As American film director and former DGA president, Martha Coolidge, rightly (and famously) states of directors: “For guys competition is fierce, but for women you are more likely to win the lottery.”
Taken a step further, it is even more difficult for both men and women to initiate directing careers while also becoming moms and dads. However, male directors who are often paid well for their work almost always have children while women directors, who are rarely paid sufficiently– if at all– frequently have to sacrifice one pursuit for the other.
A director with an established career is much better able to balance his or her professional life with a rich family life. It is wonderful that there are so many successful male directors who have fulfilled family lives; these are human behaviors that give directors useful insights into the joys and challenges of the typical human experience.
Interacting fully in the life may make a director better able to direct films and TV shows that resonate with audiences made up of people who are sharing those same experiences. But doing that may be difficult for women directors who often must be quick to achieve success in her young years if she wants to have children later. This can be complicated for one simple reason: getting movies off the ground takes time– a lot of time.
Shouldn’t women be able to contribute their talents as directors while parenting, just as men do? Should our society really limit women directors to a small minority of females who give up childbearing to become directors? While both men and women sometimes happily choose not to have kids, this exclusionary decision is certainly not demanded of men.
The real issue is that child-care takes time and skill– and these both cost money to support. It is only because our society does not value the work women do at home, that they are not considered worthy of being paid. But because of this most women find it impossible to balance parenting with career pursuits.
Somethimes women directors make the choice to skip having kids altogether; some of them make cinematic masterpieces that are deeply resonant with audiences. However, to suggest that women should not be supported by our society in their directing careers while also having families– while their male counterparts can and do– is both a double standard and patently unfair.
Let us not ignore the fact that the stereotypical concept of the American family is in flux. Today, men are more frequently taking over roles as caregivers, and there is no reason that an employed women director who is also a mother cannot hire a caregiver while she is in production on a film, just as men can and do.
Our society should support its artists– male or female, gay or straight, mom or dad. A great society is elevated by great art and America should be a leader in promoting equal opportunity to create a richer, more diverse culture. Women make excellent directors and, when paid money as men are, they can be both great directors and great parents– just as so many dad’s are.
The Sign on the Sound Stage Door: “No ______ Allowed”
By Maria Giese
In recent months, numerous articles have brought into focus the marginalization of women in Hollywood. Most of the articles emphasize the surprising box office success of films featuring women and girls as the lead characters in contrast to the relative absence of women in many other areas of the filmmaking process. The conclusions, more often than not, suggest that the disparity stems from the fact that so few women are actually directing the films that are being made. While the writers of these articles are to be applauded for bringing attention to such an important concern, few have suggested a solution to the problem.
Women directors in Hollywood have long been deeply concerned about the extraordinary disproportion in the ratio of male-to-female directors. According to Dr. Martha Lauzen (executive director of the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University), “There are more women in the U.S. Congress than there are women directors in Hollywood.” The numbers are so striking that even the most hardened skeptic must now stop and take note. Women are badly under-represented as directors of film and TV, while media is arguably America’s most culturally influential export around the globe.
One can come up with many noble reasons why there should be parity between the sexes among male and female film directors: the importance of having diverse perspectives in a culture, the validity of the female point of view around the world, and basic fairness. 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.
In recent decades, women have made great strides in many professions: in the military, government, the corporate world, and in universities where male-to-female professorships have been moving in the direction of more balanced ratios. In the film industry, however, the ratio of male-to-female working directors is more dismal than ever before, and the ratios certainly do not come close to reflecting the fact that women make up fifty-three percent of the population and a similar percentage of film school graduates. In episodic TV, women directors represent just twelve percent of working directors. In feature films, women make up a staggering five percent — ninety-five percent of feature films are helmed by men (Lauzen, 2011 Celluloid Ceiling).
Ending discrimination against women directors is vital to establishing a society of equality, diversity of perspective, and perhaps most important of all, excellence. The argument for maintaining excellence is critical; in order for producers to select the best directors available, it is essential that the pool of available directors be as large as possible. If they limit their selection pool largely to men, they will have to dig deeper into that pool and select less talented directors than if they were able to skim from the best of the best of a pool that includes the most talented women and men.
Among the most surprising facts revealed by recent statistics is that while there are fewer women directors of feature films, there are more women executives than ever. It is not just men that must be convinced of the equality of talent between male and female directors, it is women executives and producers, too. Actor/Director Jodie Foster was recently quoted in The Mary Sue as saying, “And name the lists that come out of the female studio executives: guy, guy, guy, guy. Their job is to be as risk-averse as possible. They see female directors as a risk” (April 21, 2012).
Experts on diversity and discrimination, particularly in academia and science, often speak of the “Leaky Pipeline” in which the number of male and female students in college and graduate programs is roughly fifty-fifty, but after graduation women get lost in an ever-increasing number of leaks in the pipeline on the way to the top. Pursuing that metaphor, there are few industries in the United States with more leaks in their pipelines than that of the film industry. Women in the film industry have simply not taken on the battle yet, but we must. Some say the time is now.
There are many organizations that represent women directors, including Women in Film, the Alliance of Women Directors, and Women Make Movies. The Directors Guild of America Women’s Steering Committee has the potential to be as influential as any of them. According to the DGA, the Women’s Steering Committee was created in 1979 with six female DGA members who wanted to know specifically what the ratio was of male-to-female working DGA directors. The following year, they presented a report that indicated the possibility of discrimination against women directors in Hollywood. The DGA made several failed efforts to encourage studios to adopt programs of affirmative action, including asking studios to hire one woman per thirteen TV episodes.
Eventually, the DGA resolved to file a class-action lawsuit against two major studios, Columbia and Warner Bros., but not just for women: they also decided to include male ethnic minorities in the suit. Unfortunately, in August of 1985, Judge Pamela Rymer, U.S. District Court Judge for the Central District of California, ruled in favor of the studios. It is critical to understand that she did not rule on the issue of whether or not discrimination existed. Rather, she ruled on counter-claims that the two studios had filed.
As reported in The Los Angeles Times (11-17-86), “The studios argued that the DGA contract gives directors the right to select the first assistant director, and the first assistant the right to select the second assistant. Thus, the studios could only hire the director, not the assistant directors. How could they be accused of discrimination if they couldn’t do all of the hiring? Judge Rymer ruled on this claim rather than on the actual issue of whether discrimination had occurred.”
Now, thirty years later, in the midst of economic instability and with even fewer women directing feature films, one must question the possibility of discrimination once again. If discrimination is against the law according to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964— and indeed it is— then now may be the time to take action.
In a recent correspondence about this issue with long-time national VP of the Directors Guild of America, Ed Sherin made the following comments: “Much the same argument was made during the early years of my tenure as National VP. Your extensive comments are invaluable to further clarifying these issues. I hope you are successful where we were stupefied by our inability to move the issue forward. The legal complexities are stultifying. I hope you have actually opened the can of worms.”
Prying open the can of worms might be introduced following a relevant argument published in the “Cardozo Journal of Law & Gender” by Marisa Rothstein (2011). Her proposal involved female Playwrights on Broadway, but the same argument may easily be applied to women directors in Hollywood. The case would involve pulling together enough statistical evidence to find an inference of discriminatory intent by the studios. This could be accomplished by comparing the number of male vs. female directors who have been employed on feature films from 1983 to present in relation to the pools of available directors.
Using a mathematical equation known as the “null hypothesis,” the courts could apply a binomial distribution test to determine gross disparity in the ratio between male and female directors. The larger the standard deviation— the gap between the null hypothesis and the numbers of female directors— the less likely it is that the studios chose their directors in an unbiased way. If this resulted in the suggestion of the presence of sex discrimination, female directors may perhaps establish a prima facie case for discrimination under Title VII.
It is not in the interest of the DGA that a class-action lawsuit be brought against the studios. The studios are, of course, are keeping some thousands of members of the guild fed and clothed; why would they attack the hand that feeds them? They would not. However, if someone else were to file the suit, it would be very embarrassing to the DGA. It would badly tarnish the image of the guild if they were stand by and do nothing to support the cause of discrimination against any of their members. They would probably prefer to do again what they did in the 1980’s—that’s is take over the suit and handle it themselves with diplomacy. The result, of course, would no doubt be the same—they would lose.
If the class-action group were to refuse to allow the DGA to take command of the suit, the DGA would likely be forced to file an Amicus Brief, a “friend out of court,” ie. an entity with strong interests or views on the subject, but not a party to the action. Filing an Amicus Brief would not only cause conflict between the guild and the studios, it would cause conflict among the DGA members who are not likely to benefit from the suit. Many white male directors, from whom directing jobs would have to come if parity with women is even remotely attained, would bitterly object to guild support of the case. That would not be so problematic, except that the DGA is controlled almost entirely by precisely those powerful, white male directors.
Yes, it is a far better option for the DGA to place their energies in preventative efforts to keep women from pursuing this very plausible court action. Everyone suspects that with the troubled economy, and the further marginalization of women directors, the number would show now, perhaps more than ever before in history, that studios are in egregious of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Title VII. Now, by many standards of logic, women can win. But a tougher question is: can women get going? Are women willing to fight fear of reprisals from studios, production companies, episodic TV producers and show-runners? More daunting than that, will women overcome their dread of acting in discordance of the urgings from their guild, which for most of DGA members is a beloved entity for which their membership is a mark of distinction and honor?
However, in the event that the studios proved unable to rebut such a presumption, women directors could make a claim against producers and ask for equitable relief. If nothing else, as Rothstein suggests, this effort might result in helping bring attention the plight of women in American film. Our new millennium is an era in which the media influence the way people around the world look at crucial issues, global and local. We need now, more urgently than ever before, to appeal to men and women in the film industry to correct this imbalance. Taking action now could change the course of history for women in film around the world.
As a woman film director, I have to say that I’ve been lucky so far in the sense that I’ve never yet had to work with someone that considered my gender before my creativity or work ethic. My actors and crew have been respectful and supportive for the most part. Perhaps that has to do with the fact that I’ve worked, up to this point, outside of the studio system.
But being an “indie” filmmaker does not mean I am free from what content people expect a female director to create. I have been shocked and frustrated by what I suspect is an unconscious expectation that audiences, and grant committees, have of seeing women portrayed in an altruistic light in work created by women directors. I sometimes wonder if most women directors are expected to make Mumblecore femme arthouse pieces, rather than action or horror films, because it is assumed we know nothing about these genres.
In the world of arthouse, I understand and appreciate the efforts that must be made to get women’s roles out of the bimbo-starlet stereotypes that prevail in the tent-pole films, but strong heroines are not free from shallow representation either. It seems we are afraid to look at women as they really are, in either extremity.
I provide a case in point: in my first feature, a horror-oriented drama, I wrote a finicky female lead, a documentarian who can’t keep focused on her project. As she heads to Puerto Rico to continue her work, she fights with her husband and then cheats on him. She confesses to her new love interest that she once had murderous thoughts against her infant child because of the demands it made on her life. Yet, still, she misses this same daughter, and later makes an effort to reconcile with her husband and heal their marriage.
When screening the film to young film students, very few had problems with the fact that the woman’s husband also cheated on her, but could not accept her cheating on him. Most found it repugnant that she confessed a dark secret about her momentary frustration with her child and thus found her character reprehensible. Nothing she did later, such as telling her daughter how much she missed her and then returning home to her family, could change their perspective. “Women don’t want to kill their babies” is one comment I received from a young woman.
Cross-culturally, for 2,600 years, people have struggled with the actions of Medea, and we are all horrified when we read news articles about any parent who injures a child, but few are shocked when a father verbally expresses even violent frustrations about fatherhood. Yet among an audience of young women, mothers are given less latitude. Likewise, monogamy in a marriage is a standard that both men and women sometimes struggle with, either in thought or in action. Interestingly, when screening the same film for an audience of older women, most of them understood that parenting is a tricky and emotionally challenging experience that sometimes pushes one’s patience to extremes.
I think the expectation of seeing one-sided women characters (either saints or sluts) has a lot to do with the fact that most films that have informed us culturally over the decades have been by and about men. There has thus been a plethora of hero types, villain types, and explorations of so many of the personality ranges in between these two. When women show up in these films, they are there to serve the plot in some superficial manner (love interest, femme fatale), but too often, there is not enough screen time to really explore who these women are beyond their surfaces.
Not only is it good storytelling to present complex characters, it is also socially healthy for us to see all the various shades of human characteristics– male and female– in our films. How can we have a dialogue about things as complex and challenging as motherhood, relationships, growing up, reconciliation, maturing, and every fluctuation and change in our lives, if we don’t explore ourselves in our fictional worlds? And yes, we can create female complexity in genres not typically associated with it, like horror or action, and as it would be relatively new territory for most women directors, the world might be pleasantly surprised with what we can create.
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.
Gender disparity in media is a global problem, yet individual women directors can do very little to turn the tide of discrimination in our industry. Our real hope lies in convincing the Directors Guild of America to stand up and embrace its assigned responsibility to protect the rights of its director members and take the lead in trailblazing the path toward gender parity.
We Americans like to think of ourselves as world leaders. We pride ourselves on leading the charge in keeping peace and bringing equality and justice to all the nations of the world, and yet, in terms of working toward gender parity in our own nation’s entertainment industry, we are failing badly. Global change must begin by creating parity for women directors in America, and that effort needs to start by initiating changes inside the very structure of the primary negotiating entity between film and television directors and the studios that hire them– the Directors Guild of America.
There seems to be an institutional bias within the DGA that prevents effective movement toward parity for women. For instance, during the class-action lawsuit of the 1980’s, the DGA was denied class certification on the grounds that some of the guild’s own policies put it in conflict with the interests of the female (and minority) plaintiffs who had initiated the complaint in the first place.
Therefore, because of entrenched policies within the DGA itself, the guild was not allowed to proceed with the case. The result was failure for the women and minority plaintiffs. While the suit failed, the fact that the DGA initiated the legal action at all resulted in a dramatic change to the employment landscape for women and minority directors. What was ½ of 1% employment for women grew, due to the lawsuit, to almost 16% employment for women by the mid nineties.
Unfortunately, 30 years later, the playing field for women directors has returned to a near-vertical tilt. Today, the film business is often regarded as America’s most visible industry-wide bastion of discrimination against women. The members of the guild, together with the law, the government, media, and the American public, must work together with the DGA to accomplish the same advancements toward parity for women directors in the U.S. film industry that women have already accomplished in so many other professions.
DGA DIVERSITY PROGRAMS: WHY DO THEY FAIL?
In 1979, the DGA picked up the baton from six courageous DGA women directors, and led the charge by initiating intense negotiations with the studios. They can do it again, and we can help. The DGA is fortunate to have Jay Roth, originally a civil rights lawyer, as national executive director. He is one of the best 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 lead this industry to gender party through negotiations with studios, he is the one.
Let us begin, however, with an examination and evaluation of the DGAs current and long-prevailing four-pronged approach to increasing job opportunities for women directors– and see why they fail. For as well-intended as these programs and events may be, none of them is fulfilling its fundamental objective of increasing the employment ratios of women directors.
DGA DIVERSITY CELEBRATION EVENTS:
DGA Diversity sponsored celebration and glorification events are public demonstrations of the talent and competence of women directors. Qualitatively, these events make a positive contribution to our community of women in the film business. However, quantitatively, they do not result in increased employment opportunities for women for a number of reasons.
Over the course of the past three decades, the DGA Diversity Committee for women (the Women’s Steering Committee), has honored and celebrated successful women directors many times—and for good reasons. Celebrations and tributes are uplifting and inspiring to the whole community as they serve to exemplify successful women as models for other women to follow.
Perhaps there are even exist ancillary benefits in that the guild reminds the studios, media, and the public of the equal ability and talent of women directors, thereby undermining the old prejudice that women are less competent than their male counterparts. And, finally, of course, it is a fun, communal activity to honor a successful woman for a job-well-done.
Unfortunately, the DGA often erroneously touts glorification events as being progressive in terms of increasing employment opportunities for women. Their rationale is that attention and publicity bestowed upon a single successful director will encourage her to feel ingratiated and indebted to the guild and hopefully give back, whether through mentoring a less experienced woman, or paying-it-forward in any number of other undefined ways.
As Kathryn Bigelow said in a recent interview with “More” magazine: “A filmmaker is a filmmaker. I tend not to look through a lens that is bifurcated in respect to gender or anything. But if what I do can serve for one person—let’s say I can be a kind of role model for other women directors to prove that if you’re tenacious enough, you can achieve what you have in your sights—then I’m proud to carry that mantle.”
Kathryn Bigelow’s success is indeed an inspiration to all directors– male and female. We women are particularly glad for her success and we want her to be working, but she cannot solve the problem of bringing parity to women directors. Bigelow is not just competent, she is also acutely intelligent; it seems likely that she would appreciate the DGA diversity funds be spent on helping under-represented women directors get more work.
Finally, no argument is more convincing than one based on simple numbers. The guild’s own stark statistical reports clearly indicate that celebratory and glorification events result in no quantitative value what-so-ever. Successful women directors already get a great deal of publicity and attention for no cost from the global media, therefore spending funds allocated to diversity programs takes away from events and programs that could benefit under-employed women more effectively.
While tributes and celebrations of successful women provide qualitative, a diversity policy of glorifying successful women directors should not be held up as an example of an effective method to bring parity or increase employment opportunities for women. Significantly, events celebrating white male directors and women directors should ALL be paid for from the same sources. Women should not have to use diversity funds.
We are all very proud of our distinguished women directors, and we hope that their accomplishments continue, but we cannot take solace in the few successes when we are faced with such appalling employment disparity. We take our hats off to women who have broken through the “celluloid ceiling,” but their successes do not diminish the important need to remove the immense barriers that stand before all women in our industry.
DGA DIVERSITY EDUCATIONAL PANELS:
Another DGA diversity effort intended to address the problem of the under-employment of its women members includes Educational Panels. These events bring working women film and TV directors (and their teams) together with studio executives and other DGA members to discuss various aspects of the production process. Typically, there is a moderator who introduces the panelists, asks questions, and fields questions from the audience. The moderator tries to keep the speakers on-point or re-direct the discussion in pursuit of particularly interesting tangents.
There is nothing intrinsically wrong with educational panels. Education in any dynamic field must be an ongoing process. The DGA Diversity Committee, however, utilizes funds allocated to help increase employment opportunities for women and minorities, while general education should be the job of another sector of the Guild.
For example, last May, The DGA Women’s Steering Committee joined forces with the Writers Guild of America West’s Committee of Women Writers to present “Successful Writer/Director Relationships in Television,” a seminar that “sought to provide guidance on how directors and writers can effectively collaborate.”
The panel included three women directors and three women writer/producers; a women director moderated. The discussion focused on the “importance of setting the tone for a series with the pilot, what writer/producers look for in directors, and the needs and expectations of both writers and directors in episodic television.”
It was a pleasant enough morning listening to six bright and successful women talk shop. The problem was that it could just as easily have been a panel of six male writers and directors, and the information conveyed would not have been any different. Nothing was communicated that addressed any of the problems that the DGA diversity program was set up to solve, nor could they have been adequately addressed in this panel.
In fact, during the panel discussion, when the conversation did veer onto the subject of the under-representation of women in television—both among writers and directors—the moderator politely guided the speakers away from discrimination against women in TV and back on-point, refocusing them on the prearranged subject matter.
After a polite applause, the audience was asked to remain seated for a quick photo session to capture group shots of the panelists and various committee members. The obligatory photos were used to memorialize the event in the DGA Quarterly and other related media outlets. The DGA is quite adept at documenting diversity events and preparing glossy write-ups afterwards.
The guild seems proud of the various efforts made to create employment opportunities work for women and minority directors and use important-sounding names like the “DGA Diversity Task Force” to give them gusto. However, their efforts have not budged the numbers of women directors at all.
Indeed, it must be conceded that in the past two decades the ratio of male-to-female directors in episodic television has worsened. As we left the Writers Guild building and headed to our cars, we all looked a little glum. Another Saturday morning taken from our families—and to what end?
We under-employed women, many of us perfectly qualified to direct episodic TV, with Master’s degrees from the best film schools in the nation, hours of prime time shows under our own belts, and even feature films playing around the world, looked at each other wordlessly. One of my unemployed colleagues rolled down her window as she started her car: “Looks pretty good getting work, huh?” I just smiled and shook my head: “Sure does.”
These educational panels don’t serve to “educate” most of us about anything we don’t already know. We’re members of the DGA because we’ve worked before. We’ve already done the groundwork. But when the playing field is leaning at a near-vertical tilt, there’s just not much room for us. 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.”
So, while few would dispute the value of educational panels in general, it is erroneous for the DGA to suggest that they serve as an effective means of addressing the problem of disparity for women directors unless they directly address that topic. Any resources coming from the DGA diversity coffers that are spent on educational seminars should involve panels that leave an audience of women inspired, invigorated, and hopeful that change is finally on the horizon.
Women’s Steering Committee members—who are by definition ALL women members of the DGA—desperately need counsel on just how to approach making systemic changes to a field that ranks among the most male-dominated professions in the United States of America. Discrimination is rampant in the film and television industry, and the statistics our own guild regularly reports stand as undeniable proof.
If educational panels are to be sponsored by the DGA Diversity Program, they should serve to educate women on issues related to diversity. They should be comprised of women who have succeeded in overcoming resistance to the hiring of women. They should bring in experts on diversity and discrimination who can describe what women in other fields have done to create parity in their professions.
DGA diversity educational panels should teach women Guild members how they might come to represent the same ratio of working directors that women represent as a population in American society: as of 2010, 50.8% females to 49.2% males.
DGA DIVERSITY NETWORKING EVENTS:
In general, there are fundamentally two types of networking events: those among peers and those that bring together unequal participants. Networking events among peers are relatively straightforward and take place in every sector of society.
The bringing together of peers has a proven track record of resulting in mutual benefit, where face-to-face interactions can result in on-the-spot deal-making. DGA Diversity networking events, however, intended to help increase employment opportunities for women and minorities, represent an example of networking mixers that bring together unequal participants.
Many DGA diversity events designed to increase job opportunities for women directors include women attendees who are not currently employed. Some of them have little or no experience working in the category in which they are seeking employment. Often the women attendees are not repped by agents or managers and they attend the events primarily to familiarize themselves with the landscape of episodic directing. For unemployed, but experienced directors, the networking event may be a last resort.
The counterparts to the women attendees are film and TV executives who are generally arm-twisted into attending the event to fulfill contractual agreements mandated in the MBA between the DGA and the studios. More often than not, reluctant to waste an evening, a more powerful executive will send a mid-level exec to take his or her place. Therefore, rarely are the executive participants at these networking events actually decision-makers in the hiring of directors.
Put simply, networking events in which mid-level executives meet up with a group of under-employed women DGA members who have little or no currency to exchange, usually result in nothing more than wasted time and lingering feelings of humiliation.
Beyond that, DGA diversity networking events tend to be ineffective in increasing employment for women because executives are being asked to take a chance on an unproven talent. Perhaps a woman will turn out to be a great director for that project, or maybe she will not. There is no way of knowing without seeing the results of her work.
Hence, in a flat or declining market, an executive is very unlikely to risk a directing slot on an unknown candidate with no immediate proof of benefit in sight. Are there networking events with unequal participants that succeed? One good example is college admissions networking events.
In these cases, thousands of student candidates are applying for spots in upcoming classes, while colleges and universities are seeking thousands of qualified student candidates. This type of networking often proves to be a very successful way of bringing together unequal participants. The prospective tuition-paying students meet with members of the academic community who need to fill their classes with a set number of students. Everyone has something to gain.
Even so, the schools must take a chance on the applicants; regardless of grades, essays, and standardized test scores, some of the applicants will become successful, contributing members of the academic community, while others will prove less so. Unlike our industry, however, colleges and universities MUST admit a certain number of NEW students, and students of course, must find their schools.
To apply this analogy to the film industry, improving the employment ratio for women directors could potentially emerge from networking events if the studios were mandated to hire a certain number of women each season in order to work toward parity on some set schedule goals & timetables.
In this case, the executives would have a big incentive to send their top decision-making executives to cull from the DGA women director members who attend the events. In this way, since the studios MUST hire a woman, they would have a stake in making sure that the woman they choose be the best qualified for their series possible.
In the meantime, the producers can make ancillary use of the meetings by noting other women directors who may not suit their current show, but whom they may hire down the road. In this case, everyone would know in advance that a certain level of success will most likely be achieved. As with any new director—male or female—some would eventually prove to be great directors and others not, but at least the women candidates would get the chance to communicate their past directing experience and potential.
If this were to happen, since male-to-female ratios within the pools of qualified director candidates is much closer to 50/50, it is inevitable that over time, talented female directors would come to reach parity with their male counterparts. The time-scale would depend of course on the intensity of the goals & timetables.
Unfortunately, this is not the case, and until it is, we cannot expect diversity networking events to become a catalyst to improve the employment numbers for women directors.
Starting a career directing film and television often begins with a conundrum: one cannot qualify to direct until one has directed, yet how can one direct without first becoming qualified? Leaping over this logistical divide is often accomplished with the intervention of a mentor, when a more experienced director or a TV executive takes an interest in a young talent.
Over the years, the DGA diversity program has experimented with a variety of mentorship efforts to help its women and minority members—with mixed results. Unfortunately, the recent mentorship programs initiated as joint efforts between the DGA and the studios have been widely acknowledged to be failures.
Even though the Disney/ABC-DGA Directing Program, launched in 2001, boasts “one of the longest-running programs of its kind in the entertainment industry,” completion of the program by the selected fellows has resulted in relatively few actual directing jobs for its participants. Equally disappointing results have emerged from those who have completed the HBO-DGA Television Directing Fellowship Program.
Why do the DGA-studio directing fellowships deliver such mediocre results? Before attempting to answer that question, let’s examine why mentoring programs in general have had such a long history of success.
Throughout the ages, young people have gained apprenticeships from skilled or experienced people to learn a trade or enter 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 failure of the DGA-studio diversity fellowships. For while these programs are intended to engender mentorships between young talent and experienced directors and/or executives, and hopefully result in jobs, they actually only serve to provide mutual benefit between the DGA and the studios, not the women and minorities who participate in the programs.
One women 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. Constantly, they told us we should network with each other! What? ‘Cause the other fellows would help us! What? Don’t we all have plenty of friends in the business? And aren’t we here so YOU, the people at ABC, can help us?
“Then, 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 ones in current don’t want the shows to hire the people in the (fellowship) program. They are not interested in actually getting the fellows put on shows. They are more worried about maintaining their jobs than they are interested in getting someone an episode to direct.”
From the standpoint of studio employees who must tolerate these unwanted shadows (and often treat them with resentment), 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 directors often seem to look upon the fellows with derision.
In general, only if an observing director is actually assigned to an upcoming show that season, or in the near future, will the observer be treated with respect. DGA-studio diversity fellowships not only provide no guarantee that a participant will get to direct an episode of TV after completion of the program, there is not even a promise that one will get to observe a show during the program.
As the ABC-DGA Fellowship stipulates upfront: “A stipend of $950.00 per week when actively shadowing, will be paid. The duration of the individual’s participation is at the discretion of ABC executives, executive producers and/or episodic directors. And the HBO-DGA Fellowship states similarly: “Fellows will be employees of HBO on a non-exclusive basis and will be paid approximately $50,000 for up to one year, anticipated, but not guaranteed (depending upon the number of weeks worked and hours per week), to work on a television series to be determined by HBO pursuant to an employment contract.”
Salaries of $950 per week or $50,000 for the year-long fellowship may be very tempting to an unemployed applicant, but she should know that, as these “actively shadowing” periods are “at the discretion” and are “anticipated, but not guaranteed,” they almost never add up to much pay at all for any of the fellows.
As one ABC-DGA fellow comments: “When I got in, they chose 15 of us for the program. The idea was to send the list (of fellows) to all the shows and let the shows decide which one of us they would invite to shadow. But the shows didn’t come forward. When ABC realized that very few of us had a chance to shadow, they extended it for another year. I got one shadowing opportunity in 18 months, and managed to arrange for another shadowing assignment on my own when the program was about to end and nothing was coming in. The stipend was $950 a week for the weeks you were shadowing—for 2 to 3 weeks, if you were lucky.”
Even though the fellowship programs have little to offer their participants, they are highly competitive. The application process is rigorous, involving notarized applications, an essay, several letters of recommendation, a director’s reel, and an interview for the finalists before a panel of DGA and studio executives. Although applicants do not need to be DGA members, the requirement of a director’s reel indicates that previous experience is required.
In fact, many of the directors who become fellows have already put in numerous hours observing on prime time TV shows. Many of them have completed film school, and directed shorts or even feature films, yet after completing the program, they still do not get assigned to an episode of TV.
Paradoxically, these fellowships are very prestigious. Fellowship applicants are usually very excited when they learn they have been selected as finalists, and they are often over-the-moon when they find out they have been selected as fellows. They get their photos taken with members of the DGA diversity staff and participating studio executives, but it is not until the end of the fellowship period that the complete disappointment sinks in.
The fellows have made the DGA look good and the studios look good, but for them, more often than not, the year or two of commitment has resulted in nothing more than a farce and a preposterous waste of time.
One women DGA member who completed the program, and did not get a show, noted that the only fellow she knows of who did get a directing assignment was someone who was already employed on the show: “…an actor who did an arc (a multiple episode role) on the show anyway, and had been a dorm-mate of one of the executive producers. He never showed up for any of our gatherings.”
It is broadly acknowledged in the world of episodic directing that many shows are directed by cast and crew members, some of whom have never directed before in their lives, and are often not already members of the DGA. Episodic television is a producer-driven form of media that benefits from uniformity of vision from episode-to-episode.
Therefore, a unique directorial approach is precisely what producers do not want. The production crew of an episodic TV show usually runs like a well-oiled machine, and it is propitious to hire from within. From the point of view of the producers, 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 for the position of director, and of course, on a long-running show, nearly every star will make a demand to direct at some point or another.
TV director mentorship programs designed for women is to be successful, it needs to include a policy of guaranteeing the mentee a directing assignment on a show after the observation period is completed. The promise of a job is essential to maintaining the self-respect of the shadowing mentee, as well as the respectful treatment by other employees on the show who are guiding her in.
Since the fellowship application process is so rigorous and competitive, one can safely make the assumption that anyone who at last receives the prestigious position would likely be adequately qualified to helm a show at the conclusion of the program.
TV directing jobs are highly coveted and highly paid. They must be well paid as most directors only get a few gigs a year. The executives and show-runners who hand out the directing jobs know what valuable prizes they hold. Therefore, they give the few available slots to individuals who will provide some special benefit, either to the show or to them personally.
Sometimes it is beneficial to hire a nephew or a step-son; perhaps a girlfriend or boyfriend would like to try their hand; a loyal crew member certainly deserves a shot after years of dedicated work. For producers, handing out directing positions on their show may help maintain good will and mutual benefit in any arena of their lives. Why bother with a mentee they hardly know?
In the final analysis, one wonders what directing jobs could remain for the female fellow and DGA member who has done her time over many years building a great foundation to prepare herself to direct.
From any standpoint, what currency does the women director have to trade? Talent, competence and skill as a director? How can one know whether she possesses these requisite skills until she has had the opportunity to direct an episode? If her previous work, as demonstrated on her director’s reel is not enough to assure a producer or show-runner of her ability, only the act of directing will suffice.
In the long run, the DGA diversity fellowship programs do not help women DGA members at all. In fact, an argument may be made that they affect women adversely by diverting their energy and wasting their time. It is certainly unproductive to women directors that their guild wastes precious resources allotted to programs intended to help increase employment for women on large-scale, long-term fellowship programs that are undeniably ineffective.
The DGA Diversity Program continues to promote these prestigious studio directing 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.
Herein lies the very heart of the problem of the under-representation of women directors in America, and thus globally. 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 complicity with the studios to maintain discriminatory policies that prevent a shift toward parity. In such a case, women directors have little hope of changing the status quo.
The DGA points its finger at the studios, and the studios point their fingers at the DGA. While America’s films studios and other producing entities that actually hire directors are primarily responsible for the under-employment of women, the organization that must initiate crucial change is the one that represents the rights of directors: the Directors Guild of America.
WOMEN DIRECTORS: FIGHTING FOR PARITY
DGA DIVERSITY: 10 SOLUTIONS FOR WOMEN DIRECTORS:
The DGA has approximately 15,000 members worldwide; approximately 58% are director members and 13.5% of those directors are women. However, women directors represent the category of guild membership that has the worst male-to-female employment ratios: approximately 95% to 5% in feature films and 85% to 15% in episodic TV, according to recent DGA statistics.
We are awaiting the figures to determine what proportion of the 58% of women director members make up those meager slices of the directing pie. Since most women DGA director members get no work at all, we know that it is relatively few women who make up the small ratio of employed female directors.
DGA devotes considerable resources to its diversity programs, and over the course of the past 30 years, lots of very bright people have put their heads together to try to remedy the problem. However, for all their many efforts, the numbers have not changed at all.
We are living in a time of tremendous economic instability that, in our industry, translates to fewer jobs for all directors—and even further marginalization of women directors. While it may seem counter-intuitive, the present socio-economic conditions may actually contribute to making this a particularly auspicious time to at last make powerful strides toward gender parity in our industry.
Already tremendous advances have been made in the military, universities, corporations, and in government, yet the entertainment industry remains a bastion of discrimination against women—particularly women directors. We are getting left behind, and being left behind in this industry has profound ramification for the entire world.
Ending discrimination against women directors is vital to establishing a society of equality and diversity of perspective. Since media is America’s most influential export around the globe, it is of paramount importance that the media and programming we export represent male and female perspectives equally.
It is not just the validity of the female point of view around the world, 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.
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.
The inference of discrimination could be demonstrated by using a mathematical equation known as the “null hypothesis.” The courts could apply a binomial distribution test to determine gross disparity in the ratio between male and female directors. The larger the standard deviation— the gap between the null hypothesis and the numbers of female directors— the less likely it is that the studios chose their directors in an unbiased way.
If this resulted in the suggestion of the presence of sex discrimination, female directors could establish a prima facie case for discrimination under Title VII. We should not need to file a second class-action lawsuit to remedy this problem, but we must solve it. 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 bring parity to women directors.
Women DGA director members are members because they have directed films and/or episodic television professionally. They are trained, competent and talented; they simply do not get the opportunities that they have worked so hard for, and that they deserve.
The following ten recommendations are the result of careful consideration, but they are by no means absolute. They are simply intended as suggestions to help foster positive dialogue and a strong sense of unity between those of us who so want to bring parity to women: the entire DGA membership, the DGA executives, and the many entities that make up the American film industry:
1. DGA CELEBRATION EVENTS:
Celebrating successful women directors within the DGA benefits both the DGA, the WSC, and all guild members. However, successful women directors should be treated exactly the same as successful male directors. Events celebrating women directors should be funded from the same source as similar white, male glorification events.
Celebrating the triumphs of DGA women should be handled by the DGA “Special Events” and not by the Diversity Program. If the Women’s Steering Committee must use their funds to celebrate successful women DGA members because the DGA is failing to do so, then that is a problem that requires scrutiny and evaluation.
Diversity funds for women should not be diverted to events that belong under the general auspices of the guild itself. If the Women’s Steering Committee feels it is of benefit to hold a celebratory event, it should use its funds to highlight those in the entertainment industry who have taken risks and contributed to the effort to increase employment for women DGA members, whether they be show-runners, producers, studios, networks, or any other entity or individual.
In fact, the DGA could institute policies to coax and encourage the studios to hire more women directors, including an “Incentive Program” and well-publicized awards based on performance for those individuals and producers that have demonstrated a history of hiring of women directors.
Leave the tributes and celebrations of individual women directors to DGA “Special Events” or other categories within the DGA. The WSC needs its few allotted annual events and funds to promote employment opportunities for women.
2. EDUCATIONAL PANELS:
Focus on events that analyze and evaluate the efforts made by women in other professions and industries that have successfully achieved progress toward gender parity.
Diversity educational panels should be designed to invigorate, inspire, and galvanize women DGA members. They should educate women and the entertainment community at large on the realities of discrimination against women directors.
DGA Diversity should promote panels that politicize the under-employment of women directors on the national and governmental level. They should bring in experts on discrimination, diversity, incentives, and affirmative action.
3. AFFIRMATIVE ACTION PROGRAMS:
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 (ie. 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.”
This misogynist perspective is equally applicable to the profession of film and TV directing, so 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 in the 1950’s and 1960’s 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 indication of the direction that the world is going in terms of pressing forward for gender parity in all 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 entertainment industry.
4. DIRECTOR NETWORKING EVENTS:
DGA Director Networking events must be raised to a high-level of quality. The participating executives must be scrutinized and the directors must be vetted. Only those executives and show-runners who have already demonstrated a willingness to hire women directors should be invited to mixers.
Likewise, only women directors who have previously demonstrated a standard of ability and talent should included in the event. Combining only decision-making executives (who have a record of advancing women directors) with only highly-qualified women directors will result in making attendance at these networking events an honor and a privilege for show-runners, studio executives, and women directors alike.
As was stated above, improving the employment ratio for women directors could potentially emerge from networking events if the studios were mandated to hire a certain number of women each season in order to work toward parity on some set schedule of goals and timetables.
If studios know that they must fulfill a mandated shift toward parity for women directors, or suffer a penalty, there will be great incentive to send their top decision-making executives to cull from those most qualified DGA women director members who attend the events.
In this case, over time, talented female directors will inevitably come to reach parity with their male counterparts on a time-scale that would depend on the intensity of the mandated goals and timetables.
5. DIRECTING FELLOWSHIP PROGRAMS:
If DGA-studio diversity fellowship 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.
The promise of a job is essential to maintaining the self-respect of the shadowing mentee, as well as the respectful treatment by other employees on the show who are guiding her in. This can result in great success if the fellowship application process continues to be as rigorous and competitive as it has been in the past.
This way, every women who completes the year-long program can safely be trusted to helm an episode of TV on a program on which she has shadowed for the requisite period of time.
6. ANNUAL DGA WOMEN’S SUMMIT:
The DGA should hold an Annual Women Directors Summit based on the proposed model of the “2013 DGA-WSC Women of Action Summit.” This Summit should not be funded by the WSC, but rather by DGA Special Events.
“SUMMIT OBJECTIVE: The goal of The Women of Action Summit is to invigorate our community of DGA women directors. We will celebrate the significance of empowering female voices in media and energize our commitment to employment parity for women directors.
Surrounded by experts, executives and filmmakers all devoted to our issues and dedicated to elevating the status of women directors, we will examine the facts, strategize fresh approaches and renew our spirit for making change.”
This summit must bring together our most powerful male and female DGA director members to brainstorm with the DGA and the WSC, as well as academics, experts in diversity, discrimination, affirmative action, and incentive programs for studios to hire more women
7. DGA DIVERSITY STATISTICS:
The DGA must make statistics detailing shifts in employment ratios of women director members much more open and readily available to the DGA membership.
In this day and age, it should be a simple task to run statistical queries against the database of information the guild already uses to calculate dues and distribute royalties. They should use this data to track hiring trends for women on a consistent basis, and make the tracking results transparent and available to DGA membership.
If the DGA does not already keep their data categorized by sex, they should start that right away. Each directing job entry should have a column for sex.
It is unacceptable that the simple study requested many months ago by the WSC, and approved by the DGA, to get access to the male-to-female ratios of directors on feature films and episodic television from the 1980s to present has still not been published.
8. DGA COMMUNICATIONS COMMITTEE:
The DGA should allow the Women’s Steering Committee (and other diversity committees) to utilize the DGA Communications Department to bring industry and national attention to the issue of the under-representation of women directors.
9. DGA PUBLICATIONS:
Allow WSC members to publish articles in the DGA Quarterly to bring attention to the under-representation of women directors, even if the articles are controversial.
Thus far, several articles have been submitted to the DGA Quarterly by women DGA members that were not only NOT PUBLISHED, but whose submissions were not even acknowledged by the publication.
WSC members have been advised to submit any articles to the DGA head of diversity, rather than the Quarterly. Evidently, that is where the articles are intended to remain.
10. DGA-WSC DIRECTOR’S REEL FUND
The DGA could institute a fund to assist women directors in making and improving their director’s reels and creating professional websites. (This could be expanded to include all directors, male and female, with financial need).