By Maria Giese
Hollywood approaches increasingly dangerous crossroads for Title VII violations with the convergence of the reelection of DGA president Paris Barclay last week (who has repeatedly demonstrated recalcitrance on gender equity), and imminent meetings between a proactive ACLU and cooperative officials at state and federal agencies, such as the EEOC.
While women’s rights activists have much to hope for, with immense support from media, politicians and civil liberties attorneys, the Directors Guild of America continues to block an already challenging road to gender equity as it protects a compromised diversity program in the Guild and complicity with the studios in excluding women directors.
In the past 20 years the DGA diversity program has served as little more than a foundation for personal advancement for the current DGA president, Paris Barclay, while the Guild’s female director employment numbers have languished. Now is the time to act for DGA members and leaders concerned with the reputation and renewed integrity of the DGA as the richest, most powerful union in Hollywood, perhaps the world.
In 1995 Paris Barclay entered a power struggle with civil rights activist and LA Rebellion director, Jamaa Fanaka, who had founded the DGA African American Committee a year earlier and was an avid fighter for increased employment for women directors. The current DGA Executive Director, Jay Roth, was also brought into the Guild that year to help expel Fanaka from the Guild.
By 1998, with Fanaka officially out of the Guild, Barclay took over the African American Committee, and led the DGA diversity program into a 20 year run of closed door policies that advanced Barclay and a system of cronyism that left the vast majority of 1,250 women director members shut out.
In 2004 Barclay created the DGA Diversity Task Force with then Guild president, Michael Apted. This new committee posed a massive conflict of interest within the industry, placing TV directors (like Barclay himself) who were actively seeking open assignment directing gigs, in the position to interface with studio executives and show runners, and demand studio compliance with DGA-studio diversity agreements, Article 15 of the DGA Basic Agreement and Article 19 of the FLTTA.
The result was a rapid rise in the employment of ethnic minority men, and stagnation and decline for female director employment. Today ethnic minority men, who comprise 18% of the U.S. Population, and 7% of DGA director employment, direct more than 17% of episodic TV shows, Hollywood’s fastest growing and most lucrative production sector in the industry.
Women, on the other hand, who make up 51% of the population, and comprise 14% of the DGA director membership, helm just 14% of the TV directing jobs– a 2% drop from 20 years ago (1995) when Barclay began his ascent to power through DGA diversity. Women of color today shockingly direct only 2% of that 14% total.
An effort this spring to break women out as a separate category from ethnic minority males was thwarted by Barclay when he recruited African American women from the DGA African American Committee to stack the room of the DGA Women’s Steering Committee during a crucial vote designed to advance women DGA members of all ethnicities.
This interference with democratic due process within the Guild successfully blocked an important motion that could have led to the creation of an essential double mandate system in which women of all ethnicities would be treated as a separate group from minority males.
If the motion had passed, women of color would have gained a much needed numerical edge by qualifying for two employment pools: 1) women directors of all ethnicities and 2) minority director of both genders.
Prior to the meeting at which the motion was presented, Barclay told women in the African American Committee that the motion would lead to divisiveness among men and women of color, using a vocabulary reminiscent of that of Frederick Douglass in debates with suffragette Elizabeth Cady Stanton nearly 150 years ago, when women were left behind in the fight for suffrage.
Minority men won the right to vote in 1869, while women were forced to wait over 50 years, three more generations, to achieve that same right. Barclay, it would seem, thinks women of all ethnicities should walk ten steps behind their men.
Few could have predicted the explosive success of television and new media 20 years ago, and therein lies the genius of Barclay’s extraordinary rise to power on the backs of women and all people of color, particularly women of all ethnicities.
On May 12, 2015, The New York Times broke the story of the historic ACLU letter addressed to state and federal agencies on behalf of women directors. The letter was released to the media on the same day that the DGA held their Annual Members Meeting, led by Barclay.
During the meeting Barclay did not once voluntarily mention the advent of this groundbreaking letter calling out the U.S. media industry for what today’s statistics point to as our nation’s most egregious violations of Title VII.
The reputations of liberal Hollywood’s most powerful leaders, as well as our nation’s greatest leaders must come together to root out corruption and cronyism among the leadership of Hollywood’s highest organizations to allow our Department of Justice, the EEOC, to do its job and enforce Title VII.
America’s reputation as a protector of equal rights in the global theatre depends on it. Hollywood’s media content stands as America’s most influential export. Our films, television product and new media are a large part of the voice of our whole civilization.
Equal gender perspective in our media is a critical aspect of giving voice to the silenced half of our world’s population. Change must start with pressure on the leadership of the Directors Guild of America.
By Maria Giese
Eighteen months ago, when DGA women hoped to celebrate the 35th anniversary of the DGA Women’s Steering Committee, newly elected WSC co-chair, Millicent Shelton, denied the origin date of the committee, pushing it forward from 1979 to 1991, thus nullifying the rationale for the event.
Shelton’s denial and attempt at deliberate alteration of historical fact would have re-made a history of women directors that no longer included legal action in fighting gender discrimination aimed at women in U.S. media.
In an e-mail to the DGA-WSC Events Subcommittee, Shelton stated: “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.” She continued, “Any inconsistency with the DGA website should be brought to the attention of the Guild Communications Department.”
Shelton was recommending something our civilization has seen happen innumerable times throughout recorded history. The victors write history according to their own best interest; they weaken the appearance of the vanquished regardless of what the truth may have been.
But why would a women TV director want to change the official history of the women’s committee in such a way as to further damage her own sex? Wouldn’t a female leader in a Guild for directors want to glorify the history of women in Hollywood? Isn’t this an act one might expect to see coming instead from the entrenched white male establishment trying to maintain the status quo?
While many WSC members were deeply troubled and quite confused by their committee chairwoman’s statement, they also saw it as a great opportunity for the Guild to set the record straight while also highlighting the political origins of the committee and giving prominence the work of its six founders: Susan Bay, Nell Cox, Joelle Debrow, Dolores Ferraro, Victoria Hochberg, and Lynne Littman.
As women saw it, the Guild could use this moment to call attention to the many significant contributions the Women’s Steering Committee had made to promote greater employment equality in our industry, not just for women directors and their teams, but for ethnic minorities as well. After all, the WSC was the inspiration for all the diversity committees within the Guild, providing a multitude of platforms for the voices of the Guild’s broad multicultural membership.
The DGA holds a special place in the history of women in Hollywood in many ways, but no where is that more evident than in the support it has provided women since the founding of the WSC in 1979. It was a proud day in Guild history when the leadership– especially DGA Executive Director Michael Franklin– made the bold decision to lead the class-action lawsuit against the major studios, which ultimately helped send the number of women directors skyrocketing from 0.05% in 1979 to 16% in 1995.
The Guild then formed groundbreaking agreements in subsequent collective bargaining negotiations to create lawful gender equity for women and ethnic minorities in accordance with American civil rights laws. Article 15 of the DGA Basic Agreement and Article 19 of the FLTTA became the key legislature between the DGA and its signatories in pursuing equal employment opportunity according to U.S. Civil Rights Act of 1964, Title VII.
The WSC itself stands as an anthem to the past 35 years of Guild courage and strength of conviction in supporting gender equity in our industry. In this light, we see why it was so important to immediately clear up any confusion about the committee’s history. And especially as we moved toward celebrating the 35th anniversary of the committee and its many achievements on behalf of women the DGA has accomplished during that time.
In an effort to set forth the history of the committee’s origins with unambiguous accuracy, we WSC members turned to the DGA magazine (DGA News) issue of December 1990/January 1991 which is devoted entirely to women DGA members and is titled “Women: 10 Years of Action.” The sub-heading is “Women’s Steering Committee Special Issue.” On page five, an article entitled “Ten Years After” begins with the following sentence:
“In celebration of the 10th anniversary of the Women’s Steering Committee, various active women members of the Guild were called together on sunny September Saturday morning to talk about…” and so on.
The accompanying photo includes five of the original six committee founders. Also in the photo are Betty Thomas and Leslie Glatter (sic). On page 19, there are photos of several women working at that time, including Mimi Leder and Martha Coolidge. Thomas, Glatter, Leder and Coolidge are all current officers or ex-officers of the Guild. Surely, these women still remember that the Women’s Steering Committee was formed 10 years before this 1990 issue appeared.
On page 25 there is an article about the lawsuit titled “Underemployment Reaction led to Legal Action” by Beth Brickell (who had been co-chair of the Women’s Steering Committee during the 1983 lawsuit).
And on page 20 there is an article titled “The Man Behind the Women’s Movement at the Guild” by Joelle Dobrow, containing an in-depth interview with Michael Franklin, National Executive Director of the Guild when the Women’s Steering Committee was formed in 1979.
In answer to a query by Dobrow about the make-up of the Guild during that time, Franklin replies:
“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 committee, authorize funds and really move ahead in a broad front.”
The issue also contains an article by Glen Gumpel, current Executive Director (1990), which begins with these words: “Everyone at the DGA is especially proud that this issue of our magazine celebrates the10th anniversary of the Women’s Steering Committee of the Directors Guild of America.”
Finally, on page 32 there is a list of “DGA Women’s Steering Committee Current & Former Officers” that includes names of the original six founders as well as the several committee chairs after the tenure of the original six.
With the above evidence provided by the Directors Guild of America itself, it seemed an auspicious moment to create greater solidarity among the women of the DGA and redouble the cooperative efforts between the Guild and its female membership. In the past twenty years there has been an unfortunate slip in the numbers of female director employment from 16% in 1995 to 14% in 2014, according to the Guild’s most recent statistical study.
Within a few days of submitting a letter containing the above proof of the 1979 creation date of the WSC to Jay Roth (Executive Director of the DGA), an official announcement was made by DGA diversity head, Regina Render, to the WSC. Indeed, the committee was officially founded in 1979.
WSC director member, Rena Sternfeld, immediately asked: “Great! May we have our 35th Anniversary Event now?”
The event did take place some months later, though the WSC women who’d been fighting for it for years were cut out of it. Millicent Shelton and her two WSC co-chairs, Bethany Rooney and Liz Ryan, became active in its planning, appointing new women to the 35th Anniversary Events (planning) Committee.
Perhaps not surprisingly, it turns out that there is a “Girls’ Club” in our industry that is just as intent in holding on to its sliver of employment pie as the notorious “Boys’ Club” is to gripping on to the lion’s share.
Newly elected DGA president, Paris Barclay (who had also actively tried to stop the event from taking place) ended up introducing the entire WSC 35th Anniversary celebration. And in a display of nearly comical irony, Millicent Shelton herself made the speech introducing the courageous “Original Six” women who’d founded the committee– in 1979!
Shelton said in her speech, “We women must be brave enough to speak out.”
Published with expressed permission from “Women and Hollywood” – April 28, 2015 http://blogs.indiewire.com/womenandhollywood/dga-womens-steering-committee-rejects-proposal-to-expand-diversity-options-for-women-20150428
By Melissa Silverstein
Two weeks ago, the Women’s Steering Committee at the DGA rejected a proposal that could have increased the opportunities for women directors in TV. As we all know, the numbers of women directing are still very low. A 2014 report released by the DGA showed that white women directed 12% of TV episodes; women of color directed 2% and men of color 17%. The numbers for women remained static from the previous report, while the numbers for men of color increased from 14% to 17%. White men directed 69% of all TV episodes analyzed.
The rejected proposal was intended to separate women and people of color into two separate diversity categories to create more opportunities for the former. (Just a reminder here: Women are not a minority, but because there are so few female helmers, women directors are included in diversity conversations in an attempt to increase their numbers.) Studios are not required to hire a certain amount of women or minority directors. They are just encouraged to do so. Here’s the language from the DGA’s basic agreement: “The Employer shall make good faith efforts to increase the number of working ethnic minority and women Directors.”
Currently, diversity agreements with studios have just one category for diversity, one that includes both women and men of color. So while the studios can actually claim they are fulfilling their diversity numbers by hiring men of color, women, especially women of color are the ones not advancing. If the new proposal would be adopted by the Guild, women of color would qualify for both pools and inevitably, we’d see an increase in their numbers.
Thirty-five years ago, six women started the Women’s Steering Committee with the desire to increase opportunities for women. For a time, it worked. They got women’s representation up to 16% from a mere 0.05%. Yet opportunities for women have contracted. There have been women in the Guild working to change these numbers. One of the leaders in this area is Maria Giese. Check out her blog Women Directors in Hollywood, which is devoted to this issue. The proposal that was voted down two weeks ago was submitted by Ramaa Mosley.
Mind you that, if the committee had passed the proposal, it would only have led to a larger discussion among the Guild leadership. The battle was all about passing the idea up the food chain to the head honchos. Yet it could not get out of committee. There are a variety of reasons why. But the time to belabor the point is over.
The DGA has shown time and again that they are not too concerned about increasing opportunities for women. They talk a good talk, but the action is not there. Yes, there are a bunch of women who are incredibly successful, but they are the outliers, not the majority.
Women directors would like equal opportunities to contribute in their chosen field. If this was all about merit, we wouldn’t need to be having this conversation. But everyone knows this is not about merit; this is about limited opportunities and blatant sexism.
The time has come for the powers that be at the Guild to decide if they want to continue to be a part of the problem — or to be on the right side of history and figure out how to lead on this. Women directors need work, and we need their visions.
By Maria Giese
WHY IT MATTERS:
Hollywood, for all its outspoken liberalism, is an industry that has consistently kept women shut out. Today, in 2015, 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 free speech is lost to people everywhere around the world.
The media produced in Hollywood and glorified at the Oscars is a powerful tool capable of affecting the way people in every part of the world act and treat one another. Why do we allow this fortress of secrecy, this bastion of sexism and racism, to function as the grand architect of our nation’s projected ethos when it is illegal and we don’t agree with it?
Feature films contribute greatly to the collective cultural voice of our civilization, but as demonstrated by the nominees for the 2015 Oscars, the only voices the world gets to hear from Hollywood are those of men. How can we say we have free speech when women’s voices are silenced and censored through exclusion from U.S. media?
The Academy insists its only criterion is excellence, but with a membership that is 94% Caucasian and 77% male, what chance is their for other versions of “excellence” to be appreciated? This concept of excellence sounds a little like fascist art. If you have only one distinct group financing, producing, promoting and judging cinematic works, then there is very little chance of discovering new visions, new perspectives we’ve never seen before. America deserves greater democracy in its cinematic arts.
The DGA must no longer stand as the primary entity enforcing lawful employment opportunity for its women members. This union, run by its vast-majority male director membership, is in an intrinsic conflict-of-interest in advancing women. More jobs for women mean fewer jobs for men, so it’s no surprise that the Guild sharply opposes our every effort to receive our lawful equal employment opportunity rights.
BARRIERS TO CHANGE:
One of the most awful aspects of the struggle for female director employment is how industry leadership pits women against women. They deputize and reward a few women who then actively fight to silence and shut-out those of us who seek legal and political solutions. These women serve themselves individually by helping perpetuate the exclusion of women as a group.
In 1978, the EEOC stopped trying to enforce Title VII in our industry because it was intimidated by Hollywood’s power lawyers and the bottomless coffers at their disposal to fight litigation. Women are afraid to speak out because of fear of blacklisting. Hollywood spends hundreds of millions every year lobbying for political support and in return, government organizations spend vast sums to be represented in films and TV shows. This is an industry that functions on personal relationships and reciprocity, one must not step a foot out of line.
To women directors in Hollywood “The Original Six,” are giants; they are the heroes who launched the landmark 1980’s DGA-led class action lawsuit that sent women directors’ employment numbers soaring from .05% in 1985 to 16% in 1995—in just 10 years. 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.
The DGA-studio Collective Bargaining Agreements need to include 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 comprise 51% of our population, we are not a minority; our challenges are unique and require separate treatment.
The issues of male minorities are critical. Our industry needs more diverse male voices, too, but women need their own disctinct category in order to advance. In a double mandate system, women of color will gain a numerical edge they sorely deserves. Female minorities will qualify in two categories rather than one: “Women of All Ethnicities,” AND “Ethnic Minorities of Both Genders.”
We need to start broad, industry-wide legal action for women directors targeting Hollywood studios, mini-majors, agencies, guilds— all of the institutions in our industry that violate America’s hard-won Civil Rights law, Title VII.
Impartial, objective organizations like the U.S. Department of Justice EEOC is supposed to do the work of ensuring a fair playing field for women, but they relinquished that responsibility decades ago. They need to get back to business.
The Director’s Guild of America needs to adopt a distinct mandate in all diversity hiring efforts and negotiations with studios and signatories establishing women DGA members as a separate group from minority males.
Thirty-five years ago, six women directors (Susan Bay, Nell Cox, Joelle Dobrow, Dolores Ferraro. Victoria Hochberg, and Lynne Littman) courageously did so. They took a stand for all women directors that resulted in immense success.
Starting 1979, they founded the DGA Women’s Steering Committee, initiated a DGA-led class action lawsuit against the studios, and sparked the Guild’s diversity program for all women and ethnic minority male Guild members. In the ensuing ten years, from 1985 to 1995, their actions resulted in a skyrocketing of female director employment from .05% to 16%.
Yet here we are 20 year later– and the percentage of female director employment has sunk into stasis and decline.
This is unacceptable.
In contrast, thanks to the DGA diversity program that emerged out of the work of the “Original Six,” minority males have seen remarkable positive change in their employment numbers in the past two decades. Just since 2004, when Paris Barclay and Michael Apted created the “DGA Diversity Task Force,” minority male TV director employment has shot from single-digit lows to 17% in 2014.
According to the current US Census Bureau stats, minority males make up 17.9% of the US population, and today they direct upwards of 17% of episodic TV shows. Minority males have arrived. Their numbers, in terms of ratio, are no longer disparate from their population in our country.
Women of all ethnicities, however, have been left behind. Women make up 51% of the US population, are not a “minority,” and yet direct just 14% of TV (only 2% of those jobs go to women of color), and they helm less than 5% of studio features. Women director numbers are staggeringly disparate, in terms of ratio, from their population in our country.
This disparity in employment advancements between women and male minorities is due to the fact that women get buried under the general category of “Diversity.” Studios and signatories can fulfill diversity agreement obligations simply by hiring male ethnic minorities, and without hiring females at all.
In an effort to create a more fair system for women DGA members and to bring our industry into lawful compliance with the US Civil Rights Act of 1964, Title 7, ensuring equal employment opportunity, the Directors Guild of America needs to create a separate mandate for women.
The DGA National Board must vote to break women Guild members out as a distinct category in all DGA-studio and Guild signatory diversity agreements (such as Article 15 of the Basic Agreement and Article 19 of the FLTTA) as was originally done 35 years ago, before getting derailed through the flawed program of clumping minority men in with women.
Doing this would put the Directors Guild of America at the very forefront of dramatic positive change toward creating gender equity among women directors and their teams in our industry.
Doing this would mean the Directors Guild of American is taking a leadership role in fair gender employment opportunity in the United States, in compliance with the laws of our nation.
Doing this would distinguish the DGA as an organization far ahead of the curve in acknowledging the global relevance of balanced gender perspective in the media we export around the world— feature films and television that help make up the cultural voice of our whole civilization.
Now is the time to act to take this essential, long overdue step toward solving current rampant discrimination against women directors and their teams in U.S. media.
Five reasons women require their own distinct category:
1. Women and minorities are separated by the Guild in terms of statistics, but they are not separated in terms of hiring requirements by Guild signatories. Studios can fulfill diversity hiring requirements by hiring minority men only, and hiring no women at all— which happens all the time.
2. Placing the two terms (“women” and “minorities”) together is both confusing and deceptive because the term “women” represents women of all ethnicities which is a majority population, while the other contains a minority group of people of both genders.
3. The term “ethnic minority” is a deceptive term because differentiating minorities from Caucasians is complex and imprecise. It is a simple matter to categorize oneself as an ethnic minority just by saying you are one. This exacerbates the difficulty of seeking solutions to employment discrimination that women face, especially women of color.
4. Women of all ethnicities face very different and distinct challenges from those of ethnic minority men. Women’s issues require treatment and solutions that differ from those of men.
5. “Women of all ethnicities” are not a minority, they are a numerical majority and ought to be seeking employment parity with men of all ethnicities. This goal is a statistical impossibility if they are combined with men in diversity programs
In April of 2012, The DGA Executive Staff, in conjunction with the DGA National Board, announced a mandate that the DGA Women’s Steering Committee (WSC) draw up new By-Laws to govern their committee. These By-Laws were to be enacted the following month, in March 2013.
Since 1979, the DGA WSC had never been subject to By-Laws, and meetings ran according to Robert’s Rules of Order. The WSC had functioned for 35 years as an independent ad hoc group.
WSC monthly meetings were held in the DGA National headquarters on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles, and the DGA funded several WSC events each year. These events were proposed and voted on by the committee and, though they were held at the Guild, and produced in cooperation with the Guild staff, there was no legal requirement for the events to reflect Guild mandates.
Though the origins of the WSC were radical, and resulted in the 1983 to 1985 DGA-led Title VII-based class action lawsuit against major Hollywood studios on behalf women and ethnic minority DGA members, after 1985 the committee settled into a quieter mode which no one paid much attention to.
The committee meetings were not attended by high-profile women DGA members, activities were tame, and by 2004 women’s employment fell to lows that preceded the surge in numbers that followed the legal action of the early 1980s.
In recent years, since 2011, however, women DGA members have become much more politically active, making attempts to return the WSC to its activist roots. In 2013, the WSC hosted the first ever “DGA WSC Women Directors Summit.”
This Summit event seemed to alarm the Guild leadership who tend toward conservativism and have a demonstrated record (since 1995) of turning their backs on issues of civil rights and Title VII violations in Hollywood.
Therefore, immediately after the Summit was concluded, the Guild National Board announced the mandate to impose new By-Laws on the WSC. The Board provided specific suggestions as to how each of these By-Laws may be worded.
On the surface, this appeared to be an effort to strengthen the committee by bringing it under closer scrutiny and control of the Guild leadership. Under the surface, however, there appeared to be a darker intent.
Upon close reading, it became evident that the new By-Laws would weaken the WSC by moving it away from its original intent of political action for women in the US entertainment industry. The new By-Laws appeared likely to curtail the members’ freedom of speech, as they created several obstacles to democratic process and leadership.
There were three particular By-Laws that, if accepted by the WSC, would effectively short-circuit the ability of the non-elected committee members to speak out freely on matters not desired by the Guild establishment. Some women among the active membership believed it was critical that each new proposed By-Law be examined and discussed with these concerns in mind.
The first troubling By-Law would prohibit women members from running for co-chair seats unless they fulfilled the “Working in the Trade” rule. This rule meant that members who had not worked for at least 30 days in the past seven years would be henceforth disqualified from running for co-chair (leadership) seats in their own Guild.
Thirty days in seven years might seem a small number of employment days to fulfill. However, it represents one assignment on episodic television—the magic “one” that most women simply cannot break through to.
At the same time, the “Working in the Trade” rule was unfairly biased in favor of highly employed DGA women who were already well-represented by numerous other Guild councils and boards, while silencing the under-employed membership– ironically, the very members for whom the committee was created in the first place.
In fact, most of the founding members of the WSC, the heroic “Original Six,” would not have been able to run for co-chair positions themselves if this law had been in place at the time of founding. It was thanks to these six directors that the percentage of female employment skyrocketed from .05% in 1985 to 16% in 1995– just ten years time.
Highly employed women and minorities should certainly be able to run for WSC co-chair seats, but under-employed women and minorities must NOT be disqualified from leadership roles simply because they are unemployed, particularly if a majority of the committee membership wants to elect them.
In accordance with the principles of democracy, if a majority of diversity committee members want to elect a DGA member in good standing who has not worked in recent years, it should be their democratic right to do so.
Furthermore, the current “Working in the Trade” rule fails to take into account the vagaries of feature film directors, who are much more likely not to have worked for years at a time. Most feature directors spend years in development on feature films which then only occasionally get produced.
By stigmatizing these hard-working directors with the degrading declaration that they are “No Longer Working in The Trade” is more than unkind– it is career sabotage by the Guild. Terrence Malick did not work for 20 years, from 1979 to 1999, and then went on to make one masterpiece after another.
The DGA WSC surely ought to include feature film directors among their co-chairs, as women feature directors are the most under-employed of all the categories in the DGA, constituting less than 5% of all employed studio feature film directors.
The second proposed by-law created a worrisome new approach to co-chair elections. For 30 years the WSC had conducted co-chair elections in the meeting room every two years. In this way, the committee remained geared toward the DGA members who were actively involved and concerned about the under-employment of women.
The new By-Law opened the elections up to the entire female Guild membership regardless of whether they were involved with the committee or not. This had a potential upside and downside. On the upside of course, this meant all 3,500 female members of the Guild could participate in electing the women who would represent them in the WSC.
This is very important as long as in the electoral process, the Guild maintains open communications between members such that candidates can educate the full female membership on all the issues at hand and explain nuances of Guild policy and the effects they may have on women. And most important, of course, so that candidates may introduce themselves to the full voting membership.
Unfortunately– and this contributes to the downside– the DGA does not make communication between members a simple matter. Therefore, cyber elections open to thousands of members could bring about the voting-in of members based on popularity and name recognition alone.
Furthermore, the Guild leadership could recommend favorite members who are willing to do the Guild’s bidding in return for support climbing the Guild political ladder and other favors, of which there are myriad possibilities.
This system could make it easy for candidates to get elected who have demonstrated little or no previous commitment to the primary purposes of the WSC.
Co-chairs of the WSC are elected to represent the whole female population of the DGA, and the majority of women in the DGA are profoundly underemployed and underrepresented. Therefore, they need to be led by peers who will give them much-needed voices both in the Guild and in the industry at large.
If the DGA would provide an appropriate platform from which women candidates could communicate their agendas to the entire female membership, the system could bring about positive results. Unfortunately, the Guild has historically proved to be a secretive organization, and has demonstrated a history of managing elections from within the high-level administrative staff and member leaders.
It is the under-employed women members who must rely on the diversity committees that were formed specifically to advocate for their particular set of challenges and needs.
For this reason, many women WSC members were concerned that the DGA leadership would individually request “deputized” women members to run for co-chair seats in order to control the goings on in the committee.
Finally, the third proposed by-law put the two aforementioned by-laws together, and then delivered absolute control to the newly elected co-chairs. This law was the most damaging of all to the strength and effectiveness of the WSC:
BY-LAW: “The co-chairs shall set the agenda for each meeting. The co-chairs may also table any motion made at any regular meeting of the WSC by a simple majority of co-chairs present.”
Clearly, this By-Law could easily function as a powerful silencing mechanism, making it difficult or impossible for women to raise issues that could be controversial, no matter how just or right they may be.
The DGA is a craft guild organized over 75 years ago to provide directors and their teams a voice in their struggles with the larger, often oppressive entertainment industry. The Guild claims to support a strong tradition of free and open dialogue for its members and expresses an abhorance of any attempt to abridge that openness.
When women DGA members fought back against these new By-Laws, the Guild leadership brought in a high-level male staff-member to Chair the vote-by-ballot meeting in the room. All women’s efforts to recommend women DGA members to Chair the meeting were vetoed outright by the top Guild brass.
In the meeting itself, women were threatened by the presence of the male Guild Chairman, as well as male Guild security guards both inside and outside the conference room where the meeting took place, not to mention the tall, burly male time-keeper seated beside the Chair.
Even women who had been strongly vocal in their opposition to the new By-Laws threw in their towels, intimidated into voting for the By-Laws with virtually no compromises to the wording of any of them, and the National Board quickly ratified them.
By pushing these By-laws through the electoral process by force, as was done, the diverse voices among DGA women were effectively silenced, eliminating the very reason for the existence of the women’s committee.
It is never too late to right a wrong. When the DGA imposed these discriminatory new By-Laws on the DGA WSC, it hobbled the women who were fighting the hardest for women’s rights in US media, and it erased many years of hard work women directors have done to fight for equal employment opportunity in Hollywood.
The DGA and its new president, Paris Barclay, must be called upon to rectify this policy error. It is the primary duty of the Guild to protect the economic and creative rights of its membership. Therefore, it follows that it is the duty of the Guild to protect the independence of the DGA Women’s Steering Committee and the democratic freedom of all women’s voices in the Guild.