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.

Why America Needs Women Directors

decease "tn":"K"}”>127

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.

American Women Directors & the DGA

62

By Maria Giese, cialis MFA

In 1979, help there were very few women director members of the Guild— and they weren’t getting much work.  So six distinguished women director members (including recipients of a Peabody, an Oscar, and an Emmy nomination), who could not get hired, decided to ask the Guild how many women were actually getting directing jobs.

Luckily, that year the Guild had computerized their data system, and when the six women asked for and received those files, they pored over them for the next twelve months.  What they learned was disturbing: the employment numbers for women directors was just ½ of 1%. They presented the results of their research to Michael Franklin, then National Executive Secretary of the DGA.  He agreed that something had to be done.

The six directors then formed the Director’s Guild “Women’s Committee.”  The following year, they invited women of all guild categories to join.  During the next two years, from
1981 to 1983, Michael Franklin tried to get the studios and TV production companies to improve the hiring of women DGA members.  The Guild, in conjunction with the Women’s Committee, set up meeting after meeting to encourage production companies to interview women members; they circulated directors’ reels, discussed possible ‘set-asides’ (a specific number of directing slots for women)– all to no avail.

The studios and production companies were intransigent.  After one final attempt, when none of the invited executives showed up for a scheduled meeting, which included coffee and an inordinate number of Danish pastries, Franklin, fed up, made his historic decision. It was time to sue.

That event was dubbed “The Danish Debacle.”

In 1983, Ronald Reagan was president.  The Guild went to work.  It hired a law firm and expanded the suit to include ethnic minorities.  The named defendants were Columbia Pictures, Paramount, and Warner Bros studios.  Almost immediately, other studios and production companies began to find that heretofore unqualified women and minorities were suddenly stellar candidates for jobs; the hiring statistics for women and minorities began to climb.

In the interim, President Reagan had nominated Judge Pamela Rymer to a seat on the United States District Court for the Central District of California.  Though class action suits against police and fire departments, for instance, were common at the time, the film business was, and is, a strange combination of art and commerce.  There are no qualifying tests for directors.  Traits that might define a director are amorphous and subjective.

The Guild itself, through the hiring of assistant directors by directors, was now scrutinized using the same standards that applied to less “creative” professions.  The astonishing and ironic result was that in 1985, Judge Rymer disqualified the DGA from representing its women and minority members class certification on the grounds that some of the Guild’s own policies put it in conflict with the very interests of the women and minority plaintiffs on whose behalf the Guild had filed the lawsuit in the first place.

Judge Rymer’s ruling prohibited the Guild from proceeding with the case, but change had begun.  In the next ten years, employment of female Guild members rose to almost 16%. Regrettably, the change did not last.  In thirty years the industry has grown, and so has the Guild, yet the ratio of working women directors in the DGA has not advanced at the same pace, in fact the numbers have declined.  The numbers are so appalling that they infer violations of our nation’s basic civil rights and equal employment laws.

Is that a problem?

America’s extraordinary influence in the world is due largely to a prolific entertainment industry that provides more media content to the world than any other country.  While media is our most influential export, however, it comes almost exclusively from the perspective of male directors.  The ratios are staggering: according to recent DGA statistics, 95% of feature films are directed by men, and just 5% by women.  Episodic TV is nearly as bad, with the male-to-female ratio of working directors at 85% to 15%.

Why is the gender gap so blatant?  Why have women directors experienced so little progress in so many decades?  Why does gender disparity remain, year after year?

Let’s consider some good news…

In 2009, President Obama passed the “Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act” and in 2013 is making equality for women an important goal of his administration.  Military women have successfully challenged the “Combat Exclusion Rule” against the Department of Defense. Women are playing a pivotal role in American politics, holding more seats in the Senate, Congress, and House than ever before in American history.  This year, thanks to Keri Putnam, Sundance achieved parity for women director participants in feature competition for the first time ever.  And now, in 2013, we women in the Directors Guild of America are pressing for equity.

It is time…

Ending discrimination against women directors is vital to establishing a society of equality and diversity of perspective.  It is of paramount importance that the film and television content we export represents male and female perspectives equally.

If women are not directing film and television content, half of the voices of the American population are silenced and half the visions are suppressed.  It is not just basic fairness and the validity of the female point of view around the world that gives this issue such immediacy.  If we as a nation are to maintain a moral upper hand in geopolitical affairs, we must start by obeying our own laws protecting equality.

U.S. laws are in place for equal employment for women in our industry. The Civil Rights Act of 1964, Title VII states:

“It shall be an unlawful employment practice for an employer to fail or refuse to hire or to discharge any individual, or otherwise to discriminate against any individual with respect to (…) sex.”

And the DGA and the studios have several excellent agreements in place.  The DGA Basic Agreement has a section on Diversity— Article 15— a non-discrimination policy which states:

“The parties mutually reaffirm their policy of non-discrimination in the employment or treatment of any Employee because of (…) sex.  The Employer shall make good faith efforts to increase the number of (…) women Directors.”

The DGA and producer signatories also have a very clear agreement documented in “The Freelance Live and Tape Television Agreement” (FLTTA), Article 19.  It reads:

“The parties (DGA & amp; Producer signatories) mutually reaffirm their policy of non-discrimination in the employment or treatment of any Employee because of (…) sex.”

The problem with these agreements is that they are not being effectively complied with by the studios and producer signatories.  The DGA entity charged with acting as the intermediary for the Guild in overseeing studio compliance of these agreements is the “DGA Diversity Task Force.”

Co-chairs and members of the “Diversity Task Force” are appointed by the president of the Guild.  Unless an appointed member happens to be a diversity committee co-chair, they have no direct relationship to the diversity committees, nor are they required to communicate with diversity members in any formalized manner.

The current Guild leadership strongly believes that Guild governance should be comprised only of working directors, but where the Diversity Task Force is concerned, a conflict of interest seems inherent. How can it be in the interest of highly-employed directors to apply pressure to the very studios who employ them to direct their TV shows on a regular basis?  Perhaps a rule should be put in place that the studios may not hire the directors who negotiate with them on behalf of DGA diversity members.

Another problem with studio adherence to DGA-studio agreements is the use of the legal term “Good Faith Efforts” which suggest that the studios will fairly and honestly attempt to hire more women.  In order to make a legal case that the studios are not fulfilling their promise, women would need clear physical and anecdotal evidence to prove a studio’s intentional malice in preventing women from being employed.

“Best Efforts,” on the other hand, is a much more onerous legal term and could do more to ensure that the studios fulfill their agreements to hire more women.  The studios would be weighted with the burden of proof to demonstrate they are indeed making real and significant efforts to hire more women.

A further problem in ameliorating the under-employment of DGA women lies in a disconnect between the Women’s Steering Committee and the Guild.  The Women’s Steering Committee was created to help women members increase their employment opportunities, but there is no functional mechanism to funnel goals or proposals from the Women’s Steering Committee into a higher DGA council.  A mode of official communication between the WSC and the DGA’s higher bodies of governance is simply not in place.

Potentially worsening the situation, this year the DGA National Board and the DGA executive staff requested that each diversity committee accept new by-laws that would deny leadership to any member who does not fulfill the “Working in the Trade” rule, meaning they have not worked 30 days in the past 7 years.

These new by-laws threaten to compromise the committees by moving them away from their original intent and curtailing the members’ freedom of speech, as they create several obstacles to democratic process and fair election policies for leadership. It is very important that we examine the proposed new laws immediately with this concern in mind.  The by-laws are intended to be enacted in April 2013.

What has the DGA been doing to solve the problem?

Over the years, the DGA, in conjunction with the studios, has experimented with a number of diversity programs the hopes of improving employment statistics for women members the Guild.  These programs include networking events, episodic TV shadowing fellowships, mentoring, panels, and education.

The programs are important to the maintenance of reciprocal good will between the DGA and the studios, but they have not yet increased employment opportunities for women DGA members.

So how can an epoch of parity for women directors begin?

Within the European Commission, right now, there is a powerful effort being made to force gender parity within European companies, mandating 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.  If gender balance is of such acute concern on corporate boards, it most certainly should be an issue of immediacy in the American entertainment industry.

The DGA points its finger at the studios and the studios point their fingers at the DGA. Each shifts the blame to the other, and each responds with frustration to the suggestion that nothing is actually being done. While the responsibility of gender parity among directors ultimately falls to America’s film studios and other producing entities that actually do the hiring, the labor organization that must initiate crucial change is the one whose primary responsibility is to represent the rights of its members: the Directors Guild of America.

On February 3, 2013, the DGA reported that Michael Apted and Thomas Schlamme accepted appointments to co-chair the upcoming DGA Feature Film and Television Negotiations Committee.  The core mission of these negotiations is to “protect and extend the creative and economic rights of(DGA) members – directors and members of the directorial teams.” They will be working closely with Creative Rights Committee Co-chairs Steven Soderbergh and Jonathan Mostow.

Now is the time for the women members of the DGA to ask that the underemployment of women directors become a key issue to be addressed in the upcoming 2013 DGA negotiations with the studios. DGA Executive Director, Jay Roth has successfully led negotiations on the Guild’s major collective bargaining agreements six times since becoming National Executive Director in 1995.

The time has come…

…for Mr. Roth and the elected leaders of the DGA: Taylor Hackford, Steven Soderbergh, Michael Apted, and Thomas Schlamme and Jonathan Mostow, together will all other members of the DGA Negotiating Committee and DGA Staff, to get together with key studio executives and level the playing field for women directors.