizon for women in America’s most influential global export– media.
Netflix head, Reed Hastings, is practically a new species compared to Moonves or Sony’s Amy Pascal (a female studio head who has failed to hire a single women feature director in years). Hastings is highly educated, an innovative thinker, and Peace Corp veteran who spends much of his time on philanthropic work for charter schools. He could just become the model media executive for a new era of gender equity in the American entertainment industry.
What makes this possibility seem hopeful? As the new forms of media come to power, statistics about female consumers become more important than ever. Women today make up 51% of the population of the United States, control over 2 trillion dollars of American purchasing power, and 85% of household purchases.
In 2013, 503 billion dollars was spent on global advertising. Seventy billion of it went to U.S. TV ads alone, and more and more of it is migrating toward digital streaming platforms. Simple math and basic laws of good American entrepreneurship suggest that future global media success will rely in part on integrating women in accordance with their viewing numbers and purchasing power.
Getting the business model tuned just right for maximum profit will require not just creating more femme-themed content, but getting more women directors behind the camera to tell these stories from a female perspective so they resonate with women and girls around the world. If a new world order in media is going to dominate human story-telling— a profession from which, right now in 2014, women are almost 100% excluded as creators– new media giants will limit their potential.
Right now, even though women enter and graduate from our nation’s film schools at a 50-50 ratio with men, they step onto a professional directing playing field that is at an almost vertical male-dominated tilt against women. With women directors currently comprising just 4% of feature films and 12% of episodic TV, women’s stories are lacking authenticity.
Let’s take a quick look at just how women could ride the crest of this breaking wave into a future of parity on the emerging new playing field of global on-demand streaming media. This inevitably explosive media expansion will surely give rise to the need for considerably more content creation and could provide women with new opportunities to direct without taking work away from men. Gender competition for such a lucrative and high-status employment resource as directing has always been one of the key barriers for women directors.
Among the new emerging giants– Netflix, Amazon, and Google– Netflix is just now shifting from its hybrid DVD distribution platform to financing and producing big-budget new series content that is released all at once for binge viewing. Netflix recently coughed up $100 million for the first two seasons of the critically successful13-hour series “House of Cards” and Amazon is tentatively making its first series.
Google, not to be left behind, is adding professional-grade video programs to its platform. YouTube is a platform of infinite channels and on-demand media has made it possible for new sources of financing as diverse as Microsoft, that is also producing original content. In fact, YouTube allows the potential for every single viewer around the globe to become a content provider. Right now the networks are lagging behind in this race, although Hulu has been created to withhold some of the business from emerging new competitors.
What this means for women is very significant. There is sure to be a vast increase in content, but when the number of women directors is currently so low, one wonders: will the new executives begin to hire women directors? Or will they follow in the misogynistic footsteps of their network predecessors, as was evidenced on “House of Cards” which employed zero women directors on the first 13 episodes.
Unfortunately, for myriad reasons—from conscious and unconscious discrimination against women directors among studio executives and show-runners to widespread feminist complacency during the massive economic boom— 1995 shadowed the beginning of a 20-year period of stasis for women director employment.
Today, in 2014, few TV executives or showrunners even consider hiring women helmers. For this reason, the number of working women episodic TV directors today is on an ominous decline, down 4% since last year, from 16% to 12%.
As with any burgeoning new ecosystem, the first settlers to gain a foothold will gain a marked advantage. In this light, fresh opportunities for women directors demand that they use their every resource to overcome the powerful forces of sexual discrimination that have kept women marginalized and excluded from the directing profession for decades.
Thanks to a large class-action lawsuit against three major studios in 1979 (led by the DGA on behalf of women directors from 1983 to 1985), when DGA women directed just .5% of TV episodes, that percentage shot up to 16% by 1995. Coming in the wake of the the the civil rights movement in the 1960’s and the women’s liberation movement in the 1970’s, women had many reasons to believe that a new era of gender parity in Hollywood was upon them, but today that hope has not born out.
On another front, although very nascent, we see the new dawn of interactive gaming—an exciting new platform for storytelling that hasn’t even begun to be probed by serious directors, but is certain to flourish. To snub this new opportunity, as feature directors snubbed music videos until the 1980’s and commercials until the 1990’s, would be foolish for women, even if the stories presently comprise primarily male-oriented action.
Who the emerging leaders and decision-makers of new media will be is as yet uncharted territory, but the DGA Women Steering Committee could benefit women directors and their teams by presenting a symposium to meet the various representatives of the new media content creators in gaming— a world that is thus far completely untapped by women.
In conclusion, in fighting gender discrimination, women directors need to shift their targets from the old entrenched networks that are experiencing fractures in their foundations, to the erupting volcanoes that are certain to evolve into the new media mountains of the future.
These are the new partners the Directors Guild of America needs to focus on in future collective bargaining negotiations in order to be sure that diversity agreements are strengthened and complied with to include women directors– equally.
(The author is grateful to the great Ken Auletto for his inspiring article, “Outside the Box,” in The New Yorker – Feb 3, 2014).
By Rena Sternfeld
Can someone please explain this to me?
We are all proud Guild members, obliged to join our Guild because we directed/AD/UPM’d professionally. Why are we seeing such resistance to anything we try to do to advance ourselves and other DGA women? Trying to be as objective as possible, I can’t look back upon the events of the past 1½ years with anything but amazement and bewilderment.
The Summit (DGA-WSC Women of Action Summit – March 2, 2013) which was so successful, was objected to and canceled so many times I can’t remember all the details. I know it was voted on again and again in WSC committee meetings and inspected and rejected by the leadership of the Guild innumerable times. Some of us were so disgusted with the process that they now avoid taking part in our committee at all. Despite the difficult process, it turned out to be a very successful event– the most inclusive event for women directors ever held in Guild history. But promises that were made by Guild administrators were not kept for political reasons.
The Bylaws – Seeing that we can make things happen despite having a split leadership (2 co-chairs in favor of the Summit event and 2 co-chairs who tried their best to derail it), we got an order from the DGA National Board to pass new mandatory Bylaws. The WSC committee existed for over 30 years without them, and now was the time to enact the rules?
Suspicious timing? You be the judge.
We fought the bylaws, knowing very well what they may bring. We fought and fought and it got us to theater 3 in the DGA building for a bigger meeting. That is when we heard from Bryan Unger (Associate National Executive Director/Western Executive Director) that if the WSC committee will not sign the new (and discriminatory) bylaws, our committee may be dismantled.
Was that a threat? Again, you be the judge.
We lost. The new Bylaws were signed and we had to have new elections for co-chairs.
New Co-Chairs – As we suspected, the co-chair positions went to people who are enmeshed with the Guild, which is not necessarily a bad thing, I had hoped. Sub-committee leadership positions were given to people (some of whom don’t even show up for monthly meetings) who opposed the Summit and supported the mandated Bylaws. The only thing we managed to insert into the new Bylaws was the ability to elect an Alternate Co-chair that is elected in the room. Our bulldozer – the relentless Melanie Wagor – was elected but has not been recognized by the Guild or the WSC co-chairs, who say things to the effect of: “She is not an official co-chair and will not be privy to information or included in WSC decisions-making.”
Honoring Our Past – That is the last debacle we are facing now. First it was said that the event should not happen because the date is wrong. One of the WSC co-chairs and DGA Head of Diversity claimed: “The Women’s Steering Committee was not officially established 35 years ago, but in 1990/91.” When it was pointed out that the official DGA site itself states that the committee was officially established in 1979, a WSC co-chair wrote in an e-mail:
“According to the DGA the WSC wasn’t recognized by the National Board until later despite the initial meeting. That’s the record. This was discussed at the Activities & Events committee meeting. Any inconsistency with the DGA website should be brought to the attention of the Guild Communications Department.”
After Maria Giese spoke to those pioneering women (the “Original Six” who created the committee in 1979) and published an article asking “Is the Guild trying to re-write our history?”– it was officially announced in the next WSC meeting that our committee was indeed established in 1979, and it was 35 years since the establishment of the committee (the first DGA Diversity Committee to deal with female and ethnic minority unemployment, by the way).
Finally, the 35th Anniversary celebration event was approved in the events subcommittee, but the women who denied the creation date of the committee wanted to keep the event small. So it was then brought to the WSC Committee to vote on whether to have a small event in the conference room or big event in the large theater.
WSC Co-chair Alternate, Melanie Wagor, was the victim of much bullying that would have caused any lesser woman to run for cover, but she kept fighting. At last, thanks to some strong voices speaking out, the large event was voted on and approved by the full committee.
And the cherry on top? In the last WSC meeting attended by the top brass of our Guild (Jay Roth, Paris Barclay & Bryan Unger) we heard the details of the new (Collective Bargaining) Agreement.
We heard them say: “A change will happen, but it will take time…”
I’ve been attending committee meetings for 10 years. Nothing has changed during that time. Now we are told to be patient and wait for it… And be quiet while it is happening.
What is going on? Why isn’t the Guild fighting us? All we want is for the Guild to pick up the lead in this industry-wide fight.
Can someone please explain it?
I am a female undergrad film student at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts.
Today was the first day of my commercial production class. My teacher screened about fifteen to twenty commercials/branded content so that my class could draw some inspiration for the personal projects that we will complete this semester.
We watched the work of various directors from three different production companies: MJZ, Biscut Film Works, GoFilm. None of these companies had women on their directors roster. It was disheartening to look at.
I want to be successful because I love directing and love the craft of filmmaking. However, on the first day of class I already feel that my want to excel is becoming shadowed by a pressure to excel.
Although I am very excited to take this class and get into the commercial industry, it is blazingly obvious that industry is not excited for me. The class has an even ratio of males and females, so I’m interested in how our projects and thoughts will play out.