By Ursula Burton
Re-printed by permission of the author from www.huffingtonpost.com
Mattel has released a new “career Barbie” – the film director. She is wearing a “feminine” pink sweater, and her malnourished arms, legs, and waist suggest she needs to take a trip to the set’s craft service. Her perfectly coiffed hair is pulled back from her face by sunglasses (no ballcap?), a fashionable scarf tied around her neck. This Barbie may be running a set, but she hasn’t lost sight of the importance of being something to look at, too.
The designers have changed something — film director Barbie has an articulated ankle so she can wear practical shoes on set, but still go to the premiere in four-inch heels.
But whether in flats or crippling footwear, according to the Mattel bullet points describing the doll, she cannot stand on her own.
Wait, let’s repeat that: She cannot stand on her own.
Now, I know because of the doll’s unnaturally long legs and bizarrely tiny feet, Barbie has never been able to stand on her own, but reading this bullet point struck me as an ironic metaphor.
In truth, most women directors are forced to stand on their own and make their films independently. The statistics for women directors are so dire that articles demanding change are being written quicker than I can read them. Recently, the New York Times’ Manohla Dargis, called the abysmal inequity in (or lack of) hiring of women in film by studios “immoral, maybe illegal.”
I am a director, and, as it happens, I do not own a pink sweater — like most of my male counterparts, I am much more likely to wear practical black on set – but the fact is, the clothing we wear is irrelevant, because, as a director, my appearance is simply not as valuable an asset as my competence, leadership skills, and artistic sensibility.
So Barbie has me in a pickle. I am glad that a female doll is being marketed as a director, but Barbie’s looks, clothes, and accessories make me uncomfortable. (Does she cover all her scripts in pink so that she is non-threatening? Or is just this one pink because it matches her outfit?) Is this the best we can do in 2015?
We want children to grow up in a world where possibilities are many, where there are more options for them, and certainly playing with Director Barbie is going to give children an expectation that this job is open to both sexes.
But children are sponges who absorb cultural cues. The message from this doll is coming through loud and clear to both girls and boys that, whatever a woman’s job, and however good she is at it, what is just as important (if not more) is for her to be a surgically thin, fashionable woman who spends a lot of time grooming herself into visual “perfection.”
Parents and children (both girls AND boys) are clamoring for non-gender-stereotyped toys. Note the petitions; the vote drives; the Kickstarters for toys that don’t segregate play based on biological sex; the split-second it took for the Lego Scientist set to be sold out.
Childhood imagination should be unfettered, yet toys, costumes, sports attire, and play sets have become increasingly, and rigidly, gendered.
So, do I give this Barbie to my children to show them that women can direct movies? Here’s the parent’s internal struggle: criticize Barbie for presenting children with damaging, unhealthy images of women, or cheer her step toward breaking a glass ceiling? As recent studies have underscored, women’s leadership positions in media have remained stagnant and even decreased in key categories since scientists began compiling the statistics. At least in the Mattel world, it’s two steps forward, one back. Though she’d make faster progress if she could stand on her own two feet.
Read about Ursula Burton here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/ursula-burton/
Drawing by Daniel DeJean – www.DanielDeJean.com
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.
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.”
Published with expressed permission from “Women and Hollywood” – April 28, 2015 http://blogs.indiewire.com/womenandhollywood/dga-womens-steering-committee-rejects-proposal-to-expand-diversity-options-for-women-20150428
By Melissa Silverstein
Two weeks ago, the Women’s Steering Committee at the DGA rejected a proposal that could have increased the opportunities for women directors in TV. As we all know, the numbers of women directing are still very low. A 2014 report released by the DGA showed that white women directed 12% of TV episodes; women of color directed 2% and men of color 17%. The numbers for women remained static from the previous report, while the numbers for men of color increased from 14% to 17%. White men directed 69% of all TV episodes analyzed.
The rejected proposal was intended to separate women and people of color into two separate diversity categories to create more opportunities for the former. (Just a reminder here: Women are not a minority, but because there are so few female helmers, women directors are included in diversity conversations in an attempt to increase their numbers.) Studios are not required to hire a certain amount of women or minority directors. They are just encouraged to do so. Here’s the language from the DGA’s basic agreement: “The Employer shall make good faith efforts to increase the number of working ethnic minority and women Directors.”
Currently, diversity agreements with studios have just one category for diversity, one that includes both women and men of color. So while the studios can actually claim they are fulfilling their diversity numbers by hiring men of color, women, especially women of color are the ones not advancing. If the new proposal would be adopted by the Guild, women of color would qualify for both pools and inevitably, we’d see an increase in their numbers.
Thirty-five years ago, six women started the Women’s Steering Committee with the desire to increase opportunities for women. For a time, it worked. They got women’s representation up to 16% from a mere 0.05%. Yet opportunities for women have contracted. There have been women in the Guild working to change these numbers. One of the leaders in this area is Maria Giese. Check out her blog Women Directors in Hollywood, which is devoted to this issue. The proposal that was voted down two weeks ago was submitted by Ramaa Mosley.
Mind you that, if the committee had passed the proposal, it would only have led to a larger discussion among the Guild leadership. The battle was all about passing the idea up the food chain to the head honchos. Yet it could not get out of committee. There are a variety of reasons why. But the time to belabor the point is over.
The DGA has shown time and again that they are not too concerned about increasing opportunities for women. They talk a good talk, but the action is not there. Yes, there are a bunch of women who are incredibly successful, but they are the outliers, not the majority.
Women directors would like equal opportunities to contribute in their chosen field. If this was all about merit, we wouldn’t need to be having this conversation. But everyone knows this is not about merit; this is about limited opportunities and blatant sexism.
The time has come for the powers that be at the Guild to decide if they want to continue to be a part of the problem — or to be on the right side of history and figure out how to lead on this. Women directors need work, and we need their visions.