Day by day, the chorus grows louder about the need for more women and people of color to have their stories told and let their voices be heard in Hollywood. For the most part, everyone agrees that progress needs to come more quickly, but how that will be achieved is still an open conversation. But at the very base level, there is an agreement that there’s a problem that needs to be fixed. However, for director William Friedkin, he believes that meritocracy will see the best talent rise to the top, and as far as he’s concerned, Hollywood is both gender- and color-blind when it comes to hiring.
In an extensive conversation with Cinephilia & Beyond, Friedkin shares his thoughts about women and minorities in the movies, and as far as he’s concerned, anyone who is willing to work hard will get ahead in Hollywood, regardless of gender or color.
“I’ve been in Hollywood for fifty years and I have never met an executive of a television or movie company, or a talent agency, that was prejudiced against people of different colors or against women. I’ve never met anyone,” he said. “Now, why there are more men directing films than women, I can’t answer that. But it’s not because of prejudice.
“It’s a question like why there are more white basketball or football players in America,” the director continued. “Most of them are black, or from another country. Why is that? The only answer to that is that they compete and that they’re better! Wherever women can compete, they get the jobs. I don’t know anyone who’s prejudiced against African-Americans or women, I’ve just never seen it. Why is that there are more black athletes? Because they’re better. So what should we do? Should we get some legislation or pass some rules that there have to be more white players? No, you can’t do that! Why are the greatest painters that ever lived mostly white men? I don’t know! Women are free to paint. But you cannot pass diversity laws in an art form.”
Taking his not-quite-successful sports analogy to a different place, he also asked why there were more Asian women in the Los Angeles Philharmonic and in the classical-music world in general. He answered his own question thusly.
“I can’t explain why that is, but that is an open playing field, and I believe that cinema is too,” he said. “I have never heard of a man running a studio, talent agency or a network saying, ‘Oh, I don’t want to hire a woman for that job.’ But women have to put themselves forward. …All I can say is that I’m certain people have faced obstacles in trying to work in all the art forms or in sports. I was a pretty good basketball player when I was a kid in high school, but I could never play on a professional basketball team. There was no way anybody could pass a diversity law so that I could. I just wasn’t good enough. And that’s hard for people to face. If you’re good enough, you’re gonna work. All this other stuff to me is just smoke screen.”
“…anyone who would deny a talented woman, or a talented member of a racial minority, a job, is just an asshole, and not fit to be in a position to hire,” he also said. “Are there assholes in every business in every industry, in every country? You bet. But that doesn’t mean it’s going to be cured by some kind of diversity rule.”
Indeed, when it’s mentioned that Meryl Streep recently pointed out the large imbalance between male and female film critics, Friedkin was particularly put out.
“….[W]ho the fuck is counting the gender of critics?!” he said. “What is that? Are we now asking for diversity among film critics? Oh my God! What is the world coming to? Let me just say this to you. I guess in the United States, which is all I can speak about, I think there are probably now more women than men. So the whole concept about how many women will be critics or directors or whatever is bound to change. In terms of African-Americans, there are fewer African-Americans in this country than white people, and as their numbers grow, there are bound to be more African-Americans in all facets of the art. Just by sheer numbers.”
The director does take the time to point out the talents of Kathryn Bigelow (“a great filmmaker”) and Ryan Coogler (he said “Creed” was “terrific” and said of the helmer that “he’s got the talent, and nobody gives a flying fuck what color he is”), and adds that on his own sets, he always hires the best person for the job, regardless of who they are.
And while that’s admirable, Friedkin’s position is exactly the kind of thinking that keeps things entrenched as they are. It ignores the broader systems of class, power, and social structures that have long been in place — and have denied opportunities to women and people of color — that have led to the inequalities that are so glaring now. Moreover, while Friedkin himself has never witnessed prejudice in the industry, he misses the point that often those that are already marginalized aren’t always provided the avenues to be candid about their experiences. And thus, the cycle continues.
This will certainly spark plenty of discussion, so let us know what you think in the comments section below.