Hollywood’s ‘Biased’ Hiring Practices Against Women Subject of ACLU Inquiry

Women in Hollywood 2015
Nick Iluzada for Variety

The American Civil Liberties Union is exposing Hollywood’s gender gap. The organization is accusing the industry of discriminating against female directors through biased recruiting and hiring practices.

The ACLU is seeking a state and federal investigation into the hiring practices of Hollywood’s major studios, networks and talent agencies, which it deems a violation of civil rights.

“Women directors aren’t working on an even playing field and aren’t getting a fair opportunity to succeed,” said Melissa Goodman, director of the L.G.B.T., Gender and Reproductive Justice Project at the A.C.L.U. of Southern California. “Gender discrimination is illegal. And really Hollywood doesn’t get this free pass when it comes to civil rights and gender discrimination.”

Letters being sent to the commission, the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing and the Labor Department’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs detail evidence of systemic “overt sex stereotyping and implicit bias.” If the agencies find instances of bias, legal charges could be filed.

A University of Southern California study cited in the letter found that just 1.9% of the top-grossing 100 films from the last two years were directed by women. Meanwhile, a Directors Guild of America analysis revealed that a mere 14 percent of 220 television shows broadcast in 2013 and 2014 were helmed by women. Almost one-third of the shows, or 31%, had no women directing any of the episodes during the 2013-14 season.

Another USC study found in 2013 that the percentage of female characters speaking on screen dipped to a five-year low of 28.4% in 2012.

“Real change is needed to address this entrenched and long-running problem of discrimination against women directors,” one of the letters reads. “External investigations and oversight by government entities tasked with enforcing civil rights laws is necessary to effectuate this change.”

The organization also collected stories from 50 female directors whose agents had been told by producers to “not send women” for prospective jobs or who were personally told “we already hired a woman this season” when vying for television gigs.

The hiring disparities were even worse for women of color. From 2007 to 2012, the 500 top-grossing movies employed 565 directors, but only two were directed by African-American women.

“Employers steer and pigeonhole women to particular types of projects and exclude them from others, based on sex stereotypes,” Goodman wrote in one of the letters. “Nearly every woman with whom we spoke had either experienced directly or was aware of the widespread perception that women are better suited to and typically only considered for projects that are ‘women=oriented,’ such as romantic comedies, women-centered shows, or commercials for ‘girl’ products.”

The ACLU reported “unconscious bias,” with women often reporting the “pervasive perception that hiring women directors as more ‘risky’ than hiring men; even men with less experience.” That is particularly the case when it comes to hiring for big-budget films.

The organization cited the nature of hiring and recruitment, like the studio reliance on lists of potential directors, often those that exclude women. They also said that women directors they interviewed found that talent agencies “are reluctant to represent women, represent fewer women than men, and often do not include women directors on many of their lists when they refer directors to employers.”

The ACLU also found that although the DGA has made some efforts to increase the hiring of women and people of color for directing jobs, industry agreements with the studios have not been effective in making a significant dent in hiring.

The ACLU said that “women reported a widespread perception that the DGA leadership did not prioritize increasing the number of women directors hired and at time expressed hostility or blocked efforts of female members to make the issue a higher priority.”

In fact, the ACLU says that some women found that DGA fellowship or “shadowing” programs have been, “at best, in effective at reducing gender disparities in hiring of directors and, at worst, perceived by women directors as patronizing and a double standard.”

The ACLU said that a complaint was that the DGA provides a list of experienced women and minority directors to production companies, but such a list includes only a small handful of women members.

Update: The DGA issued a statement, below:

“The lack of network and studio action to hire more women and minority directors is deplorable. The DGA has been a long-standing advocate pressuring the industry to do the right thing, which is to change their hiring practices and hire more women and minority directors.

“The ACLU has made no effort to contact the DGA concerning the issues raised in its letters. The ACLU’s assertions reflect this lack of investigation as to the Guild, and ignore its efforts to combat discrimination against women directors and to promote the employment of women directors.

“There are few issues to which the DGA is more committed than improving employment opportunities for women and minority directors, it is time for change.”



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  1. Ambrosia says:

    I hope they figure it out because I am really, really tired of every movie being about men.

  2. Nanny Mo says:

    Such an offensive article. In the business of art, art must be business. As soon as you hire an “artist” solely based on their gender, skin color,e etc., it’s the art that suffers. Bad art doesn’t make money, end of story. Really talented directors of all races and genders eventually rise to the top. Forcing someone to the top for any other reason than talent, demeans us all and in the end means bankruptcy both of talent, ideas and of course, money. Rise on talent ladies, and then no one will say you didn’t earn it.

    • Jones says:

      I wanted to check the comments just to see how angry and/Or delusional the white male mentality will be on this subject AND who will have it (because it is contagious). It is ALWAYS the same thing with this delusion, in any industry, but it is NEVER the case.

      You think the playing field is equal because you see a couple of women make it, a couple minorities make it. So you assume, those must be the only talents in those groups that can equal the white man’s talent. White men must literally be the most talented , most capable beings on earth.

      In reality, they aren’t, they just control hiring practices. Who are you going to hire? your effing friend, right? Some one who reminds you of you, you have fond feelings for, your cousin, son, or friend (etc). It’s only human nature, no judgement. Hollywood has NEVER been equal opportunity like most industries in this country.

      Look at the crews. In Hollywood, the crews are overwhelmingly white men. Is that because a female or minority grip can’t lift a c stand as well as a white grip? No. In Atlanta, you will see crews of mostly black men. Is that because a female or white man can’t lift a C stand as well as a black man when you’re on the east side of the Mississippi? No.

      Discrimination is a human trait. Tribalism is a human trait. So if we want to be an equal society, we must WORK against it.

  3. Stephen says:

    This is a distraction from Hollywood’s real problem, which is that SIX mega media conglomerates run EVERYTHING and knowingly exploit labor as often as they’re able (see Comcast>NBCU>E>Fashion Police for example).

  4. srvwp2013 says:

    . . . And they say that the Adult Entertainment Industry exploits women. Let’s take a long, hard, up close and personal look at Mainstream Hollywood and its Entertainment Industry. The real exploiters are the Industry suits, often stuffed suits, in tuxes.

  5. Donna says:

    I was brought up by a mother and father who said women can succeed at anything a man does if they work hard. Women can direct or produce film at any time if they are passionate about filmmaking, start with independent films and earn recognition for their work. I would hate to think that a group of women will now be handed directing positions in blockbuster films because of the ACLU!

  6. Sonny Skyhawk says:

    The American Indian performing community would like to join this effort by the ACLU, to stop the bias and civil rights violations committed by those in the film & television industry, against the American Indian people of America. The industry has discriminated against the first inhabitants of America, for far too long, with no accountability. I challenge anyone to produce the comparisons ratios of performance appearance, by the American Indian, in any television program or film.

    • J.E. Vizzusi says:

      At this point in time a Activist Movement must prevail for Women to rise up and work themselves easier into Directing roles. Sexism and Bias and less than 1% of Major Motion Pictures are being Director by Females is outrageous! Yes, you can start within the Indie scene getting your feet wet with Directing but to pursue making a living Directing a women today has very little chance and that must change!

    • J.E. Vizzusi says:

      Sonny, I think your point is in fact part of the genocide of the Native American. Hollywood has exploited many groups, nationalities and races but none like your own. Women whom often have much more sensitivity than men especially when it comes to Directing are being left out. No it most certainly is not as important as a entire race of peoples being crapped on, but we as a Hollywood Community must Unite and give everyone a a fair crack at making good and decent Film.

  7. J.E. Vizzusi says:

    “This sexist practice has been part of Hollywood since the 1930’s.” Men decided it was their Industry to run and make money from. Major Producer’s such as Mary Pickford and Director’s and Writer’s such as Francis Marian were doomed even with all their success’s and Historic Films. During the 1950’s other Women such as Ida Lupino attempted to break these trends in the “Its a Man’s World” hiring practices to no avail. And even today, even with the Best Director Oscar going to Kathy Bigelow, these practices are still intact. Other than Indie Films non studio or Guild related, women are the upmost minority as Directors. There is no way, shape or form politics or lawsuits or otherwise can change this practice other than the Arbiters and decision makers within Studios hire of more women as Directors. Its a mindset that needs change now!

  8. lizajanie says:

    At last week’s Bentonville Film Festival, of which Variety was a sponsor, a light was shined on this ongoing issue. Geena Davis is leading the charge. Her website is quite informative with great research and statistics on the matter: http://www.thegeenadavisinstitute.org/

  9. PG says:

    Can anyone total the similarly-ridiculously-low percentage of ALL movies, not just the top-grossing ones? It would also be interesting to know whether anywhere else in the world does any better… France, maybe?

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