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.
“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.
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.”
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.
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.
The following excerpted article, written by Nancy Mills for “The LA Times” in 1986, puts into perspective the struggle of women directors in Hollywood during the past 30 years.
Though Michael Franklin (then Executive Director of the DGA), lamented in 1986 that little had changed in the year following the 1983-1985 DGA discrimination lawsuit against three major studios, the next 10 years would see a steep rise in the employment of women directors from less than 1% to 16% in 1995.
Unfortunately, in the nearly 20 years from 1995 to 2013, those numbers have sadly fallen– less than 5% women directing feature films and just 12% to 14% women directing episodic TV.
We women at “Women Directors: Navigating the Boys’ Club” hope that this glance back down memory lane will encourage a revival of new action toward getting women directors back on the path toward equality.
“PLIGHT OF WOMEN DIRECTORS IMPROVED–BUT NOT MUCH: WOMEN DIRECTORS STILL STRUGGLING
By Nancy Mills – The Los Angeles Times – November 17, 1986
“In 1980, statistics gathered by six women members of the Directors Guild of America (DGA) confirmed (…) that in the past 30 years, women had directed fewer than 1% of all major feature films and prime-time television. Specifically: Of 7,332 pictures, women directed 14; of 65,500 hours of television programming, women directed 115 hours.
Along with those bleak figures, the DGA Women’s Committee also presented to entertainment industry power brokers a detailed affirmative-action proposal for getting more women “tracked into the main talent pool of working directors.” The years since have seen lawsuits, networking, seminars, studies and conferences dedicated to increasing access for women into the prestigious guild…
…There are definitely more women directors at work today than ever before–on major projects in film and television. Women directors are an emerging minority. At the same time, conversations on the subject throughout the industry tend toward a good news/bad news pattern. Some sample observations:
“Those women who are working, by and large, seem to be doing reasonably well,” acknowledged Eileen Carhart, who along with Michealene Cristini and Thompson O’Sullivan co-chairs the DGA Women’s Steering Committee. “But there are not enough women working.”
–“I remember the (1980) meeting when those women revealed those embarrassing, shameful statistics,” producer Norman Lear reflected. “But then everybody went back to work, and I never saw any evidence of improvement.”
–“On balance, I’m satisfied that since our efforts commenced in 1978, progress has been made by women in gaining employment as directors,” said Michael Franklin, executive director of the DGA. “I am disappointed that our litigation a few years ago on behalf of women and minorities was not successful, but it, too, played a part in moving forward our goals for equal employment opportunities for women.”
–“The average person is no longer opposed to women directors,” said DGA President Gilbert Cates. “Ten years ago, the majority of studio executives questioned the ability of a woman to direct a film. Today, you’d have to dig deep in the barrel to find a fool to say that. That attitude has been put to rest.
“But the numbers are still disappointing. There’s no doubt that in relation to population, the number of women directing is very low. But I’m pleased to say that the awareness of the work of women directors is very high.”
–‘Women are now going on to direct second and third features,” noted Eileen Carhart of the DGA Women’s Steering Committee.
“That’s different, even from the early 1980s. But it’s misleading to extend that same kind of positive growth to all the women working or not working in this industry.”
The last six years undeniably have seen a lot of consciousness-raising in the entertainment industry, and conversations on the subject of women’s access tend to center around questions of socialization of attitudes as well as power structures.
Just wanting to direct isn’t enough, insists Richard Donner (“Superman,” “Ladyhawke,” “Goonies”). “In the past, I’m sure women directors were kept down,” he says while directing a helicopter scene in the upcoming “Lethal Weapon,” a buddy-buddy cop picture starring Mel Gibson and Danny Glover.
“Twenty years ago it was brutal for all minorities. But over the last 10 years, if people wanted to direct, they did it. So many people sit back with the excuse, ‘I’m not working because I’m black or I’m Italian or I’m a woman.’ My feeling is there’s been the desire but maybe not the energy put in by women.”
“Directing has always been kind of a boy’s club, like most things in America,” Ned Tanen, president of the Paramount Motion Picture Group, believes. “I don’t perceive this problem as being about this business. It’s a subtext of American culture: ‘You raise the kids, you take care of the house, dear. I’ll go out and kill the bear.’
“It’s as if this is the Middle Ages or the period of the suffragettes. I keep thinking we don’t talk about these things anymore. And when we start talking about them, I say, ‘Oh, yeah, we’re still playing this game.’ ”
Tanen’s view of women directing in Hollywood: “Earlier, there physically weren’t that many women remotely equipped to direct because they hadn’t been allowed to get into that position. But now the lid is off. It certainly is here. We’re really trying.”
But old attitudes die hard. Directing has been traditionally regarded as a man’s job, complete with boots, riding whip and bullhorn. “The kind of strength needed to direct has nothing to do with brute force,” Norman Lear emphasizes. “It has to do with strength of character. A deeper voice does not a director make.”
Lear talks in terms of individuals, rather than male/female–an approach women welcome. They object to being lumped together as representatives of their gender. “When it’s a woman, they move it into a generalization,” complains Phyllis Geller, a top KCET executive and a former president of Women in Film (a group of professional women who work in the film and television industries).
“Women have to do twice as well to achieve the same thing. We do give each other a bad name if we don’t do good work. If one woman causes trouble, the next five will have problems.”
In some industries, lawsuits have been successful in improving women’s positions. But many consider the entertainment industry to be unique. “A corporate mentality will respond to affirmative action, but a creative mentality won’t,” suggests Deborah Aal, president of the Leonard Goldberg Co.
Dawn Steel, president of production at Paramount, dismisses the thought of lawsuits. “It’s about talent, not lawsuits,” she says. “I don’t want to be in the position where I thought I got the job because I was a woman. No other woman wants to be in that position either.”
The DGA did try litigation. After the 1980 statistics were made public, the DGA encouraged production companies to adopt voluntary affirmative-action programs. It also attempted, unsuccessfully, to get producers to agree to having one out of every 13 TV episodes directed by a woman.
In 1983, when it was felt that little progress had been made, the DGA filed class-action lawsuits against Warner Bros. and Columbia Pictures, alleging discrimination in the companies’ hiring of women and ethnic minorities represented by the guild.
In August, 1985, the cases were dismissed. In brief, Judge Pamela Rymer ruled on counter-claims filed by the two studios. 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.”
WD/NBC is grateful to Nancy Mills and the LA Times. Drawings by Daniel Dejean.