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Guest Post: DGA Women Directors Foment a Rebellion

by Maria Giese
March 6, 2013 12:00 PM
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This past Saturday, March 2, 2013, became an historic day as the DGA Women’s Steering Committee hosted the DGA Women of Action Summit in LA bringing together 150 female American directors for a day-long event designed to create solutions to the problem of the under-representation and under-employment of women directors in Hollywood. This event was a long time coming and to me, the day was reminiscent, in terms of unity, passion and commitment to the rallies for women's rights of the 1970's.

The day included opening remarks by Academy Award-winner and advocate, Geena Davis, who connected the need for the global proliferation of more positive images of women and girls to the immediacy of getting more women behind the camera here in Hollywood. Currently, according to the latest stats from the DGA, women only helm 5% of feature films and 15% of episodic TV shows.

Victoria Hochberg, who introduced Geena Davis set the moral tone for the day with a beautifully crafted speech about the history of the DGA Women’s Committee and the need for courage and principles in the face of an industry that often does not honor the civil rights laws of our nation.  Hochberg was one of the six who started the DGA Women’s Committee in 1979.  She reminded us of our history, spoke the difficulties involved in attaining the employment data.  In 1979 women made up one half of one percent of employed DGA directors. Most interestingly, she revealed how the Women’s Committee succeeded in getting the DGA to file a class-action lawsuit against three major studios in 1983, a piece of history not often shared by the Guild.

The first panel, "Employment Equity Matters," moderated by Martha Coolidge, director of 46 films and the first and only female president of the DGA, included successful feature directors: Debbie Allen, Catherine Hardwicke, Amy Heckerling, Mimi Leder, Nancy Meyers, Robin Swicord, Betty Thomas, and Nia Vardalos. Each of these mega directors agreed that even the view from the top is dismal. Even in success, America’s top women directors do not enjoy the privileges accorded to their male peers.  Robin Swicord called for participants to recognize that the low number of women directors in Hollywood appears to violate U.S. equal employment laws. Even reluctant attendee Betty Thomas was incredibly moved by the event declaring "I'm ashamed! I'm ashamed! This is great!" And a great cheer arose.

Panel Two, "Making the Choice for Change", moderated by Penelope Spheeris, was a look into the future for women, envisioning a "paradigm shift" brought dynamic concepts for realizing equality for women directors from panelists Valerie Faris, Victoria Hochberg, Mary Lambert, Lynne Littman, Freida Mock, Kimberly Peirce as well as guests Keri Putnam (Sundance), Jennifer Siebel Newsom (Miss Representation), and Cathy Schulman (Women in Film). Proposals discussed included everything from galvanizing women throughout our industry, employing ad campaigns, creating a studio dedicated to women filmmakers, to the big idea of revisiting suing the studios for violations of Civil Rights laws.

The panel was followed by lunchtime discussions where the women directors brainstormed solutions for increasing employment for women directors based on a list of questions prepared by the organizers of the Summit. One issue that resonated with the members was the perennial lack of compliance of DGA-studio agreements already in place intended to increase the hiring of more women and ethnic minority directors. 

We need to keep in mind that The DGA Diversity Task Force, implemented 8 years ago by former DGA President Michael Apted, is the key mechanism in place designed to assist the Guild in overseeing studio compliance of those agreement. However, since its implementation the ratio of female director-employment has not budged much at all. Why is that?

The last panel of the day "Creating Opportunities for Women in Film & TV," was moderated by BET’s Loretha Jones. The panelists included showrunners, producers and directors, Paris Barclay, Lesli Linka Glatter, Matt Weiner, Susan Cartsonis, Betsy Thomas, Callie Khouri, and Lillah McCarthy. This group of seasoned producers are among the executives most dedicated to helping create opportunities for women directors in episodic TV. Unfortunately, they seemed generally to feel that the numbers of employed women directors was a fairly good representation of the ratio of women director members of the Guild.

Several of the Guild’s leaders were present for the entire day including National Executive Director Jay Roth and First Vice-President Paris Barclay, as well as Bryan Unger and Regina Render, most of of whom supported and helped encourage the planning of the event during the preceding months, listened carefully and contributed numerous ideas to help move the issues forward with the studios and the industry at large.

The most significant proposal of the day was an appeal to newly appointed DGA Feature Film and Television Negotiations Committee co-chairs Michael Apted and Thomas Schlamme, and their team (including Stephen Soderbergh) to encourage to make equal opportunity for women DGA members the central issue of the 2013 negotiations.

Abigail Adams wrote in a letter to her husband, John Adams, on March 31, 1776: "I long to hear that you have declared an independency. And, by the way, in the new code of laws, which I suppose it will be necessary for you to make, I desire you would remember the ladies. If particular care and attention is not paid to us ladies, we are determined to foment a rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by laws in which we have no representation."


Maria Giese is an American feature film director, a member of the Directors Guild of America, and an activist for parity for women directors in Hollywood.  Giese was a creator/organizer of the 2013 DGA Women of Action Summit.  More info here.

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  • Robert Mendel | May 28, 2014 11:20 PMReply

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  • Rachel Feldman | March 13, 2013 1:54 PMReply

    The DGA Summit was an enormous success and Maria Giese's innumerable contributions, as well as Sandra Milliner's, were the reason why so many women came away with hope in their hearts for the future of employment equity for women directors. "Fomenting a rebellion" may be another woman's "creating community". Thank you to Melissa Silverstein for understanding the significance, no matter what we call it.

    With regards to Lesli's comments about our woefully low statistics. I hope that folks in charge can look beyond numbers and into the face of untarnished fairness. Hundreds of accomplished women are looking back at them, ready to work. That, and only that, is the picture the DGA needs to support and every network and studio executive.

  • Sandra Milliner | March 9, 2013 10:26 PMReply

    Maria: A Rebellion? I think not. A day crafted for dialogue and insights yes indeed. An opportunity to problem solve, create a plan of action to utilize the strengths of the guild and to create community, yes. Your craft with words serves you but where I come from a leader is someone who has people following them and a leader has earned trust. It would be wonderful to present a united front but having worked side by side for some time I am dismayed at your poor choices and how they have reflected on your fellow organizers of the Summit and on the Guild. I am truly proud of seeing the Summit become a reality after 4 years of campaigning for it to become a reality. Nothing is ever easy when completed by committee and especially when a few have a vision different from your own and will utilize whatever means at their disposal to have their way. I will not hold you accountable for your manipulation of the day in a public forum but will hold you accountable with our fellow DGA membership. An important quote from George Orwell: The further a Society drifts from the truth, the more it will hate those that speak it. Your truth, Maria, is so very different than mine. Your raging at the world will be your undoing.

  • Maria Giese | March 13, 2013 6:56 PM

    The beauty of a democracy is that people with varying points of view may have their say. Several of us did work side by side and all of us, together, produced a terrific event. No 'manipulation' necessary when there is consensus. And if you substitute 'passion' for 'raging' you might achieve a more generous and satisfying vision of what actually was expressed.

  • Lesli Linka Glatter | March 9, 2013 8:05 AMReply

    Just to clarify, no one on the last panel thinks the employment numbers for women are acceptable, the numbers are disgraceful, and everyone on that panel has actively championed the hiring of women and minority directors for years. What was actually said was that given that there are only 13.4 percent women director members of the DGA, a number that is appalling low, a studio or network executive could look at last years record of 15 percent of episodes of TV directored by women and could think that they were making ' best efforts' at diverse hiring because more episodes were directed by women than the total percentage of women director members of the Guild.
    Any yes, the Summit was wonderful. Thanks to the organizers for a fantastic day.

  • Marianna | March 8, 2013 3:24 PMReply

    This is a small step for females and female minorities, but it's a step in the right direction. I think it's not just about female Directors but really it can be said of all female Crew members as well. Maybe if the DGA made it slightly easier for minority females to join the DGA that would be a great incentive? More members, giving Productions more of a choice of female Directors, instead of them maybe feeling "obligated" to hire a female Director just because they have to. But then of course the non-minority males would cry "foul" and claim that's unfair. (Which it's not at all.) Either way this makes me happy to see such progress. I've seen the industry change dramatically for women, since I started in 1998. And it's changed for the better!! As it's National Women's Day, I shared this article with friends and colleagues. I hope you all do too!!

  • Jan Lisa Huttner | March 8, 2013 12:40 PMReply

    Thanks, Maria. This is great! BRAVA! One suggestion: As Melissa's Cannes petition showed last May, the people who do the selecting have enormous influence over who/what gets selected. So if we want to see more "balance" come the 2014 Awards Season (& beyond), then we need the DGA & the AMPAS Director's Section to commit to including more women in the selection process. If almost all the people who select Best Director candidates each year are male, then it's no wonder that the nominees each & every year will be almost entirely male too. Keep up the great work & please continue to keep us all informed! Jan Lisa Huttner aka "The Hot Pink Pen"

  • Maria Giese | March 13, 2013 7:07 PM

    Thank you, Jan! Keep your eye on our web forum for women directors: where we have just started an "International Legal Center for Women Directors." Submit (and get friends to submit) anecdotes and articles for us to publish, and of course, keep following our champion, Melissa Silverstein!

  • Maureen | March 7, 2013 1:08 AMReply

    There are very few avenues as a way up to director for a woman. In fact, I don't know of any.

  • Susan Cartsonis | March 6, 2013 7:30 PMReply

    Nice article EXCEPT it's a bit reductive to say that the final panel's conclusion was that "they seemed generally to feel that the numbers of employed women directors was a fairly good representation of the ratio of women director members of the Guild". This was one of many ideas, suggestions, thoughts offered by individuals on the panel. I was on the panel. While I know that the number of female directors in the DGA is terribly low, this statistic convinced me only that the volume of female directors in the DGA and beyond need to change for the better and the DGA has a responsibility to do more and to do things differently to help that number change.

  • Maria Giese | March 7, 2013 2:24 AM

    Yes, that is true and well said. Ms. Cartsonis in fact was quite singular in her recognition that the skewed ratio (90/10 of male to female director members in the Guild) should not be treated as a reason to meekly accept the same imbalance in the industry ratios of employed male to female directors. As the numbers of women directors within the industry increases (hypothetically), the corresponding ratio in the DGA will of course equalize. Thank you for that clarification.

  • carmella | March 6, 2013 5:37 PMReply

    for all its talk of supporting women directors, the dga continues to program the monthly screening series with films that include few if any women directors.

  • Maria Giese | May 3, 2013 1:21 PM

    It is true that the DGA does not support women directors as much as it should. There seems to be a consensus that, since the majority of the Guild membership is male, the emphasis of support should be on that population, rather than rectifying a situation of employment disparity that everyone-- including the entire Guild leadership (Executive & members alike)-- concedes is "appalling," "despicable," and "disgraceful." Not to mention unlawful.

    However, there are many of us in the Guild who are actively trying to create change. Lats night, director Victoria Hochberg presented the 50th screening of the DGA Global Cinema Series: she had selected "Fill The Void," directed by Rama Burshtein. This film was Israel's submission to the 2013 Academy Awards and cleaned up at the Israeli Film Academy Awards. Hochberg interviewed Burshtein (who is Hasidic and a mother of four!) by Skype afterwards. It was an extraordinary evening by all accounts, and demonstrates just one of the many, many things the Guild can do if it is willing to make equity for American women directors a priority. Which they should do if, in years to come, they want to appear on the right side of history.

  • Maria Giese | March 7, 2013 3:25 PM

    We women directors need to fight for our employment equality rigorously, fearlessly, tirelessly. If our country is going to move into the future in a position of global moral leadership, we need to act in accordance with moral right and in abidance with our own civil rights laws. We cannot go on silencing the voices of nearly half our population.

    In 2004, former DGA president, Michael Apted told the Hollywood Reporter: "…producers and networks have failed to fulfill their contractual good-faith obligation to hire more women.” This year, Mr. Apted and Mr. Thomas Schlamme will co-chair the upcoming 2013 DGA Feature Film and Television Negotiations Committee. This only happens every two years. We DGA members must ask that this be the year they make equal employment for women DGA members the central issue of the negotiations.

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