Cheers went up this morning (May 12) following the news that the American Civil Liberties Union, a powerhouse advocacy group, has sent letters asking federal and state agencies to investigate the dearth of female directors in film and television as a violation of civil rights.
It's the beginning of what's sure to be a long process, but though the push was just announced today, the issue is nowhere near new. From 2002-2014, of the 1,300 top-grossing films, only 4.1 percent were helmed by female directors, as the letters outline. Even worse, only 1.9 percent of the 100 top-grossing films from 2013 and 2014 were directed by women.
We'll just let that sink in: one. point. nine. percent.
Ariela Migdal, senior staff attorney for the ACLU's Women's Rights Project, told MTV News that the group has been collecting stories from female film and TV directors for more than a year via an open form on their site.
"These are not all people who know each other, some are in film, some are in television," Migdal explained. "We got such an outpouring and people saying that these reports come out every year. It doesn't get any better; in some measures it's getting worse...We looked at it and it's actually worse discrimination than in some fields where we work. I represent women in the military, and on some measures, Hollywood's actually worse about including women. If you look at the numbers, they're pretty terrible."
By getting government agencies involved -- the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs all received letters from the ACLU asking for investigation -- studios will have to be held accountable for their actions, instead of accepting the status quo.
"You have where women are not even able to get in and have a critical mass, that's where people are feeling free to say, 'oh yeah, this show is too hard for women' or things like that. So our hope is to have the agencies get involved and really implement accountability and have top-down, concrete changes in the way hiring for these things is done."
Some of those changes could include databases of female directors (no more ability to say "we just don't know any female directors"), TV shadowing programs with the promise of a directing gig upon successful completion, and concrete rules that require studios to consider female candidates for directing jobs, Migdal said.
The first step is waiting to see if any of the agencies decide to do an investigation. A civil rights investigation could take months, and in the case that it's decided to be widespread discrimination, there could then be a lawsuit or mediation.
"There are actual federal and state laws that say, you can't do these things," she said. "You can't say we don't want any women, don't send us any women, or you can't have shortlists that exclude women, you can't circulate this list of seven people and it never includes women, or it includes a token woman that you're not going to get, like Kathryn Bigelow, but not really including women. We've seen that in other industries, and Hollywood is not immune to those laws."
If an investigation is opened, it would be the result of years of tracking by not only the ACLU, but by academics, directors themselves and other groups.
"We're not the first people to notice this problem," Migdal said. "Women directors and scholars and advocates from UCLA and USC have been reporting on this for years. I think the problem with this is when that happens, the studios say gosh, too bad, nothing to be done about it. We're hoping that by involving the civil rights agencies and naming it as a possible civil rights discrimination, not just a sad situation, that will lead to more concrete solutions so that women will have a fair chance to direct film and television."