|Maria Giese Photo: Reggie Burrows Hodges for the Bluestocking Series|
About a year ago, I interviewed American director Maria Giese about her campaign to end discrimination against women directors in the United States. It's a collective human rights-based action that’s globally unique and significant for all of us who watch and are influenced by Hollywood entertainment. Here’s the next chapter of Maria's story, in two parts: a summary for everyone, followed by the deep nitty gritty for women directors and our allies.
WW What have you been up to?
MG It’s been quite a year. After 20 years, I left LA and moved to Connecticut with my husband and two children to write a book, Troublemaker. It tells the story of my Hollywood insurgence and my battles in the Directors Guild of America (DGA) during the past 5 years, with a bold group of other women directors. It also describes my journey getting the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) to launch the campaign for women directors that led to the current Federal government’s investigation, by ‘the Feds’: the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC), the Labor Department’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP), and the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH).
I’ve been working hard to support the investigation, foster independent legal actions, and keep this issue alive in the mainstream media, through speaking publicly, talking to journalists, and networking with other activist individuals and organisations. We want to trigger a paradigm shift in people’s thinking so that everyone can comprehend and agree that it is fair and just and in accordance with America’s ideals that women contribute equally to our cultural narrative. I’ve also been part of five documentaries and have developed ideas about the role of distribution.
Together with Christine Walker and Caroline Heldman, I am organising the 2017 Women’s Media Summit on gender equity among women storytellers in US entertainment media. It will take place March 31 — April 2 in Provincetown, Massachusetts.
WW All women directors have to draw heavily on their imaginations, their hearts, their resilience. They have to be tenacious. A few, like you, are also activists with a collective vision for all women. Who and what has influenced you?
MG My biggest influences are my parents. My mother is a masterful landscape photographer who spent much of her career working in Ireland and Northern Ireland. She and the Nobel Prize-winning poet Seamus Heaney published their work together in Sweeney’s Flight. I would say she is my biggest influence in terms of writing and visual style. And my father is a geophysical oceanographer who has influenced me deeply. You could not ask for a more kind, compassionate father.
For a girl growing up with four high-spirited older brothers it could be possible to feel overshadowed. Each of my brothers is gifted in his own way and they presented a lot of challenge to me — both physically and intellectually. But my parents’ attention to me was always nurturing. As a scientist, my father believes deeply in the relative equality of all living organisms, including even people, so he always made me feel that I was equal to anyone and that I could accomplish whatever I set out to do. That said, he has imbued in me a strong belief in fairness and justice and a commitment to civic duty to uphold these ideals wherever I saw them violated. He has done this himself in terms of conservancy and preservation on Cape Cod. In fact, he’s probably just as much of a revolutionary on the Cape as I have tried to be in Hollywood.
Also, I spent my formative years from age 4 to 9 in Puerto Rico where my father was starting up an oceanography department at the University of Puerto Rico. Those were amazing years, living in a barrio surrounded by sugar cane fields, snorkeling off the coral reefs, swimming in Phosphorescent Bay at night, and then the poverty and rawness of life — that all turned out to inform my world view, both the aesthetic and the socio-political.
When I was 9-years-old we moved back to Truro full-time. It presented massive culture shock starting up in a small, puritanical New England School. My brothers and I had been going to a ‘free school’ in the barrio and we were surrounded with hippy culture, often with very little parental oversight — like a gang of little savages. I saw so much, maybe too much sometimes. When I came back, I was a little wild. And it took awhile for the kids in Truro to come around to me, let’s just say. Still, I came to love school, and that passion for learning took me all the way through graduate school to the start of my career as a director.
It’s a good thing I grew up with a revolutionary spirit, or Hollywood’s astonishing bias against women would have snuffed out my dream to make films. Just as soon as I solve discrimination against women directors for all women, I’ll get back to work!
WW As I think about your questioning of whose stories get told, your courage, your vision and your tenacity, I remember that you’re of Native American descent and notice that indigenous women are leaders on these issues both in the US and in New Zealand, where a Māori woman, Chelsea Winstanley — mentored and supported by other Māori women — is the only contemporary woman director to join Jane Campion in speaking publicly about the need for gender equity in taxpayer funding of film. How, if at all, does your indigenous heritage factor into this work?
MG Yes, I am Nipmuc Indian (on my mother’s side), one of the First Nations of Native America. Nipmucs lived around Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island for about 30,000 years before Europeans came. In my family we are very proud of our Nipmuc heritage — we are blessed with many Native qualities and cursed by others. I suspect my fearlessness is rooted in my Nipmuc blood. I would gladly lead a charge in a battle over a worthwhile cause. It’s not surprising that I returned to my homeland after all those years in LA. I never felt at home in that vast desert. I was born in Rhode Island, I grew up in Massachusetts, and now I live in Connecticut. I am home. The father of my children is a 12th generation Connecticut colonist. I sometimes joke that his ancestors massacred my ancestors. I guess it’s not that funny though.
WW Have you and other activists noticed an increase in support as the issue is taken more seriously at an official level?
MG Yes, I certainly think so. We have more credibility. We are taken more seriously in the media, in the industry, and in the government. In 2013 we were totally invisible — this issue was a complete non-starter. People were essentially just embarrassed by the subject. Now everyone recognizes its significance nationally, and how it impacts society globally.
It’s perplexing that the presence of discrimination had been articulated in the past but it wasn’t obvious to us all as being a civil rights issue. And it’s phenomenal how it’s become one of the most discussed feminist issues today.
It took some years to get the word out widely but now it resonates with men and women because, seen through the light of new vocabulary, everyone can see how incredibly important it is.
Hundreds of organizations and off-shoots are bursting forth for women filmmakers and storytellers. It’s a very exciting time. Now, with the election of Trump, people are further unified and galvanized toward fighting for equality and civil rights.
If we women want equality for ourselves individually, we must fight for it collectively. The personal must become political. We can no longer accept being made invisible, because we aren’t the ones telling the stories. We women must, absolutely MUST unify and fight — single-mindedly fight without stopping until we have achieved real, enduring equality — not just in writing, but tangibly as citizens, workers, as leaders, and as recorders of our human history on earth.
The Nitty Gritty
WW Let’s rewind a little. 2012 was the beginning for you, wasn’t it?
MG Yes. There were already individuals and organizations concerned with Hollywood's gender imbalance on the screen and behind the camera. There were also three previous Federal investigations that could have advanced American women directors (1960’s, 1970’s, and 1980’s) but failed to solve the problem. The courageous ‘Original Six’ who founded the DGA-Women’s Steering Committee (WSC) in 1979 litigated. But 2012 saw the dawn of the broad media campaign for American women directors, and all the vast groups and organizations relating to women directors sprung up in the years that followed, because that was the year a small group of women directors in the DGA met in the DGA-WSC and had a joining of minds about the need for immediate, radical activism against the systemic exclusion of women directors and storytellers from US entertainment media.
It was primarily Rachel Feldman, Melanie Wagor, Rena Sternfeld, Dianne Bartlow, Lexi Alexander, several members of ‘Original Six’ and of course me. But there were many other women directors who helped as well. We persevered against our union and against the cronyism in the DGA diversity department to produce the 2013 Summit for Women Directors. It was through that effort that all the change you see was initiated — the 2012 establishment of the Women Directors in Hollywood blog; the 2014 ACLU campaign for women directors in Hollywood; and the 2015 Federal investigation into discrimination against women directors in Hollywood.
This movement will end only when we have achieved 50/50 voice as storytellers in our entertainment media and resolved the national and global problem of having women virtually excluded from the US cultural narrative.
The ACLU and the Feds
WW After its own investigation, instigated by you, the ACLU sent a 15-page letter to the three Federal organizations, calling for them to investigate. They also sent it to The New York Times, which published it on May 12 2015. And then the Feds became involved?
MG Yes, that’s right. I actually went to the EEOC first — back in February 2013. But if a woman director files an individual discrimination complaint to the EEOC she has no protection from blacklisting, and the EEOC did not seem to believe they could take this on as for women directors as a class. This was tantamount to a failure of our government to protect our Constitutional rights: equality, free speech, equal protection under the law, even the right to pursue happiness. So, with this in mind, in May 2013 I went to the ACLU, as an individual.
After a number of meetings with people at the ACLU, to explain the issue, and after I provided them with all the research I had done, and after I brought a strong core group of other women directors to them, they made the decision to launch the campaign in 2014, as a collective campaign of research, outreach, advocacy, and media engagement to work toward solutions.
The ACLU sent the New York Times a copy of its letter to the Feds to communicate to mainstream media and to people everywhere just how significant and far-reaching the ramifications of this issue are. It wanted to alert women to the fact that the campaign was on. And it wanted to spark a media storm that would help make this issue broadly comprehensible and credible.
It succeeded on all counts. Five months later, on October 2, 2015, the Los Angeles Times broke the news that the Feds had initiated an investigation into discrimination against women directors. And on May 11, 2016, exactly one year after the ACLU letter was published, the Los Angeles Times again broke the story that the Feds would now ramp up the investigation, to include the whole industry.
You know, we often think of industries and organizations (like the EEOC, media, entertainment, and so on) as being self-contained and having separate agendas. We have to stop thinking that way and look at our society as a holistic unit. These industries and organizations are made up of people like you and me — people trying to achieve collective goals, solve problems, communicate, and collaborate.
Many organizations in Hollywood that have been effectively free of Federal oversight for decades have been allowed to become corrupted by a few. This happened in the DGA — which, without oversight, developed into a system of cronyism that mostly served just a few members. This is a key reason women have experienced such profound exclusion from the directing profession in the past decades.
The sad part of this is that a 1978 EEOC report on discrimination against women and minorities in the US entertainment industry recommended that the unions set up committees in cooperation with the studios and signatories to address this problem. But by leaving Hollywood to govern itself, the EEOC created a self-perpetuating system of entrenched racial and sexual discrimination. That’s like telling a pack of hyenas to govern itself in a fair equitable way. It’s no way to uphold all Americans’ rights under the law. What’s the point of having laws if we don’t have enforcement agencies in place that can effectively manage compliance?
I’ve asked our Federal government to step up and do its goddamned job. It is our right as American citizens to have our civil rights and Constitutional rights protected and enforced. Today we women are denied our rights, and as a result we are unfairly silenced and censored in our country. I will not step down until this hypocrisy, this failure of justice is fully rectified.
WW What can the Feds do that the ACLU can’t?
MG Since the EEOC and the two other Federal agencies agreed to investigate, the ACLU has continued to work on this issue, in cooperation with them. So, it’s really four organizations functioning together to help seek solutions to this problem and that’s exciting. Working as four sister organizations on the same issue is very powerful — together they can litigate, lobby, engage the media, use education, advocacy, and community outreach. They can do it better together. We could not have gone any higher or further beyond taking the issue straight to Congress.
The ACLU and EEOC do similar things. But the ACLU is a non-profit, non-partisan union, the nation’s ‘Watchdog’ organization for Civil Rights, funded to the tune of $100 million annually by its 500,000-plus members. Its mission is ‘to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in this country by the Constitution and laws of the United States’. It is powerful and can move quickly and effectively to bring attention to civil rights abuses.
In contrast, the EEOC is a quasi-independent government agency, a division of the United States Department of Justice (DOJ), financed by American taxpayers. Its whole reason for being is to enforce equal employment opportunity and it is overseen by the United States Attorney General, the chief lawyer (the law enforcement officer) to the Executive Branch, to the president of the United States.
According to its own website, the EEOC ‘has the authority to investigate charges of discrimination against employers who are covered by the law. Our role in an investigation is to fairly and accurately assess the allegations in the charge and then make a finding. If we find that discrimination has occurred, we will try to settle the charge. If we aren’t successful, we have the authority to file a lawsuit to protect the rights of individuals and the interests of the public. We also work to prevent discrimination before it occurs through outreach, education and technical assistance programs’.
If the EEOC deems it appropriate, they can take powerful measures to solve the problem. This is how Melissa Goodman from the ACLU explains it —
They have the power to do nothing or to act. Acting can take the form of… filing what are called, in the case of a federal agency, ‘commissioner’s charges.’ In the case of a state agency, there would be ‘directive charges.’
The difference [between an individual complaint and an EEOC investigation] is — let’s say I experienced discrimination in my job tomorrow. I, as an individual, could go file a complaint of discrimination with one of these agencies. I could say, ‘I work for Corporation X and they discriminated against me’.
This process we’ve asked these agencies to consider invoking is different. They don’t need an individual like me to step forward. Instead what they do is they investigate an industry as a whole. They can say, theoretically, ‘We find that there is systemic bias’, and they can file charges themselves, as the agency, against a whole bunch of employers. Or they could pick one and make an example of them.
So they can do that on their own without needing an individual complaining about a specific incident of discrimination.Melissa Goodman is a lawyer and I am not, but I will also say this: if the Attorney General took an interest in this case, profound change could result quickly. It’s all a matter of convincing people that something systemic is failing and needs to be fixed.
Federal attention to this issue could result in legislative change. It could also result in reforms to Title VII of Civil Rights Act of 1964, a federal law that prohibits employers from discriminating against employees on the basis of sex, race, color, national origin, and religion and generally applies to employers with 15 or more employees, including federal, state, and local governments.
Or it could result in a broadening of the utility of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which regulates interstate and international communications by radio, television, wire, satellite and cable, so that equal employment opportunity among directors in Hollywood is more closely scrutinized and enforced.
If the EEOC finds Title VII violations, it can bring a class action lawsuit and if the suit proceeds to trial, a judge could order injunctive relief in addition to penalties, fines, compensation. A judge could also order injunctive relief (where a court orders certain action or remediation) or negotiate a settlement with the industry that could be very far-reaching. In the settlement between the EEOC and the industry, major shifts could result such as the creation of a timetable for goals of gender equal hiring, among many other possibilities.
I think we have already made great headway in this effort. We just need to hit the ball home.
WW What’s the role of the DFEH and the OFCCP?
MG The DFEH is the state agency charged with enforcing California’s civil rights laws. Part of its mission is to protect the people of California from unlawful discrimination in employment. And the OFCCP‘s mission is to be sure that wage earners receive the ‘contractual promise of affirmative action and equal employment opportunity required of those who do business with the Federal government’.
As you can see, each organization has the authority to lean on Hollywood for the sake of women directors, as individuals and as a group who are discriminated against and who are not receiving their full, rightful protections under the law.
I cannot say what the Feds are actually doing because they function in complete confidentiality. Only the ACLU can speak publicly about what it is doing, because it is an independent union and foundation. That’s why when we hear updates in the mainstream media the news comes from the ACLU.
So, to answer your question, all of these organizations can take and are taking an active role. The EEOC, DFEH, and OFCCP are still in the investigative process. To know more, I would have to get a job working for them.
WW Did the Feds intensify their investigation because of what the EEOC learned in their interviews with fifty-plus directors that you wrote about in late 2015?
MG Yes, they did. Because of what they learned from women’s testimonies they decided to ramp up the investigation to include the whole industry.
The investigation officially began on October 2, 2015 when the EEOC sent their first letters out to us women directors requesting interviews. We don’t know what they learned from these interviews except by talking to each other and through inference, because the EEOC functions in confidentiality, conferring only with the organizations co-participating in the investigation and with the ACLU.
We women can learn a lot from each other, however. More than fifty women directors provided very similar histories of exclusion and discrimination. Having served for two years as the inaugural DGA Women Directors Category Rep in 2013 and 2014, and having co-produced the 2013 DGA-WSC Women Directors Summit, I can tell you I’ve heard not fifty but hundreds of stories from DGA and non-DGA women who faced devastating discrimination.
The intensification of the investigation after the interviews indicates that they found plenty of evidence of violations. Now the EEOC, as the representative of our Federal government, is reaching out to executives, agents, and guild leaders, among others to learn more.
As we all know, providing evidence of discrimination to the EEOC that could lead to legal action against one’s employers (whether in studios, networks, agencies, guilds, or production companies) could jeopardize one’s career in Hollywood. It seems unlikely that many people employed in Hollywood will go willingly into interviews.
More likely the Feds will have to subpoena individuals, and of course then things will get interesting. I have heard from a lot of people — including some women directors who chose not to speak to the EEOC in the first round — that if subpoenaed they will readily tell the agents everything they need to charge ahead with legal action. One cannot be blamed for telling the truth once subpoenaed, after all.
WW What could the Trump presidency mean to the EEOC investigation?
MG Overall, it feels catastrophic, but I’ll try to look at it with optimism for a moment.
It could go several ways: Trump just appointed Jeff Sessions as his Attorney General. On the surface, Sessions looks very bad for civil rights in general — he is on record as being against gay marriage, for example, and I suspect equality is not his passion.
Also, the EEOC’s General Counsel, David Lopez, (the head lawyer) just announced he will step down in the next six months. This means Trump will appoint a new General Counsel, which could be good or bad depending on who he picks. So far all his picks have been very conservative.
Very likely Trump will also appoint a new Chair to the EEOC itself. Jenny Yang is the current Chair and her key pursuit has been equal pay, and obviously she also has supported the investigation into discrimination against women directors. If she goes in the summer of 2017 (and I think she will), then we have to wait and see what the new Chair (also appointed by Trump) will focus on.
One good thing is that the EEOC is an independent agency that reports to Congress (like the FBI). Independent agencies in our Federal government generally have wide latitude and discretion in what they choose to pursue. However it all depends on who’s running things, and Trump will make those decisions.
Trump may make budget cuts to the EEOC and historically, when faced with budget cuts, the EEOC tends to pursue high-impact, high-visibility systemic cases. That could be good for us as our case is precisely those things: high-impact, high-visibility, and systemic.
Add to that the fact that Trump hates Hollywood. He might like to see the Feds go after the studios and networks to point out how hypocritical liberal, democratic Hollywood is.
Another thought is that incoming Vice President Mike Pence has consistently opposed equal pay. If equal pay efforts in the EEOC are stalled, perhaps that would help encourage the EEOC to pull all their dynamite on Hollywood’s exclusion of women from the directing profession.
I hope the ACLU will prioritize the investigation, and not see it as trivial compared to all the other immense challenges they face. I hope they will see it as being foundational to advancing all other civil rights. But I worry that for the ACLU the effects of this election will trivialize the battle for women directors. On the other hand, I think both the ACLU and the EEOC understand that all women’s issues and all civil rights issues are profoundly influenced by our entertainment media.
I’ve argued vociferously that gender equal hiring among directors is the keystone to all civil rights issues because if women contribute equally to our nation’s storytelling, our cultural narrative will naturally begin to shift all people’s thinking toward a more equitable ethos.
Call to Action
WW Today, what can US directors do individually?
MG We can do many things: we can learn everything possible on the issue, find out what’s already been done to we don’t waste time covering the same ground. We can question the DGA and call for an investigation of our union. We can call and write to the ACLU and the EEOC and give testimony — (yes, that possibility is still available to us!). We can talk to each other, build community, write articles, join groups of women filmmakers and directors. We can advocate for each other, give each other jobs, support each other’s work.
On a bigger scale, we can get involved politically. We can call or write our representative in government. I’ve been working on a letter women could send to representatives. It reads like this–
December 23, 2016
The Honorable Chuck Grassley
2222 Rayburn House Office Building
United States House of Representatives
Washington, D.C. 20515
Re: Accelerating the EEOC Investigation for Women Directors in Hollywood
Dear Senator Grassley,
I am writing to ask for your support as Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee in helping unify our nation’s legislators behind a bipartisan effort to encourage the US Department of Justice EEOC toward legal action and legislative change to mitigate illegal discrimination against women directors of film, TV, commercials, and new media.
As you may know, in 2014 the ACLU launched a campaign for women directors in Hollywood that resulted in the current, ongoing 2015 EEOC investigation for American women directors. This investigation is being headed up by Marla Stern-Knowlton at the EEOC in San Diego.
The stories and images that emerge from our nation’s entertainment industry both help define our national ethos and contribute to the voice of our civilization. Statistics show, however, that women are nearly shut out from participating equally in our nation’s most influential global export — our media.
In the United States today nearly 100% of the media content created in Hollywood and distributed around the world represents the voices and perspectives of men almost exclusively — especially our studio films (96%), TV shows (85%), and commercials (99%).
Three previous Federal investigations that could have advanced American women directors (1960’s, 1970’s, and 1980’s) failed to solve the problem as they resulted in no legal action or legislative change. It is both a moral and legal imperative that the current investigation does not repeat that history. Therefore, I’m asking you to support the EEOC toward realizing effective and enduring results.
The argument has been put forth that the best way to remediate this staggering problem is for Title VII to undergo reform, making it enforceable in Hollywood. Currently, Title VII is primarily useful for individual complaints of employment discrimination, but fails to provide a solution to the industry-wide, systemic exclusion women face in the directing profession.
In contrast, Title IX [a comprehensive federal law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in any federally funded education program or activity], enforced by the Office of Civil Rights, has been extraordinarily successful. Since Title IX was signed into law in 1972 it has been scrutinized by the House Subcommittee on Equal Opportunities and has undergone well over a dozen clarifications, amendments, and related adjustments that have contributed to its extraordinary success over the decades. With your help, I believe we can make Title VII just as effective as Title IX.
If we act now, we can take advantage of the EEOC’s historic investigation and bring women’s voices and perspectives equally into the content that gets produced in America’s entertainment industry. In so doing we can catch up with the many other countries around the world now actively forging initiatives for 50/50 gender hiring mandates among directors.
WW And there’s also the possibility of participating a class action lawsuit?
MG Certainly, if the EEOC files a class action case, we can join the class. I’m also consulting with a private law firm in DC that’s investigating a parallel civil class action suit for women directors, which has been fascinating. Both an EEOC class action case and a civil class action case would be fantastic news for women directors. I would be happy to be the lead plaintiff representing the class in any class action, so no other women would have to use their names.
Our ability to provide proof of sex discrimination is essential to the goal of launching a class action lawsuit charging Hollywood with Title VII violations. But based on the credible new studies providing evidence of this discrimination, legal action seems like a no brainer. Furthermore, studies and new reports on upcoming film productions indicate that these numbers are getting incrementally worse.
WW How far has the civil action got? How can directors become involved?
MG Thus far, that private law firm in in an investigative period. I hope they actually pursue it. If the class in the class action suit involves women directors from every directing category, we can all conceivably join.
So far, I have been encouraging this firm to pursue a case for women commercial directors because that category has deep pockets, is a small, contained community in the industry, has publicly searchable rosters, and has the worst female employment numbers of all the categories — perhaps just one percent female director employment in commercials, (yes, I said 1%).
Many solutions may be considered. But with or without class actions, the ultimate solution needs to be legislated and needs to involve reforming Title VII so that it can be effectively enforced in Hollywood. All women directors should continue to call and write the ACLU and the EEOC to report discrimination. Their words and anecdotes can remain confidential but will still have tremendous force in helping the organizations fight for them. There is no need for fear — the EEOC and ACLU have proven to be completely confidential.
Then, we need to find ways to perhaps expand the purview and utility of the FCC — or create another Federal entity to oversee and enforce gender equal hiring among directors and storytellers in US entertainment media. We have seen the results of ‘voluntary’ efforts throughout history — they are rarely enduring. We see brief surges in terms of the advancement of women, but then the numbers fall back into stasis.
Think of suffrage: women have the legal right to vote, what if it were not enforced, if we had the right, but were blocked at the ballot box? Theoretically, we women have equal employment opportunity through Title VII, but we are effectively blocked from entering through the professional doors. This results in our censorship, our silencing, and we have seen that we cannot use the law to fight that because we get blacklisted in the industry, and the EEOC has not yet figured out how to fight for us as a class.
In order to be able to participate fully in our society, we women must be able to contribute to our stories, to our cultural narrative — it is essential to the validity of our Constitution, and our founding ideals. That must be guaranteed with laws that are readily enforceable — laws that have real consequences if they are violated. That’s what I’m fighting for — something real, not something that will soon dry up and turn to dust, only to be blown away with a single breath. I want something real, tangible, and enduring — I want something that results in quantifiable equity immediately, not in 20 or 30 or 50 years.
WW What about the DGA? Have there been shifts there?
MG Yes, the DGA has radically shifted — as if an earthquake hit them, but their response has been to fortify their walls, pull in, cover their tracks, and put on a false show of making change. Their corruption is even deeper now as they have imposed discriminatory new by-laws that silence activism in the guild.
Their system of cronyism is even more entrenched as they identified and deputized female allies among the membership willing to sell-out in exchange for jobs and positions in DGA governance. They have actively recruited women to help them silence feminist activism by members like me.
The DGA needs to be investigated by the National Labor Relations Board and it should have their diversity department shut down. In 1983, the DGA filed class-action lawsuits against Warner Bros. and Columbia Pictures, alleging discrimination in the companies’ hiring of women and ethnic minorities represented by the guild. But, as Judge Pamela Rymer stated in her 1985 ruling in that case (story here, full ruling here), the DGA cannot effectively protect the equal employment rights of their women members.
As a union run by a vast majority of men, the DGA faces a conflict of interest in advancing its women director members. All directors in the DGA are competing against each other for directing gigs. It is truly foolish and naive to think these guys will just give up their lion’s share of jobs so women can work, too. There’s too much money at stake and too much power to be lost. They will never hand over anything valuable without being threatened with fines and punishment — in short, forced by the might of our laws.
Hollywood needs oversight because it is comprised largely of a greedy pack of avaricious, unprincipled gold-prospectors. They do not look at the American entertainment industry as belonging to all Americans, and representing all Americans. They are not considering how the stories that emerge from Hollywood make up our collective cultural narrative, and form our national ethos. They are just thinking about how to make more money and become more powerful.
We women can turn to our legal and moral rights as citizens and fight them to win our place in this industry that also represents us and belongs to us. We can fight them and win if WE are unified — if we stop stabbing each other in the back. Unfortunately, few of the women who are currently getting work are willing to risk their sliver of the employment pie to reach out to other women. That is very short-sighted.
We women as a marginalized, but majority population in the United States need to empower ourselves through unity and efforts toward collective remediation. I hope for our sake’s and for our world’s sake that we do it soon — that we do it now.
WW And then there’s the 2017 Women in Media Summit. Who’s involved? What will the Summit cover?
MG Christine Walker is the Summit producer — a veteran and very skilled film producer, and president and CEO of the Provincetown International Film Festival. My co-chair is Caroline Heldman, a professor at Occidental College in Los Angeles and the director of research for the Geena Davis Institute on Gender and Media.
The Summit will assemble our nation’s best legal minds, legislators, and changemakers to examine our evolving Constitution and identify how our Federal laws and enforcement entities are failing women. The goal of the Summit is to create a unified non-partisan strategy of Federal action and legislative reform to achieve enduring gender equity among US storytellers in accordance with America’s ideal of fairness and equal representation.
We will have speakers, panels, workshops, and brainstorming sessions. The Summit is open to everyone but this is not an event in which we want a lot of people to come as audience members to listen to speakers. We want a three-day brainstorming event that results in historic change. There will be speakers and experts, but the voices of all the participants are going to be very important. Historically, the biggest problems get solved with ideas coming from unexpected places. We want those inspired voices.
We will have a website up soon, and there is a great deal of need for volunteers in many positions. Our funding came fast as a response to the recent election, and the Summit is coming fast, too. Just 10 or so weeks away! If any readers here want to attend or volunteer and attend, please write or call me: firstname.lastname@example.org or 310–678–9632.
WW You're also involved in five feature documentaries on this issue. Can you list them?
MG Yes, I can mention four of them. And we can all contribute to some of them.
Amy Adrion’s Half the Sky
Cady McClain’s Seeing is Believing — Women Direct
Jennifer Dean’s The Second Sex & The Seventh Art: Women Directors in Film
Tom Donohue’s Untitled
WW Anything else?
MG Yes, I’m working on an approach to solving the female director problem by targeting distributors. It could be a brilliant end-run if we can make it work.
In many senses, distributors already control hiring in two substantial ways: first, they currently enforce all kinds guidelines involving labor rules that production companies must obey, and they release or don’t release content based on compliance of these rules. And second, distributors’ parent companies often own the production companies themselves, making distributors inextricably bound to the hiring sector.
Harnessing the power of the distributors to equalize gender hiring relieves of the burden from the courts, the Guild, and from producers. It would be up to the production companies to fulfill the rules set forth by the distributors, just as is done all the time in accordance with FCC rules and regulations. Currently, distributors cannot release broadcast media content to the public that fails to comply with FCC regulations.
Charging Hollywood distributors with having to enforce gender balanced hiring would simply mean they have to add this requisite to an already established list of rules and regulations that they enforce. Then we would have to expand FCC utility to encompass all US entertainment media, not just broadcast. This would be straightforward work for them: if producers fail to deliver content directed at gender parity, they cannot release it.
And this approach may be particularly appealing to producers as their creative decision-making is not impacted. If producers don’t want to hire women on a particular show, they don’t have to. They must simply provide alternate content that women are hired to direct. They must only make sure more women are hired on other shows in order to keep the hiring ratios appropriately balanced.