Solidarity: Crucial for Women Directors

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By Maria Giese

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.”

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