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No More Excuses: Hollywood Needs to Hire More Female Directors

No More Excuses: Hollywood Needs to Hire More Female Directors

German-born director and former World Point Fighting and Karate Champion, Lexi Alexander worked as a stunt woman before directing her first film, the short “Johnny Flynton,” which was nominated for an Academy Award in 2003. Her first feature, “Green Street Hooligans” won both the Audience Award and Jury Award at SXSW. She later directed “Punisher: War Zone,” which became a cult hit following its 2008 release. She wrote and directed “Lifted,” and has been working on a variety of other projects.

Aware that she’s taking a risk of being labeled a “difficult bitch” if she voices any complaints, Alexander took the bold move of excoriating Hollywood for not hiring more female directors on her blog. She’s tired of hearing people say that women don’t want to direct and that there are no women directors out there. “I swear, if anyone near me even so much as whispers the
sentence “women probably don’t want to direct” my fist will fly as a
reflex action,” Alexander wrote.

Yesterday, “Women and Hollywood,” an Indiewire blog, re-published Alexander’s blog post, but given that Alexander complained that mainstream outlets don’t cover the issue, we felt it’s worth republishing here (with her permission, of course). Read it below:

There are only two kinds of people who are successful at this social
media thing. Those who are funny and those who get real. I am not that
funny, and I have yet to get real publicly. 

Today is a good
day to change that. Since funny is not an option, I am going to take a
deep breath, muster up all the courage I can, and talk about an issue I
have long observed despairingly from the sidelines. 

Over the past
three or four months I have been contacted by a civil liberties
organization regarding this issue, I have spoken to several reporters
anonymously, I’ve had lawyers call me to inform me that my forty-minute
Academy Award-nominated short film somehow uniquely qualifies me for
something I never, ever wanted to qualify for (it has to do with an
excuse showrunners like to use when turning down feature directors for
episode gigs), I even attended two DGA Women’s Steering Committee
meetings, and the best part, I have met many fellow women directors.

Read More: Gender Inequality in Film: In Infographic Form

Facts:

1)
The media has never covered the lack of women in film and television
more extensively than right now (skip the links if you must, just trying
to make a point):

“Because We Need More Kathryn Bigelows: Segregate the Oscars by Gender!”

“Only Two of the 100 Top-Grossing Movies of the Year Were Directed by Women”

“The Bigger the Film, the Fewer the Women: Nominations for This Year’s Oscars Will Prove Hollywood’s Sexism”

“Golden Globes by Gender: Where Are All the Women?”

Quote of the Day: Manohla Dargis: ‘The Movie Industry is Failing Women'”

“Hollywood Sexist? Female Directors Still Missing in Action”

Those are just from the past few weeks. The list goes on and on.

2)
There is no lack of female directors. Repeat after me: THERE IS NO LACK
OF FEMALE DIRECTORS. But there is a huge lack of people willing to give
female directors opportunities. I swear, if anyone near me even so much
as whispers the sentence “Women probably don’t want to direct,” my fist
will fly as a reflex action.

Side note: The previous statement labels me as “difficult”.

If
I would instead have ended the sentence with, “I don’t know what I’m
going to do,” I would be labeled as “indecisive.” By letter of the law,
all female directors must fall in one of two categories: Difficult or
Indecisive. Bitch or Ditz. Hello, my name is Lexi Alexander, Difficult
Bitch. Nice to meet you!

3) Despite the fact that plenty of
outlets love to cover the “Women in Hollywood” issue, not one mainstream
journalist has had the balls to really get to the bottom of the issue.
(There are rumors about a prominent investigative journalist circling
the story, but I’ll believe it when I read it.)

4) Gender
discrimination in Hollywood goes far beyond women simply not getting the
gig. It is reflected in movie budgets, P&A budgets, the size of
distribution deals (if a female director’s movie is lucky enough to
score one), official and unofficial internship or mentorship
opportunities, union eligibility, etc.

5) Women in Hollywood have
no male allies. There are some who pretend to be on our side, but yeah,
not really. They may say the right thing because, after all, they’re
liberals and that’s a public image they’d like to keep up. Others may
actually believe in gender equality, but are not willing to put up a
fight for it that could sacrifice their own status or relationships.

The
majority of people think exactly like those anonymous commenters that
pop up under any of the above linked articles. Check them out, they’re
easy to recognize: White male, oblivious to the affirmative-action bonus
that came with the cradle? Yup, that’s him. He will shout and scream in
capital letters about reverse discrimination and argue that people
should be hired based on merit and not gender, revealing that his
three-hundred-thousand-dollar education really isn’t worth a dime.

I’m
going to get a lot of heat for the above statement, but I promised to
get real. “What’s that? You’re saying this is not true, that there are
many men in Hollywood who have tried to change the status quo?”

Okay. Let’s be fair and really dissect this. (I would love, love, love to be wrong about this).

This
past Saturday I went to one of those Women’s Steering Committee
meetings at the DGA. To be honest, after the first meeting I went to a
few months ago, I swore I would never go again. It just seemed weird and
kind of upside-down. The people with the most intelligent things to say
were bullied into silence, and the bullies were applauded. One fairly
prominent female director actually stated several times in a row: “Let me make this very clear: I am not here as one of you. I am one of the boys, okay?”

Don’t ask me to explain it. I still don’t understand it. It was surreal, to put it mildly.

But
when it was announced that our new DGA president Paris Barclay,
National Executive Director Jay Roth and Western Executive Director
Bryan Unger would attend the next meeting to inform us how the
negotiations with the studios went and what they had achieved in regards
to diversity hiring, I had to go.

Also, I do have the sticker on my fridge about “being the change you want to see in the world.”

Read More: Chicken & Egg Pictures: The Force Behind Women Directed Documentaries

Here are the points of the negotiation they shared with us:

1) The number of female directors working in film or TV has decreased and everybody finds this abysmal number embarrassing.

2)
There were heated arguments about who’s responsible. The studio tried
to put the blame on the DGA and its own small number of female members,
but the negotiation committee reminded the executives that a woman can
only become eligible to join the guild if she gets hired by a signatory
company.

3) A Warner executive stated, “I am not embarrassed about
what my company does, but I am frustrated by the lack of progress when
it comes to gender equality.”

4) TV continues to hire 80% white
males. The number of first-time directors breaking into TV is actually
acceptable. Unfortunately, it’s only white males who do it.

5) The
hiring process or the qualifications/skill-set needed to book an
episode cannot be defined. (Is there an animated “jerking off” emoji?)

6) Shonda Rhimes gets it.

7) CBS doesn’t.

8)
It was decided during the negotiations to change the wording regarding
diversity hiring from “best efforts” to “work diligently.” [Editor’s note: Maria Giese also wrote a Women and Hollywood column regarding this mild-seeming but crucial shift in word choice.]

9) Nobody knows how to implement a successful diversity program. Many have tried and failed. SONY may have a plan that works.

10) The DGA needs to come up with ideas and present them by July.

Sigh.

Look, everybody who was present during these negotiations reported
back to us that Paris, Jay, and Co. fought and argued passionately for
diversity and the women’s cause. That’s not up for debate here.

But
can we please, please stop pretending that everybody is trying their
best and that it’s just an impossible task to accomplish?

It’s this type of fake activism that drives me fucking crazy. JUST STOP!

Do you know who Kellan Elliott-McCrea is? No? Well let me introduce you:

He is the CEO of Etsy and someone who decided to make diversity a core value.

Because
Etsy’s customers are 80% women (hello, TV audience), gender diversity
became a priority. His efforts in the first year to increase the number
of female engineers failed. As a matter of fact, they saw a 35% decrease
in gender diversity. He realized, “Something wasn’t working, this was
deeply broken.” So he and his team put their heads together, reevaluated
their plan, identified potential road blocks, came up with a new plan,
and voila:

Etsy increased their female employees by 500%.

Now,
Kellan may rock a hair-do reminiscent of a famous genius and clearly he
must be wicked smart, but as far as I know he’s not uniquely gifted in
the IQ department.

But you know what he is? Sincere. He actually
meant what he said, rather than having some mental masturbation session
about gender equality.

Now, before you spit fire and release smoke
out of your ears, just do me a simple favor and educate yourself about
the history of diversity in Hollywood, because before I decided to take a
stand on this, I did exactly that.

If you read only one thing, please read this report from 1978, when the EEOC investigated equal-employment practices in the motion picture industry.

Okay,
so we know that people have seriously acknowledged that there is an
problem back in 1978, thirty-five years ago. Promises were made even
back then to “work diligently” to fix the imbalance.

The fact that there has been no improvement in thirty-five years can only really mean two things:

1) Those who have promised to bring about change were insincere.

or

2) Those who have promised to bring about change were not very smart.

You choose.

Can
we all just be real for a second here? Ask yourself this: If diversity
hiring were a sincere core value in Hollywood’s studios, do you honestly
believe they’d fail?

I’m going to end this with a personal
opinion. Only this month, I received two meeting requests from companies
whose mandate in 2014 is to hire more women, so the tide maybe
shifting. And I do appreciate their effort so very much.

Truth: I
loathe the idea of being hired because of my gender and I shudder at the
thought that one day I show up on set and half of the crew thinks,
“Here comes the quota hire.”

When I was still fighting
competitively [in world point fighting and karate], one of the best
tournaments I ever attended was the Dacascos Open in Hamburg. They had a
ranking system going on all year, but because I hadn’t attended any
other tournaments within their organization, I was given “wildcard”
status, which meant I had to fight everybody, while their top fighters
are automatically placed in the semi-finals. If I lose, I am out. Those
were literally impossible, ridiculous odds, invented to discourage
outsiders. It was also the best tournament I ever fought, and yes, I won
it all. I thrive on impossible odds, always have.

I don’t care if
Hollywood dishes out the same impossible odds, I don’t care if they
built a wall as thick as the commies did in East Berlin, and I don’t
care if I have to be ten times as good as a male director to get 1/8th
of the opportunities he gets… as long as people are honest about the
game we’re playing, the tournament we’re fighting.

But don’t tell
me I’m not a wildcard when I so obviously am, and don’t tell me you’ve
been working diligently to eliminate the wildcard system, when in
reality you’re not.

Because then you’re not only jerking me off, you are also dehumanizing me by not extending even an ounce of respect.

For
future generations of girls, who may get the crazy idea that they too
have stories to tell, it should become our core value to stop handing
out wildcard status based on gender. 

To those who have promised
to “work diligently” on increasing those abysmal, embarrassing
statistics, I’d like to say this: If you find yourself stuck, hopeless,
seemingly willing but utterly unable to remedy this gender disparity,
head to this website the Swedes generously created for the public called
Include Gender.

An entire toolbox full of ways to create a successful plan. Who knew?

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