Earlier today, the ACLU of Southern California and the national ACLU Women’s Rights Project reached out to state and national agencies to request an investigation into what they deemed the “systemic failure” to hire women directors in the film and television industry. The two groups sent a fifteen-page letter to the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing, the Labor Department’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs, and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that included extensive statistical and anecdotal evidence on the “dramatic disparities” in the hiring of women directors. The complete letter has been published on The New York Times’ movie blog.
The civil rights organizations are asking for an in-depth probe into the “dramatic disparities” in the hiring of women directors for episodic television and feature films. They cite the fact that women made up only 7 percent of the directors of the top 250 grossing films (down from 9 percent in 1998) of 2014, and only 1.9 percent of directors for the top 100 grossing films in 2013 and 2014. Overall, women directors helmed only 4.1 percent of the 1300 top-grossing films from 2002-2014. Television remains almost as impermeable—a DGA analysis cited in The New York Times of about 220 shows (comprising 3500 episodes) from 2013-2014 found that only 14 percent of directors were women.
Concerns over discrimination have built up over time, boiling over when Selma director Ava DuVernay was left out of the Best Director nominations at this year’s Oscars. Whenever the issue arises, industry folk (mostly men) deflect the criticism by arguing that your Nora Ephrons and Sofia Coppolas are better suited to romantic comedies or independent films. These genres usually operate with smaller budgets, meaning that there’s always a little less to lose when a woman directs a film. This ultimately results in women directors not even being considered for higher-profile projects, with studios citing concerns of being able to “handle” a bigger production. Male directors, on the other hand, often follow a different career arc—Cara Buckley of the New York Times cites the example of Gareth Edwards, who took the helm of 2014’s Godzilla reboot (and its $160 million budget) after scoring big with his independent film Monsters.
The request for an investigation isn’t the first foray into opening up hiring practices in the film and television industry. In March 1969, the EEOC took it upon itself to hold a hearing on such matters, concluding that employment practices across the board in Hollywood were in clear violation of the Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. The commission cited discrimination in the hiring practices of seven major studios as well as Association of Motion Picture and Television Producers. The EEOC’s Clifford Alexander, Jr., who is African-American, was later fired by President Nixon for making waves. So it’s fair to say that efforts to combat discrimination in Hollywood have stalled somewhat.