By Maria Giese
“The number one reason women directors don’t speak out about discrimination in Hollywood is that they are afraid of getting blacklisted.”
America’s extraordinary influence comes largely thanks to a prolific entertainment industry that provides more media content to the world than any other country. While media is our most influential export, however, it comes almost exclusively from the perspectives of male directors. The ratios are staggering: according to recent DGA statistics, 95% of feature films are directed by men, and just 5% by women. Episodic TV is nearly as bad, with the male-to-female ratio of working directors at 86% to 14%.
Is that a problem?
If women are not directing film and television content, it means half of the voices of the American population are silenced and half the visions are suppressed. Ending discrimination against women directors is vital to establishing a society of equality and diversity of perspective. It is not just the validity of the female point of view and basic fairness that gives this issue such immediacy, but if we as a nation are to maintain a moral upper hand in geopolitical affairs, we must at the very least obey our own laws protecting equality.
As former DGA President Martha Coolidge recently said of directors: “For guys competition is fierce, but for women you are more likely to win the lottery.” Why is the gender gap among film and television directors so wide and so blatant? Why have women directors experienced so little progress in so many decades? Why does gender disparity remain, year after year?
The answer is this: the Revolution for Women Directors hasn’t happened—yet. But stay tuned. It is coming soon to a theatre near you!
We watched the theatrical trailers every day in the national news as women got drawn toward the voting booths by both sides of the aisle. Women are playing a pivotal role in American politics right now, and that should come as no surprise. It has happened often throughout history, from Lysistrata to the French Revolution.
In 1789, 7,000 women marched on Versailles and forced a shaken King Louis XVI to return to Paris. All of Europe and America sat up and took notice. Was the patriarchal absolute monarchy that had ruled France for centuries about to collapse? Yes it was! In just about three years.
The women’s Epic March helped set the French Revolution on fire. And history never looked back. The people won the French Revolution and equality became the central focus and the guiding force of the new liberal democracies of the Western World. However, it still took a few powerful men from the two upper estates — the clergy and the nobility — to join together with the third estate, the people, to bring on the real transformation.
Hold on to your seats!
There’s a connection here: Hollywood also has two powerful estates that are running the show—in fact, running ALL the shows: the studios that finance, produce, and distribute entertainment and news media, and the Directors Guild of America, which is the primary negotiator on behalf of directors. Both estates, the studios and the guild, have been very busy in the past 30 years paying lip service to the need for more women directors, but lip service is all they have paid.
While nearly every other industry in the United States has been making dramatic strides toward gender parity, the entertainment industry power players have been fundamentally negligent of this effort.
As a result, today’s Hollywood is often regarded as America’s most visible industry-wide bastion of discrimination against women.
And because the American media industry influences cultures around the world, changing American media could help alter global perceptions of women and girls as well as the social, economic, and geopolitical concerns that affect them. Initiating this change, however, will require that the DGA join forces with the studios to ignite a revolution to bring about equality for women directors.
Unfortunately, there seems to be an institutional bias within the DGA that prevents effective movement toward parity for women. For instance, in the 1980’s the DGA filed an anti-discrimination class-action lawsuit against three major studios on behalf of their women (and minority) director members. However, the guild was denied class certification on the grounds that some of its own policies put it in conflict with the very interests of the women plaintiffs who had initiated the complaint in the first place.
Judge Pamela Rymer refused to allow the guild to proceed with the case.
Therefore, because of entrenched policies within the DGA itself, the guild was not allowed to proceed with the case. While the suit could not continue, it is important to note that the fact that the DGA initiated the legal action at all resulted in a dramatic positive change to the employment landscape for women and minority directors. In 1979, women director employment comprised 1/2 of 1% of the male-to-female ratio, yet thanks to the lawsuit that number grew to almost 16% female employment by the mid nineties.
The change did not last, however. In the wake of that aborted legal effort, the guild and the studios made a joint promise to use only “Good Faith Efforts” to try to increase their employment numbers. While other industries understood that only clear goals and timetables could level the employment playing field, the film industry refused to implement that mandate. Thus, the three words “Good Faith Efforts” rang the death knell to hopes for parity for women directors.
Thirty years later…
…the playing field for women directors has returned to a near-vertical tilt. A simple examination and evaluation of the prevailing DGA-studio approaches to increasing job opportunities for women directors clearly reveals why they have failed.
Over the years, the DGA, in conjunction with the studios, has experimented with a number of ‘diversity programs’ in the hope of improving statistics for women and minority members. Sadly,the programs have been widely acknowledged to be completely ineffective in budging the numbers of women directors at all.
While the few studios that do anything at all for diversity directors are to be roundly commended, the long-running Disney/ABC-DGA Directing Program, launched in 2001, has resulted in relatively few actual directing jobs for its participants. Equally disappointing results have emerged for those who have completed the HBO-DGA Television Directing Fellowship Program.
Why do the DGA-studio directing fellowships fail to deliver significant results?
The DGA is a craft guild. Since the Middle Ages trades have used guilds to provide apprenticeships. Skilled, experienced artisans handed down expertise to the next generation in a wide variety of professions from the arts to banking. When we analyze the success of mentorships throughout history, what emerges as a key-contributing factor is the presence of reciprocity and mutual benefit.
In this light, we may begin to understand one reason for the overall ineffectiveness of the DGA-studio diversity fellowships. These programs are intended to engender mentorships between young talent and experienced directors and/or executives, and hopefully result in jobs. The programs are highly competitive, selecting the best of the best after a rigorous application process that takes months to complete. Winners enter with high expectations, yet at the completion of the program, the participants often feel crushed.
What is the reality?
One woman recipient of the ABC/DGA Fellowship, who was already an accomplished director, spoke of her experience: “The DGA-ABC fellowship was a complete waste of time. On the sets, they stare at you like you’re a homeless person or a spy or a freak. The executives running the program and the showrunners don’t want the shows to hire the people in the (fellowship) program. They are more worried about their own jobs.”
From the standpoint of studio employees who must tolerate these unwanted shadows, the selected fellows are little more than a nuisance who provide no opportunity for reciprocity at all. Since the relationship is not mutual, the reluctantly participating executives and TV crews often seem to look upon the women fellows as interlopers.
The production crews of episodic TV shows usually run like a well-oiled machines, and for producers it is propitious to hire from within. The best choices to helm each show fall to those who are most familiar with the show: the producers themselves. Writers, editors, and script supervisors also make natural choices, and of course, on a long-running show–
…Nearly every star will make a demand to direct at some point or another.
If TV director mentorship programs designed for women are to be successful, they need to include a policy of guaranteeing the mentee a directing assignment on a show after the observation period is completed. Since the fellowship application process is so rigorous, it is safe to assume that anyone who at last receives the venerated position would likely be adequately qualified to helm a show.
The DGA Diversity Program, however, continues to promote these prestigious fellowships as progressive joint efforts forged by the guild and the studios to remedy the under-employment of its women and minority members. ABC and HBO, from their sides, continue to call the programs a success. And indeed, the programs are a wonderful boon to the maintenance of reciprocal good will between the DGA and the studios. But do they help increase employment opportunities for women DGA members? They do not. Unfortunately, they mostly serve to provide the DGA and the studios the mutual benefit of good publicity, rather than helping the women who participate in the programs.
Herein lies the very heart of the problem of the under-representation of women directors in America. If the primary negotiating entity for directors in the U.S. film industry is not demanding parity standards for women directors, then they are acting in collusion with the studios to maintain discriminatory policies. In such a case, women directors have little hope of changing the status quo.
So how can an Epoch of Parity for Women Directors begin?
Ending discrimination against women directors is vital to establishing a society of equality and diversity of perspective, and it is of paramount importance that the film and television content that we export represent male and female perspectives equally. It is not just basic fairness and the validity of the female point of view around the world that give this issue such immediacy. If we as a nation are to maintain a moral upper hand in geopolitical affairs, shouldn’t we start by obeying our own laws protecting equality?
The fact is that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employment discrimination based on sex. Discrimination against women in the film industry is against the law in the United States of America. So, is it inevitable that women must file another class-action lawsuit to establish parity? Is this the only way to get things done?
Both the DGA and the studios have repeatedly proclaimed their commitment to solving the problem of gender disparity. The DGA, as the primary negotiator of basic agreements between its membership and producers, must use every effective means possible to help institute new events, programs, and policies that really do change the playing field. We need to move beyond “Good Faith Efforts”— which apparently are not good enough. Those three words in the DGA Basic Agreements need to be changed to the more legally binding term: “Best Efforts.”
Affirmative action deserves a moment of attention here…
…For there are restrictive constitutional safeguards in place that make affirmative action difficult to implement in this country. The key reason for this is that many Americans believe that affirmative action conflicts with the interests of a free-market economy. In the entertainment industry, which often pays lip service to the need for “artistic freedom,” many oppose the validity—indeed, the legitimacy and fairness—of affirmative action programs. And it is true that choosing talent (i.e. film and TV directors) in this industry is ambiguous for the simple reason that artistic merit is subjective.
Producers and executives need to exercise personal aesthetic decisions based on subjective criteria, but as we have seen, visible and invisible discrimination continually interfere with perceptions of merit where women are concerned. To inform this argument, it is useful to recall a famous quote from one of Great Britain’s foremost art critics, Brian Sewell, in the “The Independent” in 2008:
“The art market is not sexist. The likes of Bridget Riley and Louise Bourgeois are of the second and third rank. There has never been a first-rank woman artist. Only men are capable of aesthetic greatness. Women make up 50 per cent or more of classes at art school. Yet they fade away in their late 20s or 30s. Maybe it’s something to do with bearing children.”
Conscious or unconscious…
…this misogynist perspective is equally applicable to many executive decision-makers in the profession of film and TV directing. Therefore, one can easily see why affirmative action for women in the entertainment industry may be extremely important in working toward parity. The fruits of affirmative action programs in the United States from the 1950’s on, are paying off for many American minorities today, even though they were intensely controversial in their time.
Within the European Commission right now (The New York Times 10-23-12), there is a powerful effort being made to force gender parity within European companies. Currently, there is a proposal up for approval that would mandate that a 40% minimum of women be included on corporate boards of directors. This proposal comes with sanctions and penalties for violations in the case that corporations fail to comply.
This new effort is so controversial it is actually splitting the European Union, and it may not pass, but it is a striking example of the pressure for gender parity in all European industries and professions. If gender balance is of such acute concern on corporate boards, it most certainly should be an issue of immediacy in the American entertainment industry.
The DGA points its finger at the studios…
And the studios point their fingers at the DGA. Each shifts the blame to the other, and each responds with frustration to the suggestion that nothing is actually being done. The over-riding sentiment seems to be that everyone is simply flummoxed by the problem. Last year, a longtime DGA Executive VP wrote to me: “I hope you are successful where we were stupefied by our inability to move the issue forward. The legal complexities are stultifying.”
Stupefied? Stultifying? Honestly, is this really an insoluble conundrum? Or is it verbal obfuscation to maintain the status quo? While the responsibility of gender parity among directors ultimately falls to America’s film studios and other producing entities that actually do the hiring, the organization that must initiate crucial change is the one whose primary raison d’etre is to represent the rights of directors: the Directors Guild of America.
Back in 1979, the DGA picked up the baton from six courageous DGA women directors, and led the charge for equality by initiating intense negotiations and finally legal actions against the studios. If that action 30 years ago so effectively resulted in the brief, but triumphant move from ½ of 1% of employed female directors to 16% in employment rates for women directors…
A second class-action lawsuit today could push the numbers well above 30%.
Looked at from this point of view, the immediate future could be hopeful for women directors. Furthermore, the DGA is fortunate to have Jay Roth, originally a civil rights lawyer, as National Executive Director. He is one of the finest negotiators in the industry and Daily Variety called him the “showbiz point person on making a deal to ensure Hollywood’s labor peace.”
Roth has successfully led negotiations on the guild’s major collective bargaining agreements six times since becoming National Executive Director in 1995. If ever there was a maverick to cut through the legal tangles of this “Gordian knot” of buck-passing and lead this industry to gender parity through negotiations with studios, Jay Roth is it.
THE TIME HAS COME…
By Barbara Stepansky
I have little story I’d like to tell about the Hollywood Glass Ceiling.
I frequently talk with my director girlfriends about how hard it is for women to get directing gigs on major TV Shows and studio feature films. But I rarely question the system. Until now.
Recently, something wonderful happened to a film school acquaintance of mine – he had won the Student Emmy for his truly great thesis film. This very prestigious award was presented by a producer/director of a prime-time television drama on Fox. This producer was impressed by my acquaintance’s thesis film and invited him on set to shadow the director (shadowing is when someone observes a working director during film or TV production). After shadowing, my friend was hired to direct an episode.
This guy is a terrific person, very deserving and very humble. He knows how fortunate he was to have received this producer’s support. So the notion that he was granted this opportunity is not what’s pressing me to speak out…
A few years ago, I won the same exact award for my own thesis film, the Student Emmy for Best Drama and Best Director. At the awards ceremony, I was approached by an equally heavy-hitting producer of an equally popular prime-time TV drama on Fox (alas, a different one). He was impressed with my thesis film, which had garnered the two top awards of the night. He also graciously invited me to come and visit the set of the show he was producing.
I was allowed to shadow an episode he himself was directing for a day. During that visit, I asked about the opportunity to direct. “Here’s the thing,” he said. “The lead actor hates female directors. We only had one in the first season, and she was never invited back. He just doesn’t like them.”
I’d like to live in a world where people are ashamed to say things like that, but for some reason it’s still OK. Take out the word “female” in that quote and substitute it with “black,” “Jewish,” or “gay. You may tolerate your grandpa spouting misogynist rhetoric at Thanksgiving with a roll of your eyes, but it’s simply not acceptable coming from people who hold the keys to prestigious and lucrative jobs.
This experience transcends personal feelings, and it is endemic in Hollywood culture. I mentioned to somebody with a connection to a current popular TV show that I would travel across the globe at my own expense for the opportunity to shadow. They told me that unfortunately it would be pointless because I would have to be a white, ideally British guy. How can I hope to direct episodic TV if one of the main criteria is that I’m male?
The first feature film I directed airs on Showtime at least twice a week right now, but I’m not qualified to helm an episode of TV?
When I compare our paths, my friend’s and my own, gender is the crux where they diverge. It makes me terribly sad and conjures up a lot of confusing feelings of anger, discrimination, and envy that I don’t know what to do with.
Did my head hit the proverbial celluloid ceiling before I even got off the first floor? Or was I simply unlucky and the fates put me at the wrong place at the wrong time on the wrong show? I could look but couldn’t touch. My colleague could rub it all over himself.
I’ve directed two independent feature films, music videos, commercials, dozens of shorts and two web series’. I’d like to believe that ones work should speak for itself. If you’re just good enough and you work hard at it, you will get your chance.
And now I’m just not so sure of that anymore.
Barbara Stepansky is a 2013 Nicholl Fellow and an award-winning independent feature film director. Her work was short listed for the Academy Awards, garnered the DGA Diversity Award and the Student Emmy. She is the recipient of the Mary Pickford Foundation Scholarship and the Franklin J. Schaffner AFI Fellow Award.
By Maria Giese
1. In 1985 the DGA was disqualified from leading the class action lawsuit it had filed against three major Hollywood studios on behalf of women DGA members. Even though judge Pamela Rymer ruled that the women had a valid case, she had to disqualify the DGA as leading the class because, in her view, the Guild discriminates against women as much as the studios do.
2. After being disqualified from the suit, the DGA made agreements with the studios to hire more women (FLTTA Article 19 & BA Article 15), but it never acted on most aspects of the agreements, resulting in decades of stasis and decline in the number of employed women directors.
3. Even though industry compliance of U.S. equal rights laws should be overseen by the U.S. Department of Justice and the EEOC, in the 1980’s the Directors Guild of America became the primary organization charged with overseeing lawful studio compliance of DGA-studio agreements to hire more women. Extraordinarily, in two decades the numbers have not moved, except down a little. As employment numbers among women directors continue to worsen, evidence mounts that the DGA is not capable of commanding this duty that has such broad political and cultural impact– globally.
4. In 2004, DGA president, Michael Apted, initiated the DGA Diversity Task Force to oversee studio compliance of Guild-studio agreements to hire more women directors. The two co-chairs and the entire membership of the “Force” were comprised of working directors who were actively seeking open-assignment directing jobs at the very studios they were supposed to be policing. This “conflict of interest” resulted in unprecedented career success for the co-chairs and some committee members, but from 2004 to present, the number of employed women directors actually declined.
5. The DGA has still failed to provide the women of the DGA with comprehensive statistics relating to female director employment from 1979 to present in feature films and episodic TV even though the Guild has completed the study and the request for these statistics came through official channels in the DGA-WSC involving a motion that won majority vote and was approved by the Guild over 18 months ago.
6. In 2012, when several members of the WSC Events Subcommittee won unanimous vote approval for a daylong DGA SUMMIT for women directors, the WSC co-chairs, the DGA Diversity Department & the Guild leadership all actively tried to stop it. Finally, on March 2, 2013, the DGA Women of Action Summit became the most important day for women DGA members in 30 years. The event was not covered in the broad media or industry trade magazines.
7. The DGA claimed to have included a comprehensive proposal created by DGA women members in the 2014 DGA-studio collective bargaining negotiations, which only take place once every three years. The results of the 2014 negotiations relating to women are as follows: “Diversity – Each of the major television studios has agreed to maintain or establish a Television Director Development Program designed to expand opportunities for directors in episodic television with an emphasis on increasing diversity. Establishment of Industry-Wide Joint Diversity Action Committee which will meet at least once every four months.” In other words, no change for women.
8. The DGA continues to refuse to publish articles in the “DGA Quarterly” relating to discrimination against women directors in our industry, choosing instead to occasionally celebrate and promote individual women directors. Prior to 2011, when some women Guild members commenced efforts to create change, almost no images of women directors ever appeared in the publication, with the exception of photographs of actresses handing awards to male directors.
9. The DGA maintains a secret short-list of highly employed women directors that they submit to producers and show-runners seeking to hire more women directors. As stated on the www.dga.org website: “The DGA maintains a contact list of experienced women and minority directors to make it easier for producers making hiring decisions. The list can be obtained by any production company by contacting the DGA.” If a female DGA TV director has not worked for more than 16 months, she is not included on this list. This list unfairly advantages a tiny pool of highly employed women directors, while further marginalizing other women directors. This policy encourages tokenism, maintains the status quo of under-representation of women directors, and is divisive to women in the Guild.
10. The DGA further institutionalized discrimination against women in the Guild by mandating a “Working in the Trade” requirement, disqualifying women who have had difficulty getting work in preceding years from running for elected co-chairs seats on the “Women’s Steering Committee” which was specifically created in 1979 to help under-employed women directors.
11. The Guild continues to promote diversity events and programs (celebrations, networking & fellowships) that have been proven ineffective for decades, without making any changes to their basic structures.
Temporarily Re-printed by Popular Demand!
“Next thing you’ll know, they’ll be wanting to direct.”
By Maria Giese
Everyone knows that it is very hard to prove a discrimination case unless one has “smoking gun evidence”—e-mails, eyewitness accounts, and written or otherwise recorded proof. It’s especially difficult for women directors to pinpoint specific actions that may have resulted in their non-employment based on gender discrimination. That’s one reason so few women directors in Hollywood consider legal action, even though it is widely known that discrimination in the American entertainment industry is rampant.
Further complicating the matter is the fact that discrimination against women directors is not just an individual issue; it is an industry-wide problem. Hollywood has some of the worst numbers of female employment among all industries in the United States. Unfortunately, until now, it has been considered virtually impossible to prove discrimination against women directors, targeting not just individual production companies, but whole studios and networks—indeed, the entire American entertainment industry.
What could qualify as the criteria for an industry-wide discrimination lawsuit? And how could women quantify evidence of discrimination? The questions are complex and the answers are even more complicated, but perhaps there is another way…
Today, women may finally have found a viable solution to taking legal action against the entertainment industry at large in an effort to create lawful gender parity among film, television, and new media directors in Hollywood.
Instead of attempting to prove discrimination against women directors, women could assume the opposite theory—THE NULL HYPOTHESIS—that there is no discrimination, and that women are simply being hired (or not hired) based on random fluctuations. If this is so, then the random ratio of male to female employed directors should reflect the ratio in the pool of qualified directors.
Women directors would make two calculations to compare: 1) what a random distribution of directing jobs within that pool should be, and 2) the actual number of employed women directors. They would then graph the numerical results on a bell-curve, and if the actual number of employed women directors falls two standard deviations (or more) from what the random results are, they will have proven the inference of discrimination and the court can shift the burden of proof on to those production entities that hire directors.
In this way, the burden of proof is shifted to Hollywood production entities to explain how it could be possible that the numbers are so skewed if they are not discriminating against women directors. Hollywood production companies, studios, and U.S. media networks will be left to figure out how to justify or solve the problem they created.
Let’s look at the Null Hypothesis in action:
WOMAN DIRECTOR v. STUDIO EXECUTIVE
A Short Conversation
DIRECTOR: Hollywood producers discriminate against women directors. You are in violation of the Civil rights Act of 1964, Title VII.
EXEC: I do not discriminate against women directors; I hire qualified women whenever I can.
DIRECTOR: I am qualified, but I can’t get a directing job. I think Hollywood is gender-biased against women.
EXEC: Not so! I can prove that there are simply not very many women in the pool of qualified directors from which to hire.
DIRECTOR: Can you define the pool of qualified directors?
EXEC: Simple! I would say the pool is made up of about 7,500 male DGA director members male directors and 1,160 women directors. That’s about 87% males to 13% females. And we hire between 12% and 14% women directors on episodic TV shows.
DIRECTOR: Not so good, considering twenty years ago– in 1995– the percentage was 16%!
EXEC: Still, I’d say we’re doing a pretty good a job.
DIRECTOR: Not really. The only way one can become a DGA member is by getting hired to direct professionally. The female director membership of the DGA is disproportionately low precisely because women suffer from discrimination in the entertainment industry—women are not getting hired. The number of female director members in the Guild can only move up if you hire more women directors.
EXEC: You mean hire women from outside the Guild.
DIRECTOR: Yes. After all, you don’t hire male directors exclusively from the Guild, you hire them from a broader pool. You cull directors from cast and crew—producers, writers, editors, script supervisors and actors. They are frequently hired to direct episodes.
EXEC: That’s true. So, you are saying the pool of qualified directors is larger than the director membership of the DGA?
DIRECTOR: I think it would be accurate to say that the actual pool of qualified directors includes male and female film school graduates (50/50), DGA director members (87/13), and TV writers, producers, and cast and crew members (60/40). That would move the total average ratio of males to females within the pool of qualified directors to 66/34, or about 65/35.
EXEC: You think we should hire 65% male directors and 35% female directors?
DIRECTOR: Well, I’d like to see you hire men and women 50/50, but certainly women should currently expect to comprise at least 35% of the directing workforce– higher, if you include female DGA Assistant Director members in the pool.
EXEC: What are the numbers now?
DIRECTOR: As you said, women directors comprise only about 12% of the directors on episodic television and under 5% of the directors of feature films.
EXEC: I guess that is pretty low.
DIRECTOR: The DGA leadership calls those numbers “dismal” and even “despicable.”
EXEC: But the numbers themselves do not prove that we producers are in violation of United States equal employment laws– or Title VII.
DIRECTOR: I’m afraid they do.
EXEC: Why? Considering the fact that women directors make up 13.4% of the director membership of the DGA, and we hire 14% women directors in episodic TV, you cannot say that we producers are not fulfilling our agreements with the DGA to make “Good Faith Efforts” to hire more women.
DIRECTOR: I’m surprised you even know those agreements exist. You’re doing better than most producers already.
EXEC: Of course I know: the DGA Basic Agreement, Article 15, and the FLTTA, Article 19. We’re supposed to make “Good Faith Efforts” to hire more women and ethnic minorities,
DIRECTOR: It’s too bad you don’t have to make “Best Efforts,” but I suppose that term is too legally binding– you might actually have to hire more women!
EXEC: Look, we also have to make subjective, merit-based decisions about the directors we hire. We cannot do our best as producers and succumb to affirmative action-style mandates to hire more women directors.
DIRECTOR: Not if you don’t think women directors are just as competent and talented as their male counterparts. It reminds me of the quote by the British art critic—Brian Sewell—from the The Sunday Times in 2010: “I don’t dislike female artists. I just don’t think they should be artists.” Misogyny is real.
EXEC: I think we all know Brian Sewell is an ass. I’m not a misogynist, but I certainly want to know that the directors I hire will not only do the job, but are the best in the business. Most women directors simply haven’t done much to judge them by.
DIRECTOR: Some producer took a chance on every single guy who is now “the best in the business.” I guess it’s simply a matter of choice: what sort of society do you want to live in? One of equal opportunity? Or one that just pays lip service to equal opportunity?
EXEC: We all agree about the importance of equity in America, but employment equality takes time.
DIRECTOR: Yes, “The Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media” ran the stats on that and found that, at the rate we’re going, women will achieve equality in the film & TV industry in more than 500 years. That’s a bit too long for most of us to wait.
EXEC: I doubt it will take that long.
DIRECTOR: You can doubt all you want. In the meantime, you are required to abide by Title VII called for by President John F. Kennedy in his civil rights speech of June 11, 1963. In this speech, he asked for legislation to abolish employment discrimination. Martin Luther King predicted that this legislation would “…take the Nation a long, long way toward the realization of the ideals of freedom and justice for all people.” On July 2, 1964, seven months after the assassination of Kennedy, the legislation became law.
EXEC: It did result in greater justice. And the controversial affirmative action programs initiated over 50 years ago have arguably borne out fairly good results for ethnic minorities.
DIRECTOR: Ethnic minority males. And women are not minorities, we are a majority. We make up 51% of the general population in the U.S.
EXEC: You want 50% women directors?
DIRECTOR: That would be reasonable in a society that truly honors equity, but Title VII does not require that the employment pool reflect the general population. It requires that employment ratios reflect the available pool of qualified directors.
EXEC: My best guess is that any discrimination you perceive is due to the disparity of women director members in the DGA.
DIRECTOR: Are you really going to point your finger at the DGA?
EXEC: Well, in 1985 the DGA was disqualified from representing a class-action lawsuit it launched on behalf of women and ethnic minorities because the judge—a woman—said that DGA itself has policies that discriminate against those same groups.
DIRECTOR: The DGA has work to do, but excuses like that won’t help you in court.
EXEC: You think I am guilty of discrimination? Prove it!
DIRECTOR: I don’t have to. I can use the “Null Hypothesis” and let the court shift the burden of proof onto you. You will have to prove you don’t discriminate against women directors.
EXEC: Null… What? Is that new?
DIRECTOR: It’s not new, but it’s never been used specifically to fight discrimination against women directors in Hollywood on an industry-wide basis. In that way, it’s revolutionary.
EXEC: What’s it mean?
DIRECTOR: The Null Hypothesis states that the differences in a sample are random or accidental. Therefore, if I can demonstrate that it is numerically impossible that discrimination against women directors is accidental, then it means producers are willfully discriminating against them. It will become your obligation to prove it is not so.
EXEC: Is there a legal precedent for this?
DIRECTOR: Yes, courts have shifted the burden of proof in discrimination cases based on that kind of statistical evidence.
DIRECTOR: Courts consider something called a ”binomial distribution” to determine if there is gross disparity.
EXEC: I don’t get it.
DIRECTOR: Okay, imagine you take a jar and fill it will red and blue marbles to represent male and female directors—say 6,500 red marbles for men and 3,500 blue marbles for women. Then you randomly select the marbles from the jar to fill, say, 3,100 episodic TV directing jobs for that year.
EXEC: Is that the number of episodic TV shows that get made in Hollywood each year? 3,100?
DIRECTOR: That’s right. So, the results of your random selection should approximate the 65/35 ratio. And if you graphed it…
EXEC: …it would appear as a bell-curve.
DIRECTOR: Exactly. The bell-curve represents the binomial distribution of male and female directors. So, if the court begins with the “null hypothesis” (that the directors were randomly selected) it would anticipate seeing a percentage of women directors that reflects the proportion of women in the ”jar” of qualified women directors.
EXEC: You mean around 35% women?
DIRECTOR: Right. So, if employers actually did select their employees without considering gender, the distribution of the TV directing workforce should be near the null hypothesis. On the bell curve graph, the larger the “standard deviation,” (the gap between the null hypothesis and the actual workforce)—the more likely it is that producers are selecting their directors in a biased way.
EXEC: And that’s…
DIRECTOR: Against the law.
EXEC: What would that mean for us— I mean, if we were found to be in violation?
DIRECTOR: I don’t know. Maybe a fine— like 50 million dollars?
DIRECTOR: For one year. And if producers, studios and networks don’t fix the problem, 50 million dollars the next year, and the next year, and the next— until the problem is solved.
EXEC: I guess it’s time to call the legal department.
DIRECTOR: You betcha!
*NOTE: The author is grateful to Marisa Rothstein: “Sharing the Stage: Using Title VII to End Discrimination Against Female Playwrights on Broadway.” Cardozo Journal of Law & Gender, Vol. 7, Issue 1, Fall 2010.
By Maria Giese
In the wake of the 1983–1985 DGA class-action lawsuit against several studios on behalf of women and minority guild members, the DGA formed an agreement with the studios to mitigate discrimination.
The Freelance Live and Tape Television Agreement (FLTTA), Article 19, represents an agreement between the DGA and TV producer signatories designed to increase employment for women and minorities. It has an excellent structure, but it does not work. Why? Article 19 states the following:
“The parties (DGA & Producer signatories) mutually reaffirm their policy of non-discrimination in the employment or treatment of any Employee because of race (...), sex...”
The signatories must comply by attempting to hire women and minorities: “The Employer shall submit to the DGA within thirty (30) days following the end of each calendar quarter a report of the sex and ethnicity of persons employed under the classifications hereunder during the preceding quarter....”
And the DGA must assign officers (Diversity Task Force) to enforce the rules: “The Guild shall designate an individual as the Equal Employment Officer to whom the reports shall be submitted.”
And it is punitive (though not very): “Should the Arbitrator determine that Employer did not comply (…) the Arbitrator shall award only the following remedies: an order to submit the required reports, as the Arbitrator deems appropriate, and damages of $600 for the first breach and damages of no more than $1,500 and no less than $600 for each subsequent breach.”
That’s a slap on the wrist...
The above demonstrates that there is a structure in place for the DGA to oversee and enforce the mutual understanding that the studios must hire more women and minorities. The studios must comply with the rules of the agreement and provide reports to prove their compliance. And there are assigned DGA compliance officers who are supposed to enforce the agreement.
The pieces are in place. So, What’s the problem? Why are the numbers of women directors still in stasis or decline? Why is Article 19 ineffective? Part of the problem may lie in the fact that the DGA compliance officers— the enforcing mechanism (the DGA Diversity Task Force)— is made up DGA members who are often employed by the very companies they are supposed to be monitoring.
The DGA Diversity Task Force officers are the entity assigned with the responsibility to ensure that the studios are complying with the agreement, as set forth in Article 19. How can one rely on the impartiality and discipline of these officers who are also often employed by the very studios they are supposed to be overseeing? Imagine police officers hired to enforce rules in a corporation where they are also employed. Of course, it is a conflict of interest.
Two Solutions to Solve the Problem:
The bottom line is that studio complicity of these articles needs to be overseen and enforced by an impartial organization. It is not possible for the DGA to command the duties of the U.S. Department of Justice and the EEOC.
The Guild, which is run by its members, faces a conflict of interest in having film and TV directors policing the studios where they are simultaneously employed as directors. It's time that a new, independent, objective organization be created to enforce gender equity among directors in the American entertainment industry.
WOMEN DIRECTORS IN HOLLYWOOD
November 10, 2013
Dear Michael Apted & Steven Soderbergh,
American women directors are grateful that you have accepted your appointments to co-chair the current DGA Feature Film and Television Negotiations Committee and DGA Creative Rights Committee, respectively.
You are each internationally beloved and admired filmmakers who have made inspiring feminist films including “Coal Miner’s Daughter” and “Erin Brockovich” about marginalized women who have been courageous in speaking out for justice.
The DGA is the primary organization in the United States charged with oversight of studio compliance of entertainment industry agreements to hire more women in accordance with Title VII and U.S. equal employment laws.
As such, we urge you to address the ongoing unlawful under-representation of women DGA directors in the collective bargaining negotiations currently taking place until December 2013.
As champions of women and women’s issues, both in your films and throughout your careers— if not you, then who— will help remedy our nation’s unjust employment ratios among American women directors.
We count on you to wield your influence where it is needed now more than ever, in support of employment equity in the industry that creates America’s most culturally influential global export–media.
Women Directors in Hollywood
WOMEN FILM STUDENTS ACROSS AMERICA
October 27, 2013
JAY ROTH, Executive Director
PARIS BARCLAY, President
Director Guild of America
7920 Sunset Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90046
Dear Mr. Roth, Mr. Barclay & the DGA Leadership,
We women film students were accepted into our classes at a 50/50 ratio with male students, but we know from current statistics that when we graduate, we will step onto a vertical playing field. Recent DGA statistics show that over 95% of feature films are directed by men, and 88% of episodic TV shows are directed by men. That’s not fair and it’s not legal.
We women film students know that the U.S. Civil Rights Act of 1964, Title VII, protects equal employment opportunity for all Americans. Women directors are discriminated against and American studios and networks are breaking the law.
We know that the Directors Guild of America is the primary organization in the film & TV industry that is charged with overseeing lawful studio compliance of DGA-studio agreements to hire more women, yet in two decades the numbers have not changed.
Media is America’s most influential global export, changing peoples’ lives everywhere, but women’s voices are silenced where it counts most: in the ways America speaks to the world. Women make up 51% of the population in America. We are not a minority.
As the labor union that protects the creative and economic rights of America’s directors of film, television, and new media, we women film students ask you to immediately begin creating the change that will provide us, the next generation of American filmmakers, with a fighting chance for employment equality in the U.S. entertainment industry.
Equality is our right, and creating gender balance for women directors is your duty!
By Maria Giese
1. The number of women directors is so small because women are not really interested in directing and few women are exceptional enough to do a man’s job.
Right, so 1,160 women DGA director members pay their union dues just for the hell of it! Believe us—we ARE interested!
2. The ratio of women directors is improving—it’s just going to take time.
The ratio hasn’t changed significantly since the advent of cinema 100 years ago. How much more time shall we plan on waiting?
3. There are fewer women directors because more men attend film school.
Women make up 50% of the classes in almost every film school in the U.S.
4. Men are better directors because they have more experience.
If experience were everything, no young men would ever enter the profession. Orson Welles’ “Citizen Kane” was his debut feature. This argument diminishes the notion that some people are simply gifted in certain areas.
5. It’s okay for women to direct small, independent femme-themed films, but men can handle all genres. And women certainly can’t be trusted with big budget features or episodic television, even if they are female driven stories.
Women can too! It’s risible and hypocritical that almost all female driven stories are directed by men.
6. It’s okay to say ”We don’t hire women on this show” (we hear it all the time), but it’s not okay to say “We don’t hire African Americans/Asians/Latinos, etc… on this show.”
Just think about that for a minute…
7. Women studio executives are helping hire more women film and television directors.
There are more women studio executives today than ever, but fewer women directors. Sony’s Amy Pascal could only conjure up the name of ONE women director when asked recently, and even remembering Kathryn Bigelow seemed to require some strained mental effort.
8. The Director’s Guild of America really wants to help increase employment opportunities for its women members.
That’s why the ratio of male to female directors has remained in stasis for over two decades. The DGA is the organization charged with oversight of studio compliance of studio agreements to hire more women in accordance with U.S. civil rights laws.
9. In America, we protect freedom of speech—women can speak out about discrimination in the film & TV industry without FEAR of reprisals.
The #1 reason women do not speak out about discrimination in Hollywood is that they are afraid of getting BLACKLISTED.
10. America has a higher ratio of women directors than other nations around the world.
Almost all other countries in the world honor women directors more than the United States of America.
11. Women directors are not successful because they don’t know how to get organized.
That sometimes seems true. But women did manage to get the right to vote in America after several hundred years of fighting for suffrage.
12. Hollywood has lots of wonderful diversity programs that help women break in to directing.
Not true. And over 20 years of failed Guild diversity programs have resulted in NO CHANGE in the ratios of women directors.
13. Women directors succeed or fail based on merit and their films will get good reviews and big budgets for marketing & distribution if their films are good.
Not true. Recent studies prove that since 80% of film critics are males, reviews of women’s films are disproportionately harsh. Women’s features suffer from disproportionately low P&A budgets, and on average, open on many fewer screens.