It’s no secret that, while women directors do occasionally get a chance to bring their vision to the big or small screen, the directing scene in Hollywood is still, by and large, a boys’ club. However, that may soon change, as studios, networks, and commercial production companies could find themselves facing a class-action lawsuit involving discrimination against female directors.
The federal Equal Opportunity Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has begun an investigation of the film and television production industry in which they intend to interview as many women directors as they can in order to determine what action, if any, it should take to combat discrimination against women in that role.
The EEOC is a federal agency responsible for enforcing and upholding a number of government policies including Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits employment discrimination based on sex, race, color, religion and national origin, and the Equal Pay Act of 1963, which prohibits wage discrimination based on gender. Both of which are certainly in question here, as women hold a scant 16% of episodic TV directing jobs, and direct less than 5% of the major motion picture studio releases.
Sometime earlier, a group of women directors approached the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), compelling them to take up the fight for gender equality in Hollywood. They did, and in May, officially filed a complaint with the EEOC calling for an investigation into“the systemic failure to hire women directors at all levels of the film and television industry.”
One of the women making the appeal to the ACLU was Marie Giese, who initially approached the EEOC herself back in 2013 but was told that, in regards to her complaints of discrimination again women directors they “couldn’t take this on in an industrywide approach. It felt it could only take on individual lawsuits for a woman who would directly sue a studio or production company within a 12-month window with smoking-gun evidence.”
This of course would be career suicide. No self-respecting woman director would risk that.
So Giese took her complaint to the ACLU. “The ACLU changed the EEOC’s mind,” she said. “We are so grateful to the ACLU and the EEOC. This is an investigation that is long overdue. I hope this will be the spearhead to create equality for every woman in our industry, and for every woman in every industry in America.”
Melissa Goodman, the director the ACLU SoCal’s LGBTQ, Gender & Reproductive Justice Project said: “Blatant and extreme gender inequality in this large and important industry is shameful and unacceptable. The time has come for new solutions to this serious civil rights problem.”
On October 1st, Marla Stern-Knowlton, Systemic Supervisor of the Los Angeles district office of the EEOC sent out letters to 50 some-odd women, which reads as follows: “Your name was provided to our agency by Melissa Goodman with the ACLU. Ms. Goodman has advised the EEOC that you would be willing to speak with us, so that we may learn more about the gender-related issues which you are facing in both the Film and Television Industries. To that end, I would like to begin coordinating dates and times for these interviews, to take place during the month of October at our Los Angeles District Office. Please note that these interviews will be considered confidential. At your earliest opportunity, please contact me and let me know your availability so that we can schedule a date and time for your interview.”
Several directors have already responded, and the EEOC is currently in the process of scheduling interviews. Lori Precious, a commercial director, said in response: “I would like the EEOC to take legal action against the studios, the networks and the commercial production companies to make them comply with the law. I hope they force people to change the way they do business because Hollywood is not exempt from the law.”
Marie Giese adds, “I hope the Obama administration and Attorney General Loretta Lynch and Chuck Grassley, Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, will give the EEOC every ounce of support they can muster in this historic effort to create equality for women directors in U.S. media, at last.”
For now, the EEOC seems to be limiting its investigation strictly to female directors, though the issue of gender in equality in Hollywood is prevalent throughout the industry. The vast majority of the people in charge possess a Y chromosome. According to a recent WGA report, only 15.1% of women held the title of executive producer last TV season – a 3.5% decrease from the previous season. Though women account for slightly more than half of the world’s population, when it boiled down to who was writing and running television shows in the 2013-14 season, men outnumbered them 3-1.
It doesn’t take an advanced mathematics degree that roughly 75% men and 25% women is not equal. Could the investigation into the lack of female directors expand to include writes, producers, studio executives, and every other role in Hollywood wherein women seem to be largely absent?