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 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.

Women Directors & The Farce of Networking

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“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.

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DGA-Studio Directing Fellowships: Worth Your Time?

97
“Consider yourself lucky to be able to watch!”

By Maria Giese

Starting a career directing film and television often begins with a conundrum: one cannot qualify to direct until one has directed, see yet how can one direct without first becoming qualified? Leaping over this logistical divide is often accomplished with the intervention of a mentor, physician when a more experienced director or a TV executive takes an interest in a young talent.

Over the years, stomach 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.

 

No Longer “Working In The Trade”

According to a recent mandate from the DGA National Board, troche if a Guild member has not worked for at least 30 days in the past seven years, unhealthy they are categorized as “No Longer Working in the Trade.”

 

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“GET OUT!  AND TAKE YOUR CAT WITH YOU!”

These members may no longer run for key elected offices– even on their own Diversity Committees– and their names are not included on certain lists of eligible directors submitted to studios and production companies seeking female directors.

Why America Needs Women Directors

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By Maria Giese

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

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

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

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