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A Next Step Towards Gender Parity for Women Directors

by Melissa Silverstein
June 12, 2013 2:00 PM
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female filmmaker

A couple of months ago there was a big meeting at the DGA addressing the issue of the lack of opportunities for women directors.  It took about a year to organize and was met with a positive response.  But positive responses don't necessarily mean action.  In order for there to be real change and for women to get more opportunities there needs to be significant institutional change not only at the DGA, but also in the industry.  That will take a very long time, even though there have already been women pushing and pushing for decades.  It's not that this is a new issue.  It's been going on for decades.

Hopefully now is the time for a new push.  There are some women who won't just accept lip service.  They believe it is time to take this to the next level -- the legal level -- to try and achieve parity for women directors.  It's not an easy thing to sue.  If this was an easy case it would have been done many years ago.  Who do you sue?  Hiring someone to be a director for a film or TV show is subjective.  It's not like you work in an office under those types of rules.  That's why the hiring practices of directors and others in the entertainment business have been so protected, because it is so difficult to prove discrimination.

They women who are publicly leading this charge believe that this work is more important than their individual careers.  People say they are complainers can't get hired because they are not good, and of course crazy because that is what we love to call women who fight against injustice.  One woman who I have been in touch with -- Maria Giese -- a multi-award-winning, two-time feature film director who has worked with Academy Award nominated actors and is a member of the DGA and who desperately would love to continue working as a director -- knows that because she has taken this on she has probably sacrificed her future career as a director..  But she's not giving up.  Maria's been talking to numerous civil liberty and legal organizations and is trying to create a legal strategy that would hopefully force people in the business to hire women.   

Read the information about the legal strategy here.

The next step according to Maria is "to assess the production entities-- from independent producers to studios-- that are most egregiously in violation of Title VII in terms of discriminating against women directors, and begin to target them one by one. We will continue to add to the list as we see fit for as long as it takes to create gender parity in this industry. We have both legal and ethical right on our side, a growing movement of support, and nothing to stand in our way."

Maria hopes and believes that when there is a critical mass other women will put their names forward.  Right now people are supportive, albeit anonymously, for this effort.  But they are there.  Here are some of the comments from women in the industry.

My thoughts and prayers are with you and I am totally in awe of your courage and persistence.  You make me want to get back in the fight, but at my age just know that I will always be your best and faithful cheerleader.  If my 40 years in the business of filmmaking can help, I'm there. There is nothing the (DGA) Boy's Club fears more than public/national focus on them for their obvious sexism and racism and yes they have been pointing fingers at the producers and studios for 30 years in an effort to appear as the "good guys" in all this... They will first pull the ‘victim’ card and then if that isn't working they will become the threatening bully full of indignation that the women of the guild should dare to call in the ACLU as they've worked so hard for their female members.... Don't let them go there.

I think getting the ACLU involved is probably the only way to crack the pot again, but be prepared that women who are fortunate enough to be working will not want you to rock the boat, and they will be leaned on by producers in not very subtle ways to not be supportive of efforts regarding any kind of government involvement in industry decisions. You have a hard row to hoe and I do not envy you.

I so respect your efforts on behalf of all women filmmakers who are constantly being passed over for employment. Your group must resist their tactics to separate and divide. You must be united and not allow the little back biting and bitchiness to defeat you. Good luck!

I think you're going to need to attack both the Producers Guild and the DGA at the same time in a joint discrimmination suit brought on by the ACLU.  I know that's a BIG order, but I think you're up to the task.  Go get em!

Be watchful of the DGA's divide and conquer technique which they have been quite successful with in the past. They will approach the working female directors and try to get them on their team with the pointing at non-working female directors and hinting that if they start working it will be taking jobs from them, after all there are only so many jobs to go around.

This is not going to be easy.  We will be keeping careful watch as things progress.

More info here

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  • Salt | June 18, 2013 9:02 PMReply

    Where is the WGA in all this? They have never stood up for their female members who are paid less for equal work and are shut out of writing tentpole films, sequels etc. Since Rom Com and Drama's aren't being made and women aren't hired for Action, Sci Fi, or Thrillers they are in deep trouble. Disney and Warners rarely hire women at all. HBO hasn't produced a movie written by a woman in years and years. Universal hires one woman a year. Dreamworks has yet to produce a movie by a woman. Fox 2000 will occasionally and Fox almost never.

  • Korky Day | June 15, 2013 12:02 AMReply

    I hope the legal approach works. Please also try these other 3 approaches:
    Funding-- Private and public movie funding groups should be pressured to split their funding 50-50 by sex of director.
    Awards-- Awarding groups should be pressured to award best director (male) and best director (female).
    Theatres-- Each theatre should be pressured to split their screen time 50-50 by sex of director. As a concession, in a multiplex theatre, the smaller rooms could have the female-directed movies.

  • Maria Giese | June 14, 2013 9:30 AMReply

    Women who allow this incredibly important cause to be fractured by issues of ethnicity feed straight into the "divide and conquer" strategies of the male establishment. Thanks to the courageous, selfless work of many women members of the DGA, for the first time in 75 years the Directors Guild is now speaking in terms of the issue of "women of all ethnicities"—separate from "ethnic minority" issues. We women"-- comprised of a great and marvelous blend of a multitude of ethnicities -- make up 51% of the population. Women are not a minority!

  • Marie | June 21, 2013 11:54 AM

    Hey. While I appreciate the viewpoints expressed here I would really also appreciate a proper response to women of color directors in the US regarding our concerns for inclusion. We know all to well that "women" does not automatically refer to us. White women in this culture, due to racism, have mor power than black women or other woc. Do not try to shame or chastise us into silence when we bring this up. Instead just address it. And, no we're not going to wait until the fight is "won" to bring up our legitimate concerns.

    Who knows, if the racial/ ethnicity issue is at least acknowledged that would give it a chance to resolved. Think how powerful a movement could be then! Otherwise you're just alienating a lot of women, particularly young women of color who would be on your side with the energy and idealism to fight in the long haul. Either way we won't be silenced. Peace.

  • Rena Sternfeld | June 12, 2013 6:46 PMReply

    We have to approach it from every possible angle. It is outrages that out of over 1000 women directors in the DGA, only 35 or so make a living working in their chosen profession. It doesn't matter what the "boys" are saying, there is no effort, from hardly anyone in the industry to enlarge the pool of women directors. There's one woman producer, Sarah Caplan who insists on having parity as far as it goes with other DGA professions. Unfortunately when she tries to do it with directors, the 'boys' above her (execs and studio) shut her down. Then they point the fingers at each other and say "He did it, not me".

  • Jane Spencer | June 12, 2013 3:47 PMReply

    This is wonderful news. Sexism in the film industry, for directors, is very clear, very disturbing, and something must be done about it. Women's voices are just as important as men's voices, in creative work (such as film directing) and in the world. I whole-heartedly agree with what Maris Giese proposes here.

  • Nina Menkes | June 12, 2013 3:14 PMReply

    I salute the courage of Maria Giese. Sexism is alive and well, and not only in the film industry. I happen to be reading today about the new Dan Prize winners. Each winner gets $1 MILLION DOLLARS for, basically, being a genius and amazing in a wide variety of diverse fields. In the ten years that this grant has been active, 55 men and 6 women have been awarded. Their website states "The Dan David Prize is granted according to merit, without discrimination
    based on gender, race, religion, nationality, or political affiliation."... Oh.. really? Are you sure???????

  • Uhhh | June 15, 2013 7:25 PM

    Janie, 1 of the women was Chilean. Why does it have to be an us vs them mentality? Do you really think feminism isn't about racial minorities? I can't think of a population who benefits MORE from the funding of places like Planned Parenthood than the racial minorities in the US. Shame on you for making this divisive. Female directors hire more diverse cast and crewmembers. Period. Creating more opportunities for female directors of all backgrounds, classes, and races creates more jobs for minorities. Period.

  • Janie | June 12, 2013 3:58 PM

    How many of the 6 women who won $1 million were other than White? I'll concern myself with feminism when feminists concern themselves with racism and bigotry.

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