DGA Women Deny Their Own Political Action History

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By Maria Giese

Eighteen months ago, when DGA women hoped to celebrate the 35th anniversary of the DGA Women’s Steering Committee, newly elected WSC co-chair, Millicent Shelton, denied the origin date of the committee, pushing it forward from 1979 to 1991, thus nullifying the rationale for the event.

Shelton’s denial and attempt at deliberate alteration of historical fact would have re-made a history of women directors that no longer included legal action in fighting gender discrimination aimed at women in U.S. media.

In an e-mail to the DGA-WSC Events Subcommittee, Shelton stated: “According to the DGA the WSC wasn’t recognized by the National Board until later despite the initial meeting. That’s the record. This was discussed at the Activities & Events committee meeting.” She continued, “Any inconsistency with the DGA website should be brought to the attention of the Guild Communications Department.”

Shelton was recommending something our civilization has seen happen innumerable times throughout recorded history.  The victors write history according to their own best interest; they weaken the appearance of the vanquished regardless of what the truth may have been.

But why would a women TV director want to change the official history of the women’s committee in such a way as to further damage her own sex?  Wouldn’t a female leader in a Guild for directors want to glorify the history of women in Hollywood?  Isn’t this an act one might expect to see coming instead from the entrenched white male establishment trying to maintain the status quo?

While many WSC members were deeply troubled and quite confused by their committee chairwoman’s statement, they also saw it as a great opportunity for the Guild to set the record straight while also highlighting the political origins of the committee and giving prominence the work of its six founders: Susan Bay, Nell Cox, Joelle Debrow, Dolores Ferraro, Victoria Hochberg, and Lynne Littman.

As women saw it, the Guild could use this moment to call attention to the many significant contributions the Women’s Steering Committee had made to promote greater employment equality in our industry, not just for women directors and their teams, but for ethnic minorities as well.  After all, the WSC was the inspiration for all the diversity committees within the Guild, providing a multitude of platforms for the voices of the Guild’s broad multicultural membership.

The DGA holds a special place in the history of women in Hollywood in many ways, but no where is that more evident than in the support it has provided women since the founding of the WSC in 1979.  It was a proud day in Guild history when the leadership– especially DGA Executive Director Michael Franklin– made the bold decision to lead the class-action lawsuit against the major studios, which ultimately helped send the number of women directors skyrocketing from 0.05% in 1979 to 16% in 1995.

The Guild then formed groundbreaking agreements in subsequent collective bargaining negotiations to create lawful gender equity for women and ethnic minorities in accordance with American civil rights laws.  Article 15 of the DGA Basic Agreement and Article 19 of the FLTTA became the key legislature between the DGA and its signatories in pursuing equal employment opportunity according to U.S. Civil Rights Act of 1964, Title VII.

The WSC itself stands as an anthem to the past 35 years of Guild courage and strength of conviction in supporting gender equity in our industry. In this light, we see why it was so important to immediately clear up any confusion about the committee’s history. And especially as we moved toward celebrating the 35th anniversary of the committee and its many achievements on behalf of women the DGA has accomplished during that time.

In an effort to set forth the history of the committee’s origins with unambiguous accuracy, we WSC members turned to the DGA magazine (DGA News) issue of December 1990/January 1991 which is devoted entirely to women DGA members and is titled “Women: 10 Years of Action.”  The sub-heading is “Women’s Steering Committee Special Issue.”  On page five, an article entitled “Ten Years After” begins with the following sentence:

“In celebration of the 10th anniversary of the Women’s Steering Committee, various active women members of the Guild were called together on sunny September Saturday morning to talk about…” and so on.

The accompanying photo includes five of the original six committee founders. Also in the photo are Betty Thomas and Leslie Glatter (sic).  On page 19, there are photos of several women working at that time, including Mimi Leder and Martha Coolidge.  Thomas, Glatter, Leder and Coolidge are all current officers or ex-officers of the Guild.  Surely, these women still remember that the Women’s Steering Committee was formed 10 years before this 1990 issue appeared.

On page 25 there is an article about the lawsuit titled “Underemployment Reaction led to Legal Action” by Beth Brickell (who had been co-chair of the Women’s Steering Committee during the 1983 lawsuit).

And on page 20 there is an article titled “The Man Behind the Women’s Movement at the Guild” by Joelle Dobrow, containing an in-depth interview with Michael Franklin, National Executive Director of the Guild when the Women’s Steering Committee was formed in 1979.

In answer to a query by Dobrow about the make-up of the Guild during that time, Franklin replies:

There were new people in the positions of leadership within the Guild.  People like Gil Cates, Gene Reynolds, Jay Sandrich, Boris Sagal, Norman Jewison, Tom Donovan, John Avildsen, Marilyn Jacobs, Enid Roth, Elia Kazan, Jane Schimel, Karl Genus, John Rich, Arthur Hiller and Jackie Cooper.  They merged together to support the committee, authorize funds and really move ahead in a broad front.”

The issue also contains an article by Glen Gumpel, current Executive Director (1990), which begins with these words: “Everyone at the DGA is especially proud that this issue of our magazine celebrates the10th anniversary of the Women’s Steering Committee of the Directors Guild of America.”

Finally, on page 32 there is a list of “DGA Women’s Steering Committee Current & Former Officers” that includes names of the original six founders as well as the several committee chairs after the tenure of the original six.

With the above evidence provided by the Directors Guild of America itself, it seemed an auspicious moment to create greater solidarity among the women of the DGA and redouble the cooperative efforts between the Guild and its female membership. In the past twenty years there has been an unfortunate slip in the numbers of female director employment from 16% in 1995 to 14% in 2014, according to the Guild’s most recent statistical study.

Within a few days of submitting a letter containing the above proof of the 1979 creation date of the WSC to Jay Roth (Executive Director of the DGA), an official announcement was made by DGA diversity head, Regina Render, to the WSC.  Indeed, the committee was officially founded in 1979.

WSC director member, Rena Sternfeld, immediately asked: “Great! May we have our 35th Anniversary Event now?”

The event did take place some months later, though the WSC women who’d been fighting for it for years were cut out of it.  Millicent Shelton and her two WSC co-chairs, Bethany Rooney and Liz Ryan, became active in its planning, appointing new women to the 35th Anniversary Events (planning) Committee.

Perhaps not surprisingly, it turns out that there is a “Girls’ Club” in our industry that is just as intent in holding on to its sliver of employment pie as the notorious “Boys’ Club” is to gripping on to the lion’s share.

Newly elected DGA president, Paris Barclay (who had also actively tried to stop the event from taking place) ended up introducing the entire WSC 35th Anniversary celebration.  And in a display of nearly comical irony, Millicent Shelton herself made the speech introducing the courageous “Original Six” women who’d founded the committee– in 1979!

Shelton said in her speech, “We women must be brave enough to speak out.”

3 thoughts on “DGA Women Deny Their Own Political Action History”

  1. This is utter and complete bullshit! I never stated anything of the such. “Shelton’s denial and attempt at deliberate alteration of historical fact would have re-made a history of women directors that no longer included legal action in fighting gender discrimination aimed at women in U.S. media,” is the most inaccurate account of what actually occurred. I did nothing of the sort. I actually spearheaded the event that honored these woman last year. The WSC was not “cut out of it”. They sponsored the damn event and our members coordinated the entire thing! At the time of the meeting early on, I was confirming the date based on the DGA notes and then once corrected quickly rectified the situation.

    Maria, all the twisted crap that you write on this blog is completely slanderous. I have asked you before to not mention my name unless you have checked your facts. If I have to mention it again, it will become a legal issue of slander.

    I am an African American Female Director. There’s only a handful of woman like me working in this industry. We fight both racism and sexism. You cannot speak about ethnic minority woman because you are not one. You don’t have a clue what our existence it like. How dare you be so presumptuous to say what is good for us or not. Your rantings reek of Liberal elitism where you feel you can tell the poor undedicated ethnic minorities what is ‘good’ for them because they are too stupid to know the difference. Let me tell you something…I have a degree from Princeton University. I went to Graduate school at New York University. I have worked my ass off in this industry for more than 20 years starting as in intern in the wardrobe department until working my way up to Director.

    I am insulted when you assume that a working female director or your “Girl’s Club” is 1) against having more female directors in the field and 2) not qualified to have the position because you assume some man ‘gave’ it to us. You often refer to Paris Barclay as that man. You are completely WRONG! I and others have earned our position. Paris Barclay is my mentor but he has NEVER given me a job. I have numerous women shadow me on sets two of which have received directing assignments that I pushed the producers to give them. The crap you put out on the internet is divisive, twisted, and based on inaccurate numbers, and bold faced lies on your part to manipulate the emotions of people who do not know the real truth.

    You should be ashamed of yourself.

  2. Dear Millicent,

    Thank you for reading and responding to my article. The below letter (and the basis for the article) is the reason the origin date of the WSC was authenticated. It had nothing to do with you. You and your co-chairs, in cooperation with DGA diversity staff, were in clear agreement that the founding date of the committee was to be set in 1990/91.

    Thank God we had access to the 1990/90 DGA Quarterly to set the record straight. Incidentally, Jay Roth wrote back to me by email in response to this letter. I have the email. The facts are irrefutable.

    HERE’S THE LETTER:

    “Maria Giese November 9, 2013

    To: Nell Cox, Joelle Dobrow, Victoria Hochberg, Lynne Littman
    Paris Barclay, Martha Coolidge, Mimi Leder, Betty Thomas

    cc: Jay Roth, Bryan Unger, Regina Render

    Re: DGA Women’s Steering Committee

    Dear Fellows,

    There has been some confusion of late regarding the inception date of the DGA Women’s Steering Committee. Newly elected WSC co-chair, Millicent Shelton, expressed some interest recently in officially changing the origin date of the committee from 1979 to 1991, and requesting that the Guild Communications Department alter the written history of the committee on theDGA.org website accordingly.

    Last week, Shelton stated: “According to the DGA the WSC wasn’t recognized by the National Board until later despite the initial meeting. That’s the record. This was discussed at the Activities & Events committee meeting. Any inconsistency with the DGA website should be brought to the attention of the Guild Communications Department.”

    I think this presents a wonderful opportunity for the Guild to set the record straight while also highlighting the political origins of the committee and giving prominence the work of its six founders. The Guild could use this moment to call attention to the many significant contributions the committee has made to promote greater employment equality in our industry, not just for women directors and their teams, but ethnic minorities as well. The WSC was the inspiration for all the diversity committees within the Guild, providing a multitude of platforms for the voices of the Guild’s broad multicultural membership.

    The DGA holds a special place in the history of women in Hollywood in many ways, but no where is that more evident than in the support it has provided women since the founding of the WSC in 1979. It was a proud day in Guild history when the leadership made the bold decision to lead the class-action lawsuit against three major studios, which ultimately helped send the number of women directors skyrocketing from ½ of 1% in 1979 to 16% in 1995. The Guild then formed groundbreaking agreements in subsequent collective bargaining negotiations to create lawful gender equity for women and ethnic minorities in accordance with Title VII.

    The WSC itself stands as an anthem to the past 34 years of Guild courage and strength of conviction in supporting gender equity in our industry. In this light we see why it is so important to immediately clear up any confusion about the committee’s history, particularly as we move toward celebrating the 35th anniversary of the committee and the many achievements on behalf of women the DGA has accomplished during that time.

    In an effort to set forth the history of the committee’s creation with unambiguous accuracy, it is useful to turn to the DGA magazine (DGA News) issue of December 1990/January 1991 which is devoted entirely to women DGA members and is titled “Women: 10 Years of Action.” The sub-heading is “Women’s Steering Committee Special Issue.” On page five, an article entitled “Ten Years After” begins with the following sentence:

    “In celebration of the 10th anniversary of the Women’s Steering Committee, various active women members of the Guild were called together on sunny September Saturday morning to talk about…” and so on.

    The accompanying photo includes five of the original six committee founders. Also in the photo are Betty Thomas and Leslie Glatter (sic). On page 19, there are photos of several women working at that time, including Mimi Leder and Martha Coolidge. Thomas, Glatter, Leder and Coolidge are all current officers or ex-officers of the Guild. Surely, these women still remember that the Women’s Steering Committee was formed 10 years before this 1990 issue appeared.

    On page 25 there is an article about the lawsuit titled “Underemployment Reaction led to Legal Action” by Beth Brickell (who had been co-chair of the Women’s Steering Committee during the 1983 lawsuit). And on page 20 there is an article titled “The Man Behind the Women’s Movement at the Guild” by Joelle Dobrow, containing an in-depth interview with Michael Franklin, National Executive Director of the Guild when the Women’s Steering Committee was formed in 1979.

    In answer to a query by Dobrow about the make-up of the Guild during that time, Franklin replies:

    “There were new people in the positions of leadership within the Guild. People like Gil Cates, Gene Reynolds, Jay Sandrich, Boris Sagal, Norman Jewison, Tom Donovan, John Avildsen, Marilyn Jacobs, Enid Roth, Elia Kazan, Jane Schimel, Karl Genus, John Rich, Arthur Hiller and Jackie Cooper. They merged together to support the committee, authorize funds and really move ahead in a broad front.”

    The issue also contains an article by Glen Gumpel, current Executive Director (1990), which begins with these words: “Everyone at the DGA is especially proud that this issue of our magazine celebrates the10th anniversary of the Women’s Steering Committee of the Directors Guild of America.”

    Finally, on page 32 there is a list of “DGA Women’s Steering Committee Current & Former Officers” that includes names of the original six founders as well as the several committee chairs after the tenure of the original six.

    With the above evidence provided by the Guild itself, it seems an auspicious moment to create greater solidarity among the women of the Guild and redouble the cooperative efforts between the Guild and its female membership. In the past twenty years there has been an unfortunate slip in the numbers of female director employment from 16% in 1995 to 14% in 2013, according to the Guild’s most recent statistical study.

    What a wonderful opportunity we now have to get back on a course to start moving the numbers back up again!

    Respectfully yours, Maria Giese”

    IF I MAY CONTINUE:

    MIllicent,

    You think my articles are often about you, but I write about all issues relating to women directors in our industry. I write about the actions of the officers of our Guild when they stand in the way of change, and act as sentinels and deputies to Guild leaders.

    DGA officers are of interest to all of us, because their actions can contribute to keeping other women shut out, in violation of our DGA Diversity agreements and in violation of U.S. law.

    Why does this happen? What do our Guild leaders fear? Do they worry our work will lead to revelations of mismanagement of diversity programs that were created for the many—not for the few?

    Your assistance in altering a historical fact (like changing the origin date of the WSC), and blocking political action, and using bullying to shut down important motions, must be fought if we are to have a chance at finally ending this 20 years of mischief-making that have kept women shut out.

    All of these actions are part of a systemic approach to block transparency in the Guild, and block lawful change.

    You, Millicent, talk about your hard work and how you are unfairly targeted by “privileged” women like me who “don’t know what it’s like to work.” Maybe it’s you who is out of touch with the experience of women who don’t work.

    Remember, the stated purpose of the WSC is to get more work for more women. You are now a co-chair of the WSC, but I’m pretty sure you never stepped foot into a WSC meeting in your entire 20-year career until you were asked to come by Guild leaders—for what? To keep a lid on our desperate efforts to make change and get more jobs for more women?

    You arrived just in time to push the Bylaws through in 2013. Bylaws implemented just one month after our 2013 Women Directors Summit that the Guild fought so hard to stop.

    Why was the DGA so reluctant to let us have the SUMMIT in 2013?

    Why were the bylaws allowing the Guild leadership to take over the WSC pushed through with such force?

    Why did we women have to fight so hard for the 35th Anniversary?

    The answer to these questions is simple: some among the Guild leadership were fearful that these events might expose mismanagement of DGA-studio diversity agreements, conflict of interest in the Diversity Task Force, and misuse of power among diversity member leaders.

    The glaring discrepancies between female director employment and the way women are advancing in our society make us stand up and take notice. The current fact that film and TV directing is among the only professions in the United States in which women’s employment numbers have gone DOWN in the past 20 years from 1995 to 2015– that’s something we should look at.

    When DGA diversity in the past 20 years has been dominated by a few individual leaders who have experienced great personal success in the face of declining numbers for women, we should look at that. There are many issues related to our industry-wide problem of discrimination against women that have glaring parallels with policies within our own Guild.

    DGA diversity has been used to create a tiny, manageable pool of diversity directors, and in 20 years very few of those jobs have come out of the pool of white males. Minority males have dipped into the female pool, rather than that of white men. The numbers for minority men have seen a striking increase, while those of women have been at a standstill—in decline, actually.

    Some women were brought in to the directing pool through Paris Barclay’s Master Class in TV directing, and some though other means, but most were individually tapped. With few exceptions those same women comprise the static female directing pool in the DGA. That pool is forcibly guarded, and it’s very hard for new women to come in.

    Why were some women hand-picked and brought into the pool? Simply because there have to be some women working—and 14% (the exact same percentage as the female director membership of the Guild) seemed like a pretty good number, as Paris Barclay stated openly at the 2013 Summit.

    You say there are plenty of jobs to go around? Rosemary Rodriguez laughs in a WSC meeting that “Every one of you wants to direct TV, but it’s a terrible job!”

    There are many, many highly qualified, experienced women who are active in the WSC, and many more DGA women who are not active, but are still trying very hard to get work, and you women quip that there are lots of jobs and it’s lousy work anyway?

    I think it is perhaps you who have lost touch with the plight of unemployed women directors—you seem to have no idea what it like to be on the outside trying to get back to work. And yes, like you, with little children to raise and insurance to pay for.

    You are the ones with the privilege. One episode of TV would make anyone of your unemployed WSC fellow women eligible for DGA insurance (the best in the industry) and many other benefits—not least of which relief from the mantle of the humiliating and degrading categorization, we are “No Longer Working in the Trade.”

    Only 14% of TV episodes go to women. Only 2% go to women of color. And yet you had the audacity to run “The Mosley Motion” down through heavy-handed tactics in leading the April WSC discussion about the motion.

    You made it impossible for women of color to understand its specific advantages for them. You made it impossible for all women to understand that the motion was not to create policy change, but simply to ASK our National Board to discuss its potential viability.

    You know that women don’t stand a chance of advancing until we are broken out into a separate diversity category from minority males, yet you fight that. You fight a proposal that would give a mathematical edge to women of color, allowing them to qualify in two employment pools. You diverted that discussion deliberately.

    Why?

    Why is there such extreme resistance in our Guild about breaking women out, when women had always been broken out prior to the 1980’s?

    Best, Maria Giese
    Co-founder Women Directors in Hollywood
    DGA-WSC Director Category Representative

  3. A) I did NOT assist in altering a historical fact which I have refuted repeatedly but you insist on spreading this lie. B) Hmm…you last article had my name all over it. So it’s not about me? C) DGA Officers are not trying to shut out women. If there is mismanagement of a Diversity program, the new contract now gives the DGA a legal option. D) If you consider it bullying when a Chair of a meeting insists that all the members are respectful and take their turns, then you should attend other DGA meetings and observe how civil adults behave themselves during a meeting. E) the motion lost by a majority vote. As the Chair, I never expressed an opinion either Pro or Con during the meeting and still have not. I didn’t even vote. I let both sides speak and the motion failed in the room. Period. I did not shut down anything. Again tour version is a fabrication of what actually happened during the meeting. F) I spoke about your privilege by virtue of being a Caucasian in the USA. People of color have a much different experience in life. I spoke about you not knowing what it’s like on sets today and what obstacles we are dealing with. The two statements were completely different issues not how you just presented them. G) I was black balled after my first film and did not work for 6 years. I absolutely remember the struggle and life without insurance. I do not belittle that struggle but you turn a blind eye to the fact that those of use who are blessed to be working ALSO have struggles. That is why Rosemary made that comment. Our issues need to be addressed as well but you belittle us based on the fact we are working. Our issues are just as meaningful and pertinent despite that we are employed. H) I have attended numerous WSC meetings so you are absolutely incorrect. I ran for Chair because I attended a meeting and thought I could help. Your judgement of me is wrong and unfounded. I) Again, if I was against getting more women jobs, then I would not have women shadow me and push for shows to hire them which I do and have succeeded in getting two hired. I have told you this but you insist on intentionally portraying me incorrectly despite that fact that you know the truth. Does my support of women not play into this fabricated storyline you keep spreading around? J) I have no idea about the Summit, I did not attend. I was out of town. I have not been involved with any dialogue with any Guild leadership regarding having or not having the Summit. K) the first big event we pushed thru as Co-Chairs was the 35th Anniversary. How was that a big fight? All 3 Co-Chairs supported the event. The idea that we were against it is again a fabrication of reality on your part. L) this fear you speak of is unfounded. No Diversity Task force members use the meeting to secure jobs for themselves. You keep making thus inaccurate accusation. Prove it if you are so certain. Who in the Diversity Task force used it for personal gain. Let’s hear your evidence, real evidence not an article you authored. M) the disparity in female TV directors employment is an abomination. I don’t dispute that. Never have. I want better numbers. N) DGA diversity has not created “tiny, manageable pool of diversity directors”. The Guild does not hire directors. O) assuming that minority males working is the issue is missing the larger point. More than 60% of episodes are being directed by Caucasian Males. That IS the issue to focus on. P) it is hard for any woman to break into the industry…period. I shadowed for 3 years before getting my first job. As I mentioned, I helped break 2 woman through. Q) why are some women brought into the pool…simple because someone in a position to hire believed in her and gave her a break. There is no straight forward formula or educational path that is why this is such a hard issue to crack. By the way, that’s how the guys get hired too. R) there are a lot of jobs. Cable’s contributions has created many more episodes of television over what existed in the past. Most of these jobs still go to white guys but the jobs do exist. S) Hmmm. Here’s where your liberal elitism gets you in trouble. As a Caucasian woman, you cannot tell me the African American female director who has gotten shit in sets because I am a woman and Black what I am supposed to feel. You assume that women of color are too stupid to analyses a situation and make a choice for themselves. Hmmm who’s a racist? I do not make that assumption. I did not instruct and females of color to vote either pro or against. They made their own choice. Too bad you can’t accept that we be free and can make decisions without an elitist human being feeling like they can control our actions. Again, I did not vote or speak my opinion at the meeting. T) here’s a thought maybe we want change but disagree with your tactics? Hmmm. Wow maybe we support better numbers but still disagree with your motion? It does not make us bad people or trying to stop change, it makes us free thinking educated adults who have a difference of opinion. Obviously you cannot handle that.

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