Women Take On Hollywood

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Women Take On Hollywood

Lexi Alexander directed, among other films, Green Street (2005) and Lifted (2011). (Photo: Lexialexander.com)

Last May, The New York Times published a 15-page letter from the ACLU to the EEOC and two California state agencies urging them to investigate Hollywood for sex discrimination against women directors.

Just months earlier, NY Times film critic Manohla Dargis wrote that our industry’s “refusal to hire more female directors is immoral, maybe illegal, and has helped create and sustain a representational ghetto for women.”

Her article came on the heels of a USC study showing that only 1.9% of directors of the top-grossing 100 films of 2013 and 2014 were made by women. That means 98.1% of America’s top studio features are coming from the perspective of men.

Two weeks ago, the EEOC stepped up to the plate. Women and Hollywood was the first site to break the news, and on October 2, The Los Angeles Times ran the headline “The Hollywood gender discrimination investigation is on: EEOC contacts women directors.” 

This news is rocking the industry, and last week I became the first female director to be interviewed by our nation’s highest federal agency charged with enforcing Title VII, America’s equal-employment-opportunity law. 

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According to EEOC.gov, “The EEOC has the authority to investigate charges of discrimination against employers. ... Our role in an investigation is to fairly and accurately assess the allegations in the charge and then make a finding.”

If the EEOC finds evidence of systemic discrimination against women directors, it has the authority to file an industry-wide class-action lawsuit for Title VII violations against women directors.

Title VII was fought for and won in 1964. We don't have to fight this battle anymore, but we do have to demand that the U.S. entertainment industry obey this fundamental civil right law.

Female students make up 50% of graduating classes in film schools (though it is currently unknown which disciplines they pursue). Once they step onto the professional playing field, though, statistics show that women directors face worse employment discrimination in Hollywood than in any other industry in America.

Women make up 51% of our population. Yet in 2014, women directed just 14% of TV episodes and only about 4% of all feature films produced by the six major studios and three mini-majors are directed by women. 

And what about women of color? They make up 19% of the U.S. population, yet direct just 2% of TV shows and less than 1% of studio feature films. It’s time we asked why the DGA-studio diversity agreements are serving minority men, who make up about 18% of the U.S. population and directed about 18% of TV episodes last year -- but failing women utterly.

At the EEOC, I was just the first of many women directors to be interviewed. It is crucial that more women come forward to speak out, especially women of color. There is power in numbers. The sooner we can break the long silence and isolation of women directors, the sooner we can work toward change.

Women directors can log on to ACLU.org and respond to the “Tell Us Your Story” request to describe (anonymous, if preferred) how they may have been shut out of the directing profession.

Maria Giese

Maria Giese is an American feature film director and screenwriter. She is also a member of the Directors Guild of America, and an activist for parity for women directors in Hollywood.

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