Additional reporting by Crystal Bell and Shaunna Murphy
It's been a long time coming, and the American Civil Liberties Union's decision to ask federal and state organizations to investigate the lack of female directors in film and TV didn't come a day too soon, advocates told MTV News.
Melissa Silverstein, editor of Women and Hollywood and artistic director of the Athena Film Festival, said she doesn't see any downsides to increased awareness of female directors' plight in Hollywood. Now that the chemical reaction of data, public awareness and official action has exploded, there has to be a change.
"What are the studios going to say? ‘We’re not biased against women?’" she asked. "The numbers are there. They could say, ‘We don’t care.’ And then they’ll look, you know … How can they say 'we don’t care about the fact that we do not employ women'? That’s a really hard thing to say in 2015. Are they going to say, ‘Well we don’t care about showing stories with women and we don’t care about having women experiences out there’? I think that’s a really hard thing to say in 2015. So, I think they really need to say, ‘We have to look into this.’ And then they have to look into this. They have to take it seriously. They can’t just dismiss it."
Jennifer Siebel Newsom, director of the documentary "Miss Representation" and the founder, president and CEO of the Representation Project, told MTV News over email that the investigations were a necessary step for change.
"The ACLU called Hollywood's hiring practices 'overt sex stereotyping and implicit bias' and I couldn't agree more," she said. "We are not investing in women storytellers, nor giving them a fair shot to excel. We must commit to equalizing the playing field for women in Hollywood."
Though she predicted "growing pains," Newsom said that she's hopeful for change.
High-profile directors like Ava DuVerney, whose "Selma" was nominated for Best Picture while she was ignored for a directing nod at the Oscars, have chimed in on Twitter. She offered "all the amens" in support of the ACLU's efforts.
Film and TV director Lexi Alexander also tweeted her support.
Director Leslye Hedland displayed her signature wry sense of humor tweeting hopefully about change.
Kathryn Bigelow, who is the only woman to have ever won an Oscar for directing (only four women, Bigelow included, have been nominated), told TIME in a statement that she applauded the ACLU.
“I have always firmly believed that every director should be judged solely by their work, and not by their work based on their gender. Hollywood is supposedly a community of forward thinking and progressive people yet this horrific situation for women directors persists,” Bigelow said. “Gender discrimination stigmatizes our entire industry. Change is essential. Gender neutral hiring is essential.”
To make progress, change needs to happen. Yesterday, ACLU lawyer Ariela Migdal told MTV News that changes could be made to the shortlist system, adding a jobs requirement to TV directing shadowing programs and requiring studios to consider female candidates for directing jobs.
Jennie Urman, showrunner for The CW's "Jane the Virgin," suggested that diversifying directors could be easier if those hiring for the jobs were more diverse themselves. She has managed to produce a show starring women, with a mostly female writer's room and mostly female directors -- nine of the 15 directors in season one were women.
"You always choose the people who connect with the material and people who seem to connect with you, so I feel like the more different people in positions of power, the more different people you’re going to have behind the scenes as well," Urman told MTV News. "I’m not going to pick people who remind me of my fraternity brother because I wasn’t in a fraternity. I’m going to pick people who I connect with and I connect very well with women. I have no bias that women are not as good — quite the opposite."
Silverstein, of Women and Hollywood, said that women also need to prop one another up, and eradicate the myth that recommending another woman for a job could cost them a job themselves.
"I don’t believe that," she said. "I don’t believe that there is a zero sum game. I don’t believe there’s only one job out there for women. Men don’t believe that, so we need to get over that. So what I believe is that the more women are successful, the more opportunities there will be for women."
There's also a role moviegoers can play: vote with your dollars. See what films are directed by women and what films feature women in strong roles, and go see them. Yes, buying a ticket to "The Hunger Games" supports the cause. (Get 'em, Katniss.) Having more women in the director's chair will bring more strong female characters and diverse stories, she said.
"This is a movement that is about our culture and about how important it is to see all different kinds of people behind the scenes and in front of the screen and how it actually makes us a better culture to have diversity. And as we move for diversity and talk about diversity in so many aspects of our life, let’s talk about that also in film," she said. "So, next time you are going to buy a ticket for a movie, look and see who directed it. Look and see who wrote it. We have a weekly email at Women in Hollywood with all the movies by and about women that are opening. We give you the information, take that information and use it. You’re voting with your dollars to support women and you can do that."
And above all else, female directors need to listen to that Winston Churchill quote that was probably on an inspirational poster somewhere in their school: Never, ever, ever, ever, ever give up.
"Trust your vision," Silverstein said of her best advice to female directors. "Believe in yourself. Know everything. Be on top of everything. Find people you can trust. Learn – and never give up."