The following is cross-posted from Lexi Alexander’s blog with permission of the author. It has been slightly edited from the original.
“All my life, men like you’ve sneered at me, and all my life I’ve been knocking men like you into the dust.” – Brienne of Tarth to Jaime Lannister
Imagine being a female TV and movie director trying to make it in an already competitive industry, and the first thing that comes across your news feed at the beginning of the week is the sad fact that the most talked about show on TV failed to hire a single female director on its last season.
And then imagine that, because you’re embarking on an entire week of interviews for exactly that type of gig, you’re desperately researching the candidates who did get hired on said TV show in order to find anything that could have qualified them above all available women directors — anything other than gender — because that’s the one thing you can’t change.
But you find nothing. Yes, the show hired 6 solid TV directors, and don’t get me wrong, criticizing discriminating hiring practice is never a criticism of the people who do get hired. Unfortunately, there is no other way to point out this bias unless we actually mention that some of the men who did get hired don’t have nearly as impressive of a resume as a big group of well-known female TV directors.
So if you have enough empathy to put yourself in my and my female director peers’ shoes, you can imagine that any excitement about upcoming interviews for open director assignments can quickly turn into anxiety after learning this news.
For years now, every time I interview for a director’s gig, I scribble this little mantra on my hand:
1. Show up
2. Be honest
3. Pay attention
4. Don’t get attached to the outcome
It basically reminds me to be present and, most of all, to be myself.
Here is the problem though. If people in Hollywood simply don’t like hiring women (and there is enough proof that they don’t), being myself is obviously a bad strategy. And what’s worse, there’s no alternative.
I’ve tried in the past to overcompensate for what I thought they were missing in women, so I acted overly confident in meetings, which promptly led to my agent calling me saying, “So, the producers mentioned you were ‘borderline cocky’ and that they didn’t get a good vibe.”
This freaked me out so much that I went completely the other way and did that fake humble thing for a while, which I myself despise whenever I witness Hollywood talent doing it. You’re basically sitting there downplaying any kind of accomplishment the people in the room bring up about you (which they obviously know because your reps pitched you to them). So in my case it would go something like this:
Executive: So, I hear you trained Marines in hand-to-hand combat and you have like four black belts in different martial arts?
Me: *waves it off with one hand* “Oh, that’s when I was younger and still in shape and it really wasn’t that big of a deal.”
I know. I cringe just writing about it. I spent meeting after meeting downplaying accomplishments just to be “likeable,” so that nobody would ever say again that I was “borderline cocky.”
Needless to say, I didn’t book any directing jobs during that time either.
See, the problem is, when you can’t be you because the person across from you is biased against your gender, skin color or sexual orientation, you simply can’t win. Any effort to try and win over a room like that always backfires. You end up acting like an idiot and give them the ammunition to say, “How could we have hired her? She acted like an idiot.”
For the record, I consider this the biggest mistake I made in my career: trying to adjust myself to the bias around me, rather than staying true to myself. I guess the athlete in me just couldn’t help trying to find a winning strategy — even if there was none.
There is a character on that show that hired no women directors or writers this season. Her name is Brienne of Tarth. She’s a badass, sword-fighting knight who can’t be a knight because knighthood is only for men. So season after season, she comes across dudes who’ll go:
“Ha, ha. You’re no knight. You’re a woman.”
Swish, she cuts their head off. And as the head is rolling, it still screams, “But you still can’t be a knight, ha, ha!” (OK, that’s not actually in the show, but the sentiment is.)
So when I read this news about the lack of women directors on that show, the faces of all the qualified, badass women directors out there flashed across my mind, and I thought: #WeAreAllBrienne. It doesn’t matter how many heads we cut off, or how many King’s guards we beat in a tournament — they will never let us be knights.
But please don’t ever believe that TV directing actually comes close to knighthood. No, Sirs, you are no knights, and you can’t fool the public that TV directing requires any particular physical strength, martial skills or other traits commonly — but mistakenly — attributed to men.
Lastly, I would like to nip in the bud a popular excuse networks use for not hiring women directors: “We tried and made offers, but none were available.”
There is a common tactic that’s used in any industry that suffers from systemic discrimination, it’s called tokenism:
1. the practice of making only a perfunctory or symbolic effort to do a particular thing, especially by recruiting a small number of people from underrepresented groups in order to give the appearance of sexual or racial equality within a workforce
Yes, we have about 20 women who get hired a lot in TV, and they are fabulous. The problem is, they are the token group, and each of them gets booked fairly quickly when shows are filling their roster because each show wants to book their one (or in rare cases two) token women. But there are 1300 qualified female DGA members and many more qualified directors who aren’t even in the Guild — which shouldn’t be a problem given the amount of men who get hired to direct TV before they’re Guild members.
Our industry has never had a problem giving white men that first shot, either going from indie film to studio film or from features to first TV-episode directing gig. So why is it then that, when it comes to hiring women, potential candidates suddenly have to have a long resume of previous comparable directing work?
It’s like we’re challenging the King’s Guard, but they’re making us compete in the tournament without a horse and with one arm tied behind our backs.
I’m still going to show up to my interviews this week, trying to get a gig in Hollywood’s wannabe knighthood. The good news is I’ve learned my lesson, which means any room I enter, I’m gonna do me.