×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Who’s afraid of women directors?

Guest column

The Directors Guild of America recently published its annual survey of diversity among TV directors. The results showed that women and minority directors continue to be poorly represented in the industry. Caucasian males directed 86% of the top 40 primetime shows in the 2003-2004 season. Women directed only 7% of them, a 4% decline from the previous season.

Nobody likes being a statistic. Particularly when the numbers are bad news.

It’s a sad state of affairs. I should know. I live it.

Here are some of the reasons I’ve gotten for not getting hired:

  • We already hired a woman this season.

  • We had a bad experience with a woman director last season.

  • Our cast (crew) doesn’t like women directors.

  • Our show is very difficult. We have (pick one) lots of action, special effects, sensitive actors, tough schedules.

  • It’s the first season and we need to get established. It’s the second season and everybody is worried. It’s the third season and our actors want to direct.

  • We hired a director/showrunner who is directing half the season. We have no room for new directors.

The lunacy of these comments can make one’s head spin. But I can tell you from first-hand experience that when executives and producers say them, they don’t appear to notice.

I’ve been directing episodic television since 1992 and while I’ve never found it easy to book jobs, there were many seasons when I booked four or five slots and had the good fortune to forge strong relationships with producers that reaped fruitful periods of employment.

During these years I also had children and chose to spend some time away from directing, nurturing those babies into childhood while getting back to my goals of creating my own projects.  But when I was ready to come back to series directing, I had an even harder time than when I was starting out.

It was as if the industry somehow thought that I’d lost my talent by spending time away from the set.

I recently struck up a conversation at a party with a television producer who had a long run with a successful network drama. His daughter was currently in film school and he asked if she could call me to talk to a “real woman director.”

I told him I’d be delighted to warn her of the realities of my profession, and then I gently reminded him of when he and I had first met.

Years before, my agent had sent me to meet with him about directing for his series. He told me that he had liked my reel and had gotten very good feedback from other producers he’d called about my work, but that he would not be able to offer me a slot after all. His rationale: A bad experience with a prior woman director.

He now remembered this to be true.  But, in the context of thinking about his daughter’s career, it took on a new significance and he realized how shallow his thinking had been.

I’m sad to admit that some of the shows that have been singled out by the DGA as the very worst examples — shows that have not hired any women or minorities — are run by people I know. These men and woman are not ogres or reactionary conservatives. In fact, they’re caring, enlightened individuals in their personal lives. Clearly there is some disconnect — some larger issue at play — that prevents even these producers from hiring women.

In other industries I see women soar. My college and grad school peers shine in the arts, in industry and in government, and even in Hollywood, women executives hold some of the most powerful positions at the studios and networks.

Producers, agents and writers don’t seem to be held back because of their gender. So why are women directors? What is it about this job and being a woman that seems so incompatible? And how are we ever going to get things to change?

One of my director peers suggests that change will only occur through legal means. Her position is that the DGA needs to sue the networks and studios and that shifts in hiring will only happen through the courts.

Another colleague suggests that the complicated boy’s club social and psychological dynamics of a series has an inherent misogyny that will never be inclusive of women.

Another woman director friend, who has her own series in development, recently shared with me her strategy for change. When her show gets the “green light,” she says she will hire only women and minorities. The idea made me smile. I can just imagine her saying, “Sorry, we had a problem with a white man last season.”

I believe we must make the problem personal.

It’s you Mr./Ms. Producer/Executive/Showrunner/Agent who is reading this article. You must trust your ability to assess who has the goods from meeting with a director and viewing their reel and bio — regardless of gender, or race or a hot resume.

Only you can change the status quo.

(Rachel Feldman is a film/televison director/screenwriter who has directed many hours of series and longform television from “Lizzie Maguire” to “Picket Fences,” and is currently developing dramatic series and feature films. She lives in Hollywood with her husband and two children.)

More Voices

  • FX Confronts Streaming Thanks to Disney

    Kicking and Screaming, FX Is Forced to Confront Future in the Stream (Column)

    During his network’s presentation at the winter Television Critics Assn. press tour, FX chief John Landgraf made waves — and headlines — by mounting perhaps his most direct criticism yet of Netflix. Landgraf, whose briefings to the press tend to rely heavily on data about the volume of shows with which FX’s competitors flood the [...]

  • Longtime TV Editor Recalls Working for

    How a Bad Director Can Spoil the Show (Guest Column)

    I have been blessed with editing some of TV’s greatest shows, working with some of the industry’s greatest minds. “The Wonder Years,” “Arrested Development,” “The Office,” “Scrubs,” “Pushing Daisies” and, most recently, “A Series of Unfortunate Events.” I have earned an Emmy, ACE Eddie Awards, and many nominations. But whatever kudos I’ve received, over my [...]

  • Stock market Stock buyback

    Stock Buybacks Leave Firms Without Funds to Invest in Future (Column)

    Corporate giants on the S&P 500 have spent more than $720 billion during the past year on stock buybacks. Media and entertainment firms account for only a fraction of that spending, but even $1 million spent on share repurchases seems a foolhardy expenditure at this transformational moment for the industry. The record level of spending [...]

  • Hollywood Has Come Far With Diversity

    An Insider's Look at Hollywood's Diversity Efforts and How Far It Still Needs to Go

    I am a white man working in Hollywood. I grew up in Beverlywood, an all-white, predominantly Jewish, Los Angeles neighborhood sandwiched between 20th Century Fox Studios and MGM, where my elementary school had only one black student. I am compelled to write about diversity in Hollywood because “diversity” — in front of and behind the camera [...]

  • Venice Film Festival A Star is

    How Venice, Toronto and Telluride Festivals Stole Cannes' Luster (Column)

    In all the years I’ve been attending film festivals, I have never seen a lineup that looked as good on paper as Venice’s did this fall, boasting new films by Alfonso Cuarón (“Roma”), Damien Chazelle (“First Man”), Paul Greengrass (“22 July”), Mike Leigh (“Peterloo”) and the Coen brothers (“The Ballad of Buster Scruggs”) in competition, [...]

  • Black Women in Medicine BTS

    Hollywood Needs to Include People With Disabilities on Both Sides of the Camera (Guest Column)

    In five years, nothing has changed. Despite open calls for greater diversity and inclusion, recent research shows that there was little change in the number of characters with disabilities in popular films in 2017. A study conducted by the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative of the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism found that [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content