The ACLU Is Finally Doing Something About Hollywood's Female Problem

Photo: Peter Brooker/Rex/REX USA.
Just last week, LA Weekly published a wake-up call of an article called "How Hollywood Keeps Out Women," revealing some hard truths about what many people have long suspected about the movie industry. For example, even though men and women are almost equally represented at top American film schools, men are far more likely to go on to direct Hollywood features. Writer Jessica P. Oglivie makes the important point that while researchers have investigated the dearth of women behind the camera for decades, not much attention has been paid to the thinking and hiring processes of the mostly male studio executives, which could be instigating the issue. Luckily, that's about to change.

Today, The New York Times reports that the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) will officially ask "state and federal agencies to investigate the hiring practices of Hollywood’s major studios, networks and talent agencies, and possibly bring charges against them, for what the organization described as rampant and intentional gender discrimination in recruiting and hiring female directors."

The ACLU has been compiling anecdotal and statistical evidence of "overt sex stereotyping and implicit bias" and will submit this to California labor boards for possible legal action. 

The Times included just a few examples of the various types of discrimination female directors have faced, which are all systemic problems. Women helm a quarter of films at Sundance. Nevertheless, even if a female director's movie achieves the festival holy grail of awards and distribution, she is far less likely to receive an offer to direct a film for a major studio. If she is, her project will receive a much smaller budget than a male director with the same risk factor involved (scaling from indies to blockbusters). 

It's not just a movie problem, either. A female director who asked to remain anonymous told The Times that on television, showrunners keep women out with the excuse that the actors on a certain show are too difficult for a female director to manage. "They’re approaching it as if, ‘We’re protecting you by not giving you this job,'" the director says. 

Putting more women behind the camera would have a widespread impact in front of the camera as well. The Times cited a USC study from 2013 which found that "films led by women have more female characters and less female sexualization." 

The LA Weekly story presents even more striking evidence of how the major studios have a paucity of female directors. Even Disney, with its female-oriented fare and supposedly empowered characters like Belle and Elsa, has only had two women serve as co-directors of its films. 

To date, only four women have been nominated for Best Director at the Academy Awards, and only Kathryn Bigelow walked away with an Oscar. The ACLU wants more women to have that chance, and that change will only occur if the industry bias against female directors' abilities is removed. A quick reminder that it's 2015, so it's about effing time. (The New York Times)
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