By Maria Giese
Hollywood approaches increasingly dangerous crossroads for Title VII violations with the convergence of the reelection of DGA president Paris Barclay last week (who has repeatedly demonstrated recalcitrance on gender equity), and imminent meetings between a proactive ACLU and cooperative officials at state and federal agencies, such as the EEOC.
While women’s rights activists have much to hope for, with immense support from media, politicians and civil liberties attorneys, the Directors Guild of America continues to block an already challenging road to gender equity as it protects a compromised diversity program in the Guild and complicity with the studios in excluding women directors.
In the past 20 years the DGA diversity program has served as little more than a foundation for personal advancement for the current DGA president, Paris Barclay, while the Guild’s female director employment numbers have languished. Now is the time to act for DGA members and leaders concerned with the reputation and renewed integrity of the DGA as the richest, most powerful union in Hollywood, perhaps the world.
In 1995 Paris Barclay entered a power struggle with civil rights activist and LA Rebellion director, Jamaa Fanaka, who had founded the DGA African American Committee a year earlier and was an avid fighter for increased employment for women directors. The current DGA Executive Director, Jay Roth, was also brought into the Guild that year to help expel Fanaka from the Guild.
By 1998, with Fanaka officially out of the Guild, Barclay took over the African American Committee, and led the DGA diversity program into a 20 year run of closed door policies that advanced Barclay and a system of cronyism that left the vast majority of 1,250 women director members shut out.
In 2004 Barclay created the DGA Diversity Task Force with then Guild president, Michael Apted. This new committee posed a massive conflict of interest within the industry, placing TV directors (like Barclay himself) who were actively seeking open assignment directing gigs, in the position to interface with studio executives and show runners, and demand studio compliance with DGA-studio diversity agreements, Article 15 of the DGA Basic Agreement and Article 19 of the FLTTA.
The result was a rapid rise in the employment of ethnic minority men, and stagnation and decline for female director employment. Today ethnic minority men, who comprise 18% of the U.S. Population, and 7% of DGA director employment, direct 18% of episodic TV shows, Hollywood’s fastest growing and most lucrative production sector in the industry.
Women, on the other hand, who make up 50.8% of the population, and comprise 13% of the DGA director membership, helm just 14% of the TV directing jobs– a 2% drop from 20 years ago (1995) when Barclay began his ascent to power through DGA diversity. Women of color today shockingly direct only 2% of that 14% total.
An effort this spring to break women out as a separate category from ethnic minority males was thwarted by Barclay when he recruited African American women from the DGA African American Committee to stack the room of the DGA Women’s Steering Committee during a crucial vote designed to advance women DGA members of all ethnicities.
This interference with democratic due process within the Guild successfully blocked an important motion that could have led to the creation of an essential double mandate system in which women of all ethnicities would be treated as a separate group from minority males.
If the motion had passed, women of color would have gained a much needed numerical edge by qualifying for two employment pools: 1) women directors of all ethnicities and 2) minority director of both genders.
Prior to the meeting at which the motion was presented, Barclay told women in the African American Committee that the motion would lead to divisiveness among men and women of color, using a vocabulary reminiscent of that of Frederick Douglass in debates with female suffragettes nearly 150 years ago, when women were left behind in the fight for suffrage.
Minority men won the right to vote in 1869, while women were forced to wait over 50 years, three more generations, to achieve that same right. Barclay, it would seem, thinks women of all ethnicities should walk ten steps behind their men.
Few could have predicted the explosive success of television and new media 20 years ago, and therein lies the genius of Barclay’s extraordinary rise to power on the backs of women and all people of color, particularly women of all ethnicities.
On May 12, 2015, The New York Times broke the story of the historic ACLU letter addressed to state and federal agencies on behalf of women directors. The letter was released to the media on the same day that the DGA held their Annual Members Meeting, led by Barclay.
During the meeting Barclay did not once voluntarily mention the advent of this groundbreaking letter calling out the U.S. media industry for what today’s statistics point to as our nation’s most egregious violations of Title VII.
The reputations of liberal Hollywood’s most powerful leaders, as well as our nation’s greatest leaders must come together to root out corruption and cronyism among the leadership of Hollywood’s highest organizations to allow our Department of Justice, the EEOC, to do its job and enforce Title VII.
America’s reputation as a protector of equal rights in the global theatre depends on it. Hollywood’s media content stands as America’s most influential export. Our films, television product and new media are a large part of the voice of our whole civilization.
Equal gender perspective in our media is a critical aspect of giving voice to the silenced half of our world’s population. Change must start with pressure on the leadership of the Directors Guild of America.