Will Hollywood Decide to Reinforce Misogyny or Wipe It Out?

Hollywood Needs to Fight Discrimination Against
Courtesy of Warner Bros.

The 2016 presidential campaign lifted the veil on multiple forms of bigotry. After one of the most sexist and misogynistic campaigns in recent memory, the election of Donald Trump as the 45th president seemed to validate all the demeaning things he said to belittle and degrade women — as well as immigrants, people of color, Muslims, and people with disabilities. As the growing number of hate incidents since Trump’s election demonstrates, people are feeling emboldened to act upon the sexism, racism, and xenophobia they have long harbored but learned not to show or say out loud.

Since the election, many of us are wracked as to what we can do to counter the hate and divisiveness. One thing we must all do is speak out loudly and clearly and insist that biased actions we witness — or are taken by our leaders — are not OK and will never be OK.  

Hollywood plays a role in the structural bias that surrounds us and is baked into our systems and our culture — biases there for people like Trump to seize upon and exploit. Most movies and television programs are made by white men, telling white, male stories, often reinforcing gender and racial stereotypes or ignoring the experiences of women, people of color, LGBTQ people, and people with disabilities. Film and television shape how people see themselves and understand the world’s limits and opportunities. Hollywood has failed — and continues to fail — to give women and people of color equal opportunity and voice.

This election, and the misogyny that permeated the campaign, highlights how unequal a playing field women continue to operate on. We believe Hollywood has to step up both to expand employment opportunities and to seriously evaluate the role it wants to play in the culture — to reinforce misogyny or to end it. The entertainment industry should do its part by demonstrably hiring more women — particularly women of color, trans women, lesbian women, women with disabilities, and Muslim women — to direct films and episodic television. Our popular culture and shared norms about the roles of women in our society won’t change without diversifying the stories we tell and the storytellers who tell them.

In May 2015, the ACLU of Southern California and the ACLU Women’s Rights Project asked the federal and California state governments to investigate blatant and rampant discrimination against women directors in film and TV. We made our request following a two-year investigation that revealed a pattern of gender bias and stereotyping that almost entirely excluded women from directorial roles. Gender discrimination is illegal, and Hollywood doesn’t get a free pass to violate civil rights laws.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs subsequently launched an investigation into the industry’s hiring practices. The investigation continues, and we hope it results in charges against employers who discriminate. We are confident the government will find the same systemic discrimination problems we found, and push industry leaders to address the ongoing violations of the civil rights of women directors.

Hollywood should not wait for government action — the EEOC has said as much, publicly urging those with hiring power to step up and rectify the problem. In the year and a half since we sent our letter, there has been a lot of lip service paid to furthering opportunities for women, and laudable new efforts and initiatives, but there has been no serious movement in the number of women directors hired. Every production has a responsibility to examine its paltry numbers and set real targets for bringing in more women, people of color, people with disabilities, LGBTQ people, and other dimmed voices in film and television. Anyone who does not do so is part of the problem.

Those in Hollywood have a choice to make. You must decide whether to tackle this problem head on, or continue to conduct business as usual, reinforcing the biases this election laid bare.

Lenora M. Lapidus is director of the ACLU Women’s Rights Project.

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  1. Ian Martinez says:

    Articles like this one are one reason why Trump was elected in the first place, the writer just doesn’t get it that we are no longer in the bra-burning 70s.

  2. Iconoclaust says:

    How sad to read the deluded ravings of a bigoted hater who will distort reality so as to falsely accuse anyone who doesn’t share her hatreds of the bitter ugliness which resides in her own heart. While Islamic supremacists fill the world with death and destruction, and enslave women and Africans throughout the world, Lapidus only sees evil in the people of the greatest, most freedom loving, generous, inclusive, and opportunity laden country in the world.

    I do not know anything about who this Lapidus is, but, as a Jew, a father of women, a person who would never discriminate against any individual. a lover of America and the Constitution on which the greatest of America so importantly rests, I can only have contempt for those whose blind hatred of America has driven them to madness.

  3. Lots of Liberal / anti-Trump talking points peppered up and down this guest post. All of the world’s ills do not fall on the shoulders of Donald Trump. Perhaps a bit more self-reflection from the writer, as well as the angry gang of Trump haters at Variety, is better served than this sad attempt to blame Trump for Hollywood’s various problems.

    One has to wonder if Lenora would have submitted this very same opinion piece had her gal HRC won the election. Probably not. That’s the part that saddens me most.

  4. Hollywood has always had an inordinately powerful voice. When I look at the pap I swallowed, and that influenced my own life, I am both appalled and impressed. It would be great if they used that voice for the good, to rectify the awful gender imbalance, for instance, but the ingrained culture of abuse of power and the casting couch is still alive and well, and I can’t see it changing.

  5. Alex says:

    An alarming number of recent films do nothing but promote an agenda and toe the line between propaganda (not to be confused with presenting a theme or universal truth or a new idea). People want to see art that imitates life. Not art that tells them what life is “supposed to be.” And in time people will always begin to reject the latter. Even when Hwood think it’s a shoo-in

    • Alex says:

      AND just to be clear, I say this as a supporter of equal opportunity for everyone regardless of race, gender, religion or breakfast cereal preference. (Equal opportunity of course being totally different than equal OUTCOME)

      But the reality of it is people can always smell bullshit. And entertainment/news media today reeks of it.

  6. Stillwater says:

    “There has been no movement in the hiring of women directors”?! Really? There’s been an explosion of women directors. None of them have the talent and skill of filmmakers like Chazelle, Aronofsky, Fincher or Nolan so maybe that’s why they aren’t as prominent. Maybe with time we will see more inspired filmmakers who are female emerge.

  7. JussSayin says:

    Yeah, misogyny is a bad thing of course, but Hollywood is not a Government work program.

    It is a creative business that hires the most creative people & those who can best help make and sell those creations for a profit.

    Hand out large Government grants to the arts like other countries do & then your article makes sense.

    Otherwise, you would be hard pressed to find many company towns that hire more LGBTQ & women into powerful roles than Hollywood without them being forced to do it as you seem to think needs to happen.

  8. Grayson33 says:

    Thank you, for one of the most intelligent articles I have read from Variety all year.

  9. Jay! says:

    Question for Variety: What’s that hit song from Frozen?

    LET IT GO!



    • #Wut says:

      Man o’ man, – No kidding… The overzealous PC Police can’t see that they have become part of the problem, not part of the solution. Hit pieces like this are what cause the crazy ill formed push back, and Hillary didn’t win because she was a vote to polish the machine & voting against her was the only way to rage against the machine by people who have been quietly suffering for decades. – I personally think Bernie could have beaten Trump head to head, but Hillary & her supporters made sure that didn’t happen by taking 400+ super delegates off the table before the primaries even began. – Explain that one :/

      • D in a b says:

        Why y’all keep mentioning PC something? What Personal Computers have to do with anything? Everyone has their own laptop or at least a smartphone. Forget about PC.

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