Update: Jennifer Siebel Newsom, the filmmaker wife of California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, issues a damning statement against the entertainment industry, claiming a blacklist is used against women. See below.
The ACLU today demanded that state and federal agencies investigate the secrecy-shrouded hiring practices of the top Hollywood studios, talent agencies and networks, with an eye to bringing gender-discrimination charges against them for their persistent failure to mentor, hire, recruit or promote female directors.
In 2013, according to researchers at USC, just 1.9 percent of the top-grossing Hollywood studio movies were directed by a woman, making Hollywood among the most, if not the most, heavily male professional pursuits in America. The ACLU demand comes after years of pressure on studios by people such as director Maria Giese, and follows on the heels of an L.A. Weekly investigation last week, “How Hollywood Keeps Out Women,” which details deep gender biases among studio chiefs and top agents who create the “short lists” from which directors are chosen.
Some film business insiders say it's time for the ferociously independent industry, whose mostly male leaders have rebuffed studies and data showing gender bias by pointing to their own political liberalism, to be placed under a microscope by a body such as the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
Giese, who joined the Directors Guild of America in 1999, says that of the 1,200 female DGA members who are film or TV directors, “Approximately 1,000 of them have been chronically unemployed for at least the past five years. … America’s liberal entertainment industry has the worst record of discrimination against women of any industry in the United States.”
Three years ago, Giese joined the DGA's Women's Steering Committee, and since then she's been pushing for change from within.
Researchers at USC and elsewhere have shown that intense gender discrimination, particularly the allegedly systematic rejection of women for powerful jobs such as directing, has remained largely unchanged over the past three generations.
“We need an impartial, objective coalition here in L.A. that functions outside the industry economics and interests,” Giese says, to oversee gender equality in studios' hiring practices.
The DGA has a diversity taskforce charged with reaching out to Hollywood studios to encourage more equitable hiring. And, in a bid toward transparency, the guild hosts an online database of its members that provides those looking to hire women the use of search filters including “women” and “ethnic minorities.”
None of this has altered the hiring and mentoring practices by studio heads and agency chiefs.
The ACLU isn't the only one advocating for a new way to force modern practices on studio CEOs.
In mid-April, the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, along with the DGA and the Writers Guild of America. hosted a panel exploring “implicit bias,” a phenomenon confirmed by MRI brain studies that found gender stereotypes kick in so quickly that a person is not aware of the stereotyping driving his or her choices.
Some experts believe that implicit stereotyping explains the dichotomy of liberal Hollywood leaders holding the most dismal record for gender equality in their executive suites, among all major U.S. professions.
Last month, Davis addressed a crowd made up mostly of members of the WGA. She implored them to write scripts with female-centric storylines, to approach studio leaders and call them on their unspoken male-only practices — and to encourage their friends to do the same.
“Change has to be now, and it has to be dramatic,” said Davis, star of Thelma & Louise, Commander in Chief and other films and TV shows with memorable female leads — a category the Hollywood Big Six still green-light in persistently small numbers.
“We are unwittingly training generation after generation to see women and girls as being less important, and less talented,” Davis said. “The media itself can be the cure for the problem it's creating.”
Many studios, networks and production companies have established training programs to engage exclusively with women and minorities. By and large, the separate programs haven't helped.
“They're such a crock,” says one female director who requested that the Weekly not use her name. “They make you sit there and observe and observe, and then you don't get the job.”
Title VII is the federal mandate that requires equal practices in hiring. “All six studios,” known as the Big Six, “as well as the mini-majors, are in egregious violation of Title VII where women directors are concerned,” says Giese.
She approached the ACLU, as well as state and federal agencies, in her quest to convince a government agency such as the EEOC to gain external oversight of the film industry.
There's no question among female directors about the bias they face from men in Hollywood. They now have a place to vent, created by an anonymous insider on tumblr, called “Shit People Say to Female Directors.”
One director posted on tumblr a blog review of her film, in which a reviewer attacked her, writing, “All the male characters are just side characters and plot devices. This film will never find an audience if it alienates half the population with its lopsided presentation of men.”
She asked, “Really?! Really?!” As of Tuesday at 11:40 a.m., she had received 2,266 replies and likes, overwhelmingly in her favor.
Updated at 12:25 p.m. Tuesday:
Jennifer Siebel Newsom issued a fiery statement to media declaring:
“I applaud the ACLU for looking into the hiring practices of women in Hollywood. As a female filmmaker, I've witnessed firsthand discrimination in the entertainment industry, particularly against female directors, who are repeatedly told they're not as qualified to direct as men and who are blacklisted for speaking out. That was a major impetus for my first film, Miss Representation, which exposes the under-representation of women in positions of power and influence, particularly within the entertainment industry. With only 4.1% of the top-grossing films over the past decade being directed by women, it is high time we seriously advocate for and invest in women in Hollywood.”