Introducing Director Barbie!

"I am Barbie Director. CHA-A-A-ARRGE!"
“I am film director Barbie!  CHA-A-A-ARRGE!”

By Ursula Burton

Re-printed by permission of the author from

Mattel has released a new “career Barbie” – the film director. She is wearing a “feminine” pink sweater, and her malnourished arms, legs, and waist suggest she needs to take a trip to the set’s craft service. Her perfectly coiffed hair is pulled back from her face by sunglasses (no ballcap?), a fashionable scarf tied around her neck. This Barbie may be running a set, but she hasn’t lost sight of the importance of being something to look at, too.

The designers have changed something — film director Barbie has an articulated ankle so she can wear practical shoes on set, but still go to the premiere in four-inch heels.

But whether in flats or crippling footwear, according to the Mattel bullet points describing the doll, she cannot stand on her own.

Wait, let’s repeat that: She cannot stand on her own.

Now, I know because of the doll’s unnaturally long legs and bizarrely tiny feet, Barbie has never been able to stand on her own, but reading this bullet point struck me as an ironic metaphor.

In truth, most women directors are forced to stand on their own and make their films independently. The statistics for women directors are so dire that articles demanding change are being written quicker than I can read them. Recently, the New York Times’ Manohla Dargis, called the abysmal inequity in (or lack of) hiring of women in film by studios “immoral, maybe illegal.”

I am a director, and, as it happens, I do not own a pink sweater — like most of my male counterparts, I am much more likely to wear practical black on set – but the fact is, the clothing we wear is irrelevant, because, as a director, my appearance is simply not as valuable an asset as my competence, leadership skills, and artistic sensibility.

So Barbie has me in a pickle. I am glad that a female doll is being marketed as a director, but Barbie’s looks, clothes, and accessories make me uncomfortable. (Does she cover all her scripts in pink so that she is non-threatening? Or is just this one pink because it matches her outfit?) Is this the best we can do in 2015?

We want children to grow up in a world where possibilities are many, where there are more options for them, and certainly playing with Director Barbie is going to give children an expectation that this job is open to both sexes.

But children are sponges who absorb cultural cues. The message from this doll is coming through loud and clear to both girls and boys that, whatever a woman’s job, and however good she is at it, what is just as important (if not more) is for her to be a surgically thin, fashionable woman who spends a lot of time grooming herself into visual “perfection.”

Parents and children (both girls AND boys) are clamoring for non-gender-stereotyped toys. Note the petitions; the vote drives; the Kickstarters for toys that don’t segregate play based on biological sex; the split-second it took for the Lego Scientist set to be sold out.

Childhood imagination should be unfettered, yet toys, costumes, sports attire, and play sets have become increasingly, and rigidly, gendered.

So, do I give this Barbie to my children to show them that women can direct movies? Here’s the parent’s internal struggle: criticize Barbie for presenting children with damaging, unhealthy images of women, or cheer her step toward breaking a glass ceiling? As recent studies have underscored, women’s leadership positions in media have remained stagnant and even decreased in key categories since scientists began compiling the statistics. At least in the Mattel world, it’s two steps forward, one back. Though she’d make faster progress if she could stand on her own two feet.

Read about Ursula Burton here:

Drawing by Daniel DeJean –

What’s the Big Problem with Women Directors?

What to do about women directors?  "It's an insoluble conundrum. A Gordian Knot," says Ed Sherin, ex-officio DGA National Vice President
What to do about women directors? “It’s an insoluble conundrum. A Gordian Knot,” says Ed Sherin, ex-officio DGA National Vice President

The “Women Directors” Crisis In-a-Nutshell

“We women are not afraid to fight the DGA. If this were a cat and mouse game, we are the cats. We have ethical and legal right behind us. We know we will win.” Giese
We women are not afraid to fight the DGA. If this were a cat and mouse game, we are the cats. We have ethical and legal right behind us. We know we will win.

By Maria Giese


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.


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.

Why America Needs Women Directors

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By Maria Giese

In American society today it is mostly men who are moved to action through the net recession of femininity. But what about women and action? The very fact that women directors literally call “Action!” often seems anathema to the ideal male construct of our paternalistic culture.

If American media is to influence global culture positively going into the future, if global democracy is to continue, if our very nation is to survive, then we must begin by leading our society out of its present “Selva Oscura,” this dark forest that will be easy for a larger society to vanquish.

Much larger nations that do not always honor human individualism, but instead tend to see mankind as a mass, are sure to easily conquer a smaller nation that is not very different.

However, if America will rise up, accept self-criticism, and correct the skewed gender bias in Media, our nation’s hope (for hope of salvation lies in art) requires that we stop this almost total exclusion of women from our most important, culturally influential, globally transformative forms of art– film, television and new media.

Percentage of Women Directors in Canada: 17% of Total

Check out this article on Women in View which discusses the number of women working as directors in Canadian feature films:

 The report reveals that only 17 per cent of the 130 films released in 2010/2011 were directedby women; and a mere 21 per cent had female screenwriters. The results for visible minority and First Nations women were much worse, physician with only one director and two screenwriters. Women in View chose to focus on directing and screenwriting in their inaugural report because of the impact of these positions play in shaping the final film story, and the employment of others on the film production crew.

Read the whole thing here.

New Director’s Guild Survey: Where Are the Women TV Directors?

In an article in the LA Times from September 27th, 2012, a new survey by the Director’s Guild suggests that women directors are underrepresented in TV:

The survey found that out of 190 scripted television series and 3,100 episodes from the 2011-2012 network television season, Caucasian males directed 73% of all episodes (compared with 72% from the prior year). Caucasian females directed 11% of all episodes (unchanged), minority males directed 13% (down from 14%) of all episodes and minority females directed 4% of all episodes (up from 3%).

“Our industry has to do better,” said Paris Barclay, the DGA’s first vice president and co-chair of the diversity task force of the DGA national board. He is also an executive producer of “Sons of Anarchy.”

“In this day and age, it’s quite disappointing that so many shows failed to hire even a single woman or minority director during the course of an entire season — even shows whose cast and crew is notably diverse, Barclay noted. “And, ‘We just don’t know anybody’ doesn’t cut it anymore — the pool of talented and experienced women and minority directors grows every year, and too many of these qualified, capable directors are still overlooked.”

The DGA compiled the statistics for its report based on information provided by the production companies as part of its collective bargaining agreement. The DGA said it had made several changes to its methodology and data collection to improve accuracy. The changes included capturing more DGA-covered episodes and more accurately describing the diversity status of directors whose ethnicity or gender had previously been identified as “unknown.”

Among the DGA’s “Worst of” lists for TV shows – those hiring no women or minority directors or those that hired them for less than 15% of episodes — were “Dallas,” “Leverage,” “CSI:Crime Scene Investigation” and “The Office.”

DGA’s “Best of” list — shows that hired women or minority directors for at least 30% of episodes — included “The Game,” “Nurse Jackie” and “The Walking Dead.”

“They Would Prefer a Male Director”

Bias against women in most fields of film production is borne out by the stark statistics – 5% of feature film directors are female as opposed to 95% males; among screenwriters the numbers of women continue to drop.  A negative perception of films with female leads is also perpetrated by a male-driven industry. I’ve spent the last 5 years taking meetings at Cannes and have repeatedly, on an international level, been reminded how this industry does not believe women in front of the camera sell tickets.

However, since I self-produce my own work, I hadn’t really gotten a direct taste of the gender issue until this past 2012 Cannes Film Festival & Market.  At the 2011 Cannes I had met with, and then re-met twice at the same market, two producers with a women-driven film concept:

The story told of four girls who row across the Atlantic in a rowboat, and the fallout that occurs when certain truths are revealed.  The producers loved the footage from my recently shot film, METH HEAD, and they were very proactive about wanting to stay in touch, share their eventual script etc…

We wrote back and forth a few times during the year. They had lost their screenwriter, which had set them back. So I wasn’t surprised not to have a script to read to discuss. However, I did imagine we would at least meet and keep the conversation going in 2012. It appeared I was wrong. I couldn’t get them to respond to an e-mail request for a meeting. I thought it strange, but projects come and go, so I didn’t dwell on it.

Then I ran into one of the producers at a party. And she said how sorry she was they hadn’t responded, but that their sales agent, who was also partially funding their project, had told them flat-out that they would prefer a male director. In her words, women directors don’t sell either. And as quick as that, I was out of the running.

I realize that the sales agent was probably the tip of the iceberg and it is frustrating, but having a healthy dose of reality never hurts either. Ignorance like that just makes me that more determined to succeed.  So I guess I should just say: “Thank you.”

– Jane Clark,