The DGA/Studio Agreement – Feminist Analysis

"Well, maybe they'll do something for women in the next Negotiations in 2017"
“Well, maybe they’ll do something for women in the next Negotiations in 2017”

By Maria Giese

“Directors Guild of America President Paris Barclay on Wednesday announced that the DGA membership has voted by an overwhelming margin to ratify the new collective bargaining agreements between the DGA and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers” (The Hollywood Reporter 1-8-14).

DGA President, Paris Barclay says that “This negotiation was about laying the groundwork to protect our future in a meaningful way,” but what new groundwork has been laid for the future of women directors?  None.  None at all.  Even though many women members of the DGA have been working tirelessly for two years to get the Guild to pay attention to the “criminal” under-representation of women directors in this round, this negotiation result shows definitively that the DGA could not care less about gender equity in our industry.

The primary failing of the new Agreement is that women remain buried within the category of general diversity.  Therefore, even if in the coming years the numbers of female director employment remain the same or even continue to decline, while those of male ethnic minority directors continue to make reasonable forward strides, the studios will still be able to have demonstrated successful adherence to the new Agreement.  Under this contract, the studios could do remarkably well by advancing only male ethnic minorities. There is no legal obligation for them to advance women in any way; the only legal requirement is that diversity hiring improves.  In order for the agreement to benefit women, it must specifically refer to women of all ethnicities as a separate class, in their own right.

The new Agreement states that “Each of the major television studios is now required to establish a formal Television Director Development Program no later than July 1, 2014 that is designed to expand opportunities for women and minority Directors in episodic television.”  It is good that they have agreed to a requirement that each studio must establish a TV directing program, but there is no stated criterion for how these programs will be implemented, nor how they will differ from previous programs that have failed to move the numbers in over two decades, nor are there stated goals or timetables to specific requirements necessary to ensure that the programs will be effective.

The Agreement also states that “for the first time, the establishment and adequacy of these programs, and the Employer’s existing annual meeting requirements to further these issues, are subject to arbitration.”  The inclusion of the words “annual” and “requirements” possibly suggests that some numerical goals are contemplated, but what they are or might be is absent, and more importantly, even if such goals are implemented, it is not explained how the Guild and the studios will specifically break-out women as a separate class.  If women are to be aided in this reach-out, then those numbers need to be measured specifically and tracked against stated goals.

The specific methods the Guild uses to make sure that Employers annually meet the proposed requirements will ultimately determine success in advancing diversity hiring. Therefore, it is critical to know what criterion will be employed in making sure that formal TV director development programs will be established.  Also, it is not stated howl the “adequacy” of these programs will be determined, nor under what conditions will the studios be subject to arbitration.

Furthermore, the previous Agreements have stated that the studios must use “good faith efforts” to hire more women DGA members, yet this term is known to be flacid, and is partly responsible for the extraordinary decline of female director employment in the past two decades, a period which, by all accounts, should have seen a marked increase in employment gender equity among directors in Hollywood.   The DGA Women’s Steering Committtee’s Proposals Subcommittee had previously requested that the Guild negotiate a stronger term to replace “good faith efforts,” such as “best efforts.”  They pointed out that the term, “good faith efforts” is not strong enough as arbitration of violations can only occur if there is “smoking gun” evidence of discrimination, which is rare and requires individual women to risk “blacklisting” if they complain.

Unfortunately, the term was not changed, but was only amplified with a new term, “work diligently.”  So, the studios must use “good faith efforts” and “work diligently” to increase the employment of DGA women.  However, the term “work diligently” has no specific legal meaning and is open to interpretation by the courts, should a women be bold enough to bring suit.  This leaves the burden of proof in the hands of individual women which, of course, has failed thus far to support women in increasing their employment numbers.  This merely perpetuates the broad problem that current industry-wide, institutionalized discrimination against women directors will continue to be reduced to individual ad hoc grievances that are only burdensome in rare cases that there is ample smoking gun evidence, such as e-mails.

Let us hope that with hard work and constant application some progress might result for diversity hiring overall, but as with “good faith efforts” the new Agreement sets forth no legal requirement for progress for women.  In effect, with this new Agreement we continue to rely on the good will of studio executives to effect any increase in hiring of women DGA members.  In a best case scenario, therefore, we must spend three more years watching closely to see if the studios actually deliver on these agreements, and that our Guild does not merely continue to pay lip service to oversight, but actually enforces them if they are able and have the will to do so.

Going forward, women directors must be vigilant regarding the effectiveness of the new agreements; we must be prepared to provide evidence if the results turn out to be disappointing. We must see to it that that the DGA truly holds the studios’ feet to the fire in fulfilling their new purported obligations.  No matter what, women must now redouble their efforts to initiate a new set of proposals to submit for the 2017 collective bargaining negotiations.  This expense of lost time is something we women directors can ill-afford.

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