Women Helmers in Media’s Brave New World

"Reed Hastings!  Help me out!"
“Reed Hastings!   Help me out!”

“TV in ten years is going to be 100% streamed.  On demand.  Internet Protocol. Based on computers and based on software.  The next generation won’t even know what live TV is— they live in an on-demand world.”
( The New Yorker – 2-3-14)


By Maria Giese

It’s not just the weather that’s changing these days—global media is on the verge of a seismic shift and, as we all know, change means opportunity.  This new media revolution could be the moment of opportunity women directors have been waiting for to seize a piece of the employment pie.

Les Moonves, CEO of CBS was recently quoted as saying:  “For 25 years, I’ve been hearing that Network television is dead.  We’re thriving like never before” (The New Yorker).  But truth be told, he’s a dying, old dog— and a misogynist one at that.  (Save your tears: Moonves will still get a hell of a lot richer before the game is over. He earned over sixty million dollars last year).

All of these moribund Network heads— male and female alike— of ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, The CW, and so on, whose paternalist sensibilities have been keeping women directors of all ethnicities buried for decades, are about to get swallowed whole by a new generation of media giants whose universal perspectives may just suggest a sea change in thinking about gender equity.

Will the old Hollywood TV networks, that have been in rampant violation of U.S. gender employment equity laws for decades, drag their biases against women helmers out the exit door with them when they go?  The emerging mavericks– Reed Hastings, Jeff Bezos, and Susan Wojcicki– of America’s growing on-demand streaming media, like Netflix, Amazon, and Google, may be able unveil a promising new horizon for women in America’s most influential global export– media.

Netflix head, Reed Hastings, is practically a new species compared to Moonves or Sony’s Amy Pascal (a female studio head who has failed to hire a single women feature director in years).  Hastings is highly educated, an innovative thinker, and Peace Corp veteran who spends much of his time on philanthropic work for charter schools.  He could just become the model media executive for a new era of gender equity in the American entertainment industry.

What makes this possibility seem hopeful?  As the new forms of media come to power, statistics about female consumers become more important than ever.  Women today make up 51% of the population of the United States, control over 2 trillion dollars of American purchasing power, and 85% of household purchases.

In 2013, 503 billion dollars was spent on global advertising.  Seventy billion of it went to U.S. TV ads alone, and more and more of it is migrating toward digital streaming platforms.  Simple math and basic laws of good American entrepreneurship suggest that future global media success will rely in part on integrating women in accordance with their viewing numbers and purchasing power.

Getting the business model tuned just right for maximum profit will require not just creating more femme-themed content, but getting more women directors behind the camera to tell these stories from a female perspective so they resonate with women and girls around the world.  If a new world order in media is going to dominate human story-telling— a profession from which, right now in 2014, women are almost 100% excluded as creators– new media giants will limit their potential.

Right now, even though women enter and graduate from our nation’s film schools at a 50-50 ratio with men, they step onto a professional directing playing field that is at an almost vertical male-dominated tilt against women.  With women directors currently comprising just 4% of feature films and 12% of episodic TV, women’s stories are lacking authenticity.

Let’s take a quick look at just how women could ride the crest of this breaking wave into a future of parity on the emerging new playing field of global on-demand streaming media. This inevitably explosive media expansion will surely give rise to the need for considerably more content creation and could provide women with new opportunities to direct without taking work away from men.  Gender competition for such a lucrative and high-status employment resource as directing has always been one of the key barriers for women directors.

Among the new emerging giants– Netflix, Amazon, and Google– Netflix is just now shifting from its hybrid DVD distribution platform to financing and producing big-budget new series content that is released all at once for binge viewing.  Netflix recently coughed up $100 million for the first two seasons of the critically successful13-hour series “House of Cards” and Amazon is tentatively making its first series.

Google, not to be left behind, is adding professional-grade video programs to its platform.  YouTube is a platform of infinite channels and on-demand media has made it possible for new sources of financing as diverse as Microsoft, that is also producing original content.  In fact, YouTube allows the potential for every single viewer around the globe to become a content provider.  Right now the networks are lagging behind in this race, although Hulu has been created to withhold some of the business from emerging new competitors.

What this means for women is very significant.  There is sure to be a vast increase in content, but when the number of women directors is currently so low, one wonders: will the new executives begin to hire women directors?  Or will they follow in the misogynistic footsteps of their network predecessors, as was evidenced on “House of Cards” which employed zero women directors on the first 13 episodes.

Unfortunately, for myriad reasons—from conscious and unconscious discrimination against women directors among studio executives and show-runners to widespread feminist complacency during the massive economic boom— 1995 shadowed the beginning of a 20-year period of stasis for women director employment.

Today, in 2014, few TV executives or showrunners even consider hiring women helmers.  For this reason, the number of working women episodic TV directors today is on an ominous decline, down 4% since last year, from 16% to 12%.

As with any burgeoning new ecosystem, the first settlers to gain a foothold will gain a marked advantage.  In this light, fresh opportunities for women directors demand that they use their every resource to overcome the powerful forces of sexual discrimination that have kept women marginalized and excluded from the directing profession for decades.

Thanks to a large class-action lawsuit against three major studios in 1979 (led by the DGA on behalf of women directors from 1983 to 1985), when DGA women directed just .5% of TV episodes, that percentage shot up to 16% by 1995.  Coming in the wake of the the the civil rights movement in the 1960’s and the women’s liberation movement in the 1970’s, women had many reasons to believe that a new era of gender parity in Hollywood was upon them, but today that hope has not born out.

Got game?

On another front, although very nascent, we see the new dawn of interactive gaming—an exciting new platform for storytelling that hasn’t even begun to be probed by serious directors, but is certain to flourish.  To snub this new opportunity, as feature directors snubbed music videos until the 1980’s and commercials until the 1990’s, would be foolish for women, even if the stories presently comprise primarily male-oriented action.

Who the emerging leaders and decision-makers of new media will be is as yet uncharted territory, but the DGA Women Steering Committee could benefit women directors and their teams by presenting a symposium to meet the various representatives of the new media content creators in gaming— a world that is thus far completely untapped by women.

In conclusion, in fighting gender discrimination, women directors need to shift their targets from the old entrenched networks that are experiencing fractures in their foundations, to the erupting volcanoes that are certain to evolve into the new media mountains of the future.

These are the new partners the Directors Guild of America needs to focus on in future collective bargaining negotiations in order to be sure that diversity agreements are strengthened and complied with to include women directors– equally.

(The author is grateful to Ken Auletto for his inspiring article, “Outside the Box,” in The New Yorker – Feb 3, 2014).



Michael Franklin – Hero to Women Directors

Screen Shot 2014-01-25 at 9.40.19 AM

By Maria Giese

In 1979, the DGA “Original Six” directors: Susan Bay, Nell Cox, Joelle Dobrow, Dolores Ferraro, Victoria Hochberg and Lynne Littman, unable to land jobs, began assembling statistics.

After a year, the presented a report to the DGA National Executive Secretary, Michael Franklin, who was stunned by the low numbers and implications of unlawful discrimination against women.

Franklin was a labor leader in the old sense, and deeply concerned with discrimination against women members of the DGA. He inspired the Guild’s conscience. He brought the Board and the Guild to a higher level of responsibility and accountability, struggling for a higher vision for all workers.

Franklin, in conjunction with the new DGA Women’s Committee, set up meeting after meeting to encourage production companies to interview women members– all to no avail.  After one final attempt, when none of the invited executives showed up for a scheduled meeting, a fed-up Franklin made his historic decision to launch America’s first DGA-led, class-action lawsuit on behalf of women against three major studios in 1983.

By 1995, just 10 years later, the percentage of TV episodes directed by women had risen from 0.5% to 16%. Sixteen percent!  This was certainly thanks to the crucial support that Michael Franklin and the DGA leadership provided women Guild members at that time.

11 Ways the DGA Sabotages Women Directors

At the Center of the Web of Discrimination Against Women Directors
The DGA is the Spider at the Center of the Web of Discrimination Against Women Directors

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, order she had to disqualify the DGA as leading the class because, illness in her view, treatment the Guild discriminates against women as much as the studios do.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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 some committee members, but from 2004 to present, the number of employed women directors actually declined.
  1. 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 almost 2 years ago.
  1. In 2012, when several members of the WSC Events Subcommittee won unanimous vote approval for a day-long 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.
  1. 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
  1. 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
  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.

Women Directors: March in Burkas

Edited by Maria Giese

2013 DGA-WSC Women of Action Summit: Roundtables Recommendation #24: American women directors should protest industry discrimination by trying everything, decease even “marching in burkas”!


Read more about the Summit



Women Directors and the Curse of Twofer Tokenism

115“She’s called Lita Cheata Directorita! You wind her up, put

her on set, and she counts twice– ethnic minority and female!


By Maria Giese, MFA

One of the most important issues facing women directors today is the curse of “Twofer Tokenism.”  The current membership of the Directors Guild of America is comprised of 1,160 women directors, but only a handful of those women are very highly-employed, another 25 women directors manage to make a living, and the remaining 1,125 are mostly unemployed.

The DGA supports the few highly-employed women, including them as leaders on the Guild Councils, Committees and governing Board.  The names of those few women alone are included on special lists disseminated by the DGA Diversity department to producers and showrunners seeking to hire women directors.  In the meantime, the Guild has recently mandated ByLaws that exclude, silence and further marginalize the under-employed women director members of the Guild, women who may be just as qualified and talented.

The most egregious of these bylaws is the “Working in the Trade” requirement, which relegates women who have had a difficult time finding work to the humiliating and stigmatizing category, “No Longer Working in the Trade.”  These women are not included on any lists and cannot even run for elected leadership positions on their own diversity committee, the DGA “Women’s Steering Committee,” which was established in 1979 to serve the needs of those very women.

U.S. Department of Labor Office-of-Labor-Management-Standard regulations which states in Chapter 4 of the Election Guide:

“If a union has a ‘working at the trade’ qualification requiring a member to be employed in the industry in which the union has collective bargaining agreements, the union should consider an unemployed member who is actively seeking employment in the trade to be ‘working at the trade.’

This regulation is a simplified interpretation of the Federal Regulations stated in the Election Provisions of the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act of 1959: § 452.41   Working at the trade.

It would ordinarily be reasonable for a union to require candidates to be employed at the trade or even to have been so employed for a reasonable period. In applying such a rule an unemployed member is considered to be working at the trade if he is actively seeking such employment…

Having a tiny pool of highly-employed women directors who are provided special status and advantages by the Guild is known as “Tokenism.” Many recent studies have demonstrated how damaging tokenism is to the broader members of a marginalized group.  Advantaging individual women may seem like a good deal to those individuals while they benefit; they may have fought very hard to achieve their privileged position, and they may feel justified in protecting their turf from other women, but it harms the greater good, and the future for women at large.

The problem with tokenism isn’t limited simply to the implication that those select women don’t really deserve their positions. For the most part, it is true that that they have almost certainly worked very hard against innumerable odds to achieve their seat in the boys’ club.  But any woman member of the DGA has, without a doubt, taken on and overcome the same difficult challenges.

The much bigger problem with tokenism is the very serious damage it does to other all other women directors who are seeking employment.  The few token women directors are of little concern to white male directors, as those women are positioned specifically to compete with each other for the few TV episodes allotted them. They do not stand as a threat to their male counterparts who already enjoy a virtually guaranteed lion’s share of the employment “pie.”  The only competitors these women really face are other women.

This problem is exacerbated by the Guild’s emphasis of “Twofer Tokenism” which is sometimes abused.  The fact that some women directors only claim to be women of ethnicity is not carefully considered.Blends of ethnicity in melting pot America are difficult to discern, and some women make the ethnicity cut using ethnic-sounding surnames, or those of a spouse. This is especially damaging to women of color, as the number of employed ethnic minority females becomes falsely inflated, resulting in lessened efforts to increase the need for their heightened inclusion.

This issue is not one that has been closely looked into, and is a trifle to the DGA. As long as the Guild and the studio executives can “tick” two diversity boxes, then they feel covered.For this reason, when DGA diversity leaders “tap” women directors for entry into lucrative TV directing, they are tempted to lean toward individuals with double-minority status. “Twofer Tokenism,” for obvious reasons, serves the interest of white male DGA directors such that one women director may fulfill the numerical diversity requirement of two, leaving more space in the ratio “pie” for white men.

As Warren Buffet wrote: “Resistance among the powerful is natural when change clashes with their self-interest. After all, who wants to double the number of competitors for top positions? But an even greater enemy of change may well be the ingrained attitudes of those who simply can’t imagine a world different from the one they’ve lived in.”

Tokenism, and particularly “Twofer Tokenism” is truly a curse on the efforts women directors are making to work toward employment equity. Women need to make a commitment to solidarity and embrace the fact that we make up 51% of the population. Women are not minorities, and it does in no way advantage women as a population to merge our gender employment issues with those of ethnic minority men. Women directors of all the marvelous blends of ethnicity are much better served, legally and socially, by establishing our status as a majority population, but one that is unlawfully discriminated against, marginalized, and under-employed. Only then—in unity—can we truly change the status quo.

Solidarity: Crucial for Women Directors


By Maria Giese

It is widely acknowledged that (consciously or unconsciously) the male power structure in the entertainment industry often resorts to divide and conquer strategies that preserve the vast majority of the top jobs for men.

This happens particularly among coveted directing jobs, and therefore has bled into the established policies of all Hollywood production entities, as well as the Directors Guild of America.

The DGA has policies that sometimes set women against women and result in the maintenance of a tiny, mostly static pool of highly-employed women directors.  This pool is virtually impenetrable by other qualified women directors who are then sidelined from being able to compete fairly for jobs in episodic TV.

This may serve the immediate advantage of those few women occupying the small female employment pool, since they are practically guaranteed a high number of episodic directing slots each season, but the primary beneficiary is the majority block of white, male directors who hold their dominance in this lucrative profession.

Indeed, the pool of employed female TV directors has never comprised more than 16% of the total pool, and currently stands between 12% and 14%, depending on whose stats you prefer (Lauzen or DGA). This “limited supply” policy, however, produces an unhealthy lack of solidarity among women within the Guild, ultimately sabotaging the hopes of women directors ever achieving parity with their male counterparts.

This “limited supply” perception of women directors is encouraged by the Guild: even though there are 1,160 women director members of the DGA, the Guild maintains a “List” of just a handful of “qualified” women directors that it sends out to show-runners and producers who are seeking to hire women directors.  As is stated on the 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 women director’s name is not on that list, she is at a profound disadvantage, and if she has had the misfortune of not directing professionally in 16 months– she is NOT on the list at all.  This preferential treatment of some Guild members, and marginalization of others, is deeply troubling both legally and ethically– and it suggests the possibility that the Guild acts as an employment agency, which it claims not to do.

Statistical evidence shows that the maintenance of this very small pool of women directors, many of whom also enjoy high leadership positions on Guild committees, councils, and the governing Board, is keeping other talented, qualified women directors sidelined within their own union.  By going along with this practice, whether intentionally or not, women directors in power are helping the Guild executives and leadership keep almost all other women directors out of striking range. In this way, the Directors Guild of America itself is producing the most gaping hole in the already “leaky pipeline” for women directors.

It is critical to understand that it is not women themselves who are the real culprits behind this tokenism. The highly-employed and empowered women directors in the Guild may theoretically desire to help other women, but that would run counter to the stability of the established white, male power base itself.  Women directors exclude under-employed women directors because they operate on the theory that there is no more room at the top to bring in others.

As Warren Buffet recently wrote: “Resistance among the powerful is natural when change clashes with their self-interest. After all, who wants to double the number of competitors for top positions? But an even greater enemy of change may well be the ingrained attitudes of those who simply can’t imagine a world different from the one they’ve lived in.”

This is why creating solidarity among women directors in our industry is so important. The insidious forces of tokenism really are keeping women from achieving equality. Since our entire society and global culture at large, will benefit by having a foundation of gender balance and equal employment opportunity.  We all have only to gain by fighting Tokenism, especially in an industry that provides America’s most culturally influential global export– media.

Women directors, both the highly-employed and those striving for jobs, need to embrace each other in an effort to increase female director empowerment.  If working women directors are to serve the greater good, they must work in solidarity with all women directors to break the damaging and divisive trend of tokenism among women in the DGA and the industry at large, and get more women behind the camera.

And this is not just important for women, as Buffet proclaims: “Fellow males, get on board. The closer that America comes to fully employing the talents of all its citizens, the greater its output of goods and services will be. We’ve seen what can be accomplished when we use 50% of our human capacity. If you visualize what 100% can do, you’ll join me as an unbridled optimist about America’s future.”

Women Directors & The Farce of Networking


“We tried everything else– even networking!”

By Maria Giese

The perennial advice to anyone seeking success in Hollywood is: “It’s all about who you know.”  True as that may be, for a woman director, getting to know executives and showrunners who are in a position to hand out jobs is not a simple task.  Toward this aim, The Directors Guild and other professional organizations dedicated to helping women directors seek employment often set up networking events in an effort to introduce qualified directors with those who hire.  These attempts rarely achieve their basic objective, however.

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.

Networking events arranged by the DGA and organizations intended to help increase employment opportunities for women, however, represent examples of networking mixers that bring together unequal participants.  Many 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, for example, in the Basic Agreement and the FLTTA 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 directors who have little or no currency to exchange, usually result in nothing more than wasted time and lingering feelings of humiliation.

Beyond that, women director 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, 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 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 parity, it is inevitable that over time, talented female directors would come to reach equality 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.