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Open Letter to Reese Witherspoon: There’s an Army of Experienced Women Directors!

Dear Reese,

I have the highest respect for you, but you are misinformed! When I heard the NPR interview on Monday morning and heard these words from your lips, “Someone said to me the other day… We’re running out of female directors … We don’t have enough women to employ,” I had to speak up.

Because if you don’t know the facts then we cannot expect the rest of our industry to “get it” either. It’s high time to end the myth that injures the thousands of accomplished, mid-career female directors who are more than ready call “action” – ready to fill the ranks to 50/50 overnight.

You state that you believe that women didn’t “even bother to get started in a profession…they felt…was a dead-end road.”

Not true. Starting in the 1970’s, thousands of women graduated from film schools with degrees in directing and thousands more moved up the ranks of editing, writing, shooting, acting – to become full-fledged directors. While it is true that many of these women dropped out because of the sexist landscape of the industry, many stayed in the game doing whatever they needed to do: shoot indie films, shorts, commercials, docs, getting better and better all the while – in order to survive the long game.

There are more than 1,400 experienced women directors in the Directors Guild of America and over 250 seasoned women in Film Fatales, an organization of mid-career women directors, all of whom have directed features and television.

Your solution to the problem is the same conclusion that many others believe. You say, “…it’s incumbent upon us… to mentor” believing that filling the pipeline with new filmmakers is the answer. While mentoring newcomers and giving starts to burgeoning filmmakers is essential to broadening the spectrum of talent and deepening the pool, it’s high time to recognize and hire the qualified women who have dedicated decades to honing their craft.

It’s not your fault that you are not aware of us. Our industry is entrenched in vestigial systems that are not historically friendly to female talent. The literary agencies are trying to change but it’s slow and even those with the best of intentions don’t know where to look or how to evaluate and measure talent and skill without the conventions of vetting, the stamps of approval that come with having a brand name.

In some ways, celebrity has become the new male. If you have an established name or have a hot rep then “you’re as good as a male director.” And while it’s freaking fantastic that women directors are suddenly hot, it’s not cool for the army of experienced women to be ignored, over-looked, made invisible – again.

It’s wonderful that you produce films and television featuring female protagonists and have sought to hire female directors such as Anne Fletcher and Mimi Leder, but I urge you to dig much deeper than these supernovas. Mimi herself is a great example of a brilliant talent whose career was derailed by the exigencies of our culture, out of the limelight for too long. There are so many stories like her’s and we need producers like you, women who support women, to revolutionize the status quo.

I hope you will spread the word. We are here, we are ready!

Thank you for all that you do.

Rachel Feldman is a director, writer, and activist. Former chair of the DGA Women’s Steering Committee, she recently directed the pilot and full season of “The Baxters” for MGM and is in development with her screenplay “Lilly,” a feature film she will direct about Fair Pay advocate Lilly Ledbetter. You can find her on Twitter @WomenCallAction She is repped at Verve and Paul Hastings.

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