It’s no secret that Hollywood is distinctly lacking in female filmmakers, but the reality of the situation may still shock you. It’s not that there aren’t talented and qualified women. There are. In fact, there are probably just as many female directors as men, but they just aren’t getting hired. Major studios prefer to pass them over and hire male directors instead. This gender discrimination isn’t exactly legal and, though most women in the film industry are too afraid of the effect on their careers that coming forward will have, the American Civil Liberties Union has begun an investigation on the “systemic failure to hire women directors at all levels of the film and television industry.”
The ACLU has been gathering evidence of this gender bias for the past couple of years. The data is damning: only 1.9% of directors of the top-grossing 100 films of 2013 and of 2014 were women, a third of all television shows in 2013-2014 had no female director at all, and from 2007–2012 the 500 top-grossing movies employed 565 directors – only 2 of whom were African-American women. These numbers are abysmal and shed a light on a problem that has been persistent in Hollywood from day one: that women are being forcibly barred from the film industry. Kathryn Bigelow is the first and only woman to ever win an oscar for Best Director in 2010 and the Oscars have been going on since 1929. Selma was nominated for Best Picture this year, but Ava DuVernay, a woman of color, was snubbed for a Best Director nomination. The fact that the director was nominated when their movie was pretty much shows you the mindset of the Academy Awards voters, but that’s another can of worms. Women have proven again and again that they can make good, successful movies. Just look at the Matrix, directed by Lana Wachowski and her brother, or Clueless, directed by Amy Heckerling, or even American Psycho, directed by Mary Harron. The women are there and ready to work, Hollywood just needs to let go of their deeply-rooted misogyny and hire them.
The problem with Hollywood’s refusal to hire more women and more minorities is that it also limits the narratives we see on the big and small screens. A white man directing an action movie is more likely to show another white man’s experience, and we already have a market saturated with that. Mad Max: Fury Road is so different from other movies in the action genre, not only because director George Miller decided to focus on the female perspective, but because Margaret Sixel edited it together. He gave his wife the chance to tackle the movie from a different point of view and that contributed to the film’s success. Miller himself says he asked his wife to do it “because if a guy did it, it would look like every other action movie.” If more women were hired, then we would probably see an increase in the diversity of narratives. More movies like Mad Max would be made where the story revolves around women helping other women, or women going into battle, or women doing all of the things we already know they can do instead of giving those roles to men. The future is diversity and film studios that want to thrive will take note.
Recently, a blog came into existence on tumblr. It’s called Sh*t People Say To Women Directors (& Other Women In Film) and has become immensely popular. There, people identifying as women can anonymously leave a submission of their encounters of sexism in the film industry. This blog provides a safe haven for women to come together and share their experiences without jeopardizing their careers. Some of the submissions are funny, with the women shutting down their male colleagues’ misogyny, but others are horrifying with their common themes and repeated violations. One woman shared a story of an Executive Producer rated their show’s actresses on their sex appeal in the writer’s room on a Disney Channel show and another recalled how she was fired for getting in the face of a set wrangler who called her a nasty word in front of the cast and crew. These submissions have been pouring in ever since the blog started. Not all of the submissions are stories, though, some of them are thank you notes from women who are relieved that they are not the only ones experiencing these problems. One woman left fan mail and says in her post, “I’ve been working in this business for a decade and only while reading this blog have I realized just how many crappy, upsetting/weird things I’ve learned to pretend not to mind out of self-preservation and wanting to get/keep the job. It’s not one giant thing where someone does one big clearly violating thing. It’s just a constant drumbeat of people demanding that I justify the fact that I have my job and am also female.”
The ACLU has sent letters to the major studios calling for change. They demand that “new enforcement efforts are needed to address the serious gender disparities in directing, which remain as stark as they were in the 1970s.” The ACLU’s investigation has generated a lot of buzz online and many people are talking about what the future of the film industry will look like now. With conversation sparking and more famous women declaring their feminism to the world, things may change. Hopefully, Hollywood will soon be forced to diversify if it is to survive.
This article was written by Halley Dewey, a writer for dusk magazine.