Women and Hollywood is taking a break this week. Please enjoy one of our most popular posts of the year below. We will return with new features, editorials, and news stories on Monday, January 5.
The following is cross-posted from Lexi Alexander’s blog with permission from the author. Originally published on January 14, 2014.
Editor’s Note: The post below is very important. This is a woman director standing up for herself and other women directors. She does this at great peril, but it is so important that women directors stand up and share their experiences because the more women that stand up the less chance there is for one women to be held responsible for speaking truth to power.
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.
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):
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.”
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.
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.
2) Those who have promised to bring about change were not very smart.
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?