Directing jobs for minority and women helmers once again showed scant movement at best in 1996, with slight gains for minority helmers and a drop in employment among female directors, according to the latest figures released by the Directors Guild of America.

The figures underline the guild’s continued frustration in trying to increase employment for women and minorities, almost 15 years after the DGA tried to force the issue by filing suit against two studios to set hiring goals.

‘Unacceptable’ levels

In a statement, DGA president Jack Shea said that the employment levels were “simply unacceptable. The producers must find more effective ways to bring talented females and individuals with a diversity of ethnic backgrounds into our business.”

Overall, women members saw their share of total days worked decline from 22.76% in 1995 to 22.63% last year, according to DGA officials.

Minorities saw some improvement, especially among African-Americans. Their share of days worked rose from 3.9% in 1995 to 5.2% last year. And among Latino members, the share rose from 2.1% in ’95 to 2.4% last year. Minorities collectively accounted for only 9.7% of the days worked.

What DGA officials have yet to see are overall dramatic jumps upward in employment, despite efforts such as an increased presence at film festivals and minority scholarships.

Shea earlier this week said that “it’s time to pick up the pace” in increasing numbers of women and minorities both within the DGA and in the workforce. And some have suggested that the guild should put a new level of pressure on employers.

Legal route failed

The DGA already has tried one legal route, having filed suit against Columbia Pictures and Warner Bros. in 1983, charging illegal and discriminatory hiring practices. The suit was later thrown out when a judge ruled that the guild could not serve as a class action rep for women and minorities.

Since then, the guild has monitored hiring trends by keeping annual stats of the portion of days that minorities and women have worked throughout the year. The stats also divide work between film and tape, and among different levels of helmers, such as directors, unit production managers, and first and second ADs.

Overall, minority film directors captured 7% of days worked in 1996, compared to 5% in 1983.

That is some growth, but the figures have fluctuated in recent years. In 1995, the share of days worked for minority helmers was at 4%, and it was at 5% in the year before that.

Among minority directors of tape shows, the shares declined from 9% in 1986 to 6% last year. Second assistant film directors and videotape assistant directors also have seen declines since the 1980s. The only marked increase was among video stage managers. Their share of days worked was 15% in 1986. Last year, it was 27%.

Female film directors showed some gains, from 8% of days worked in 1995 to 9% last year.

Better than 1983

To be sure, the growth is more significant if compared to 1983, when female film directors captured only 3% of days worked. In fact, the share of days worked by female directors has increased in all job categories, such as UPMs and ADs, since the 1980s.

Yet DGA officials point out that there also has been a faster increase in the number of women members in the guild.

And in some categories, there has not been much movement in recent years. Among female directors of tape shows, there was a decrease in employment, from 28% in 1995 to 24% last year.

“These statistics are an embarrassment to our industry,” said Martha Coolidge, the DGA’s first vice president. “It is bad enough to see how small the growth is in working days for minorities, but it is particularly disheartening to see the percentage of days worked by women actually dropping.”

The recent approach of the DGA has emphasized trying to increase the profile of minority and women members by holding events at the guild for famous names such as Gordon Parks, or by publishing a directory of helmers and their specialties.

Numbers still stagnant

What next? Grievances have been filed against some companies in the past, but the numbers are still stagnant.

And others caution that it is not a situation of heroes vs. villains.

“It is tough, and I don’t know if the community is doing as much as it can,” said Gil Cates, who was DGA president at the time the lawsuit was filed in 1983 and is now the guild’s secretary treasurer. “The rate of improvement is slow. Is it improving to a level to where we are happy? No.”

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