The federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has begun interviewing female directors as its investigation into discrimination against female film and TV directors is officially underway. First up was director Maria Giese, who was interviewed at the EEOC’s offices in Los Angeles for four hours on Wednesday.
Giese, who first brought the problem to the EEOC’s attention in 2013, said investigators were interested in a wide range of issues regarding the employment of female directors, including how directors are hired.
“They’re looking for patterns of hiring and how they could possibly result in discrimination,” she told Deadline. “They’re looking for ways in which the studios, the networks, the guild, the agencies, and even management companies and indie production companies function in order to determine why and how women continue to be almost completely shut out of the directing profession.”
EEOC investigators are also asking about specific instances of discrimination that female directors have experienced or witnessed. Giese said she told investigators about the time she’d been promised a directing job on a primetime TV show, only to see the executive producer give it to his stepson. “That wasn’t just sexism,” she said, “but nepotism, as well.”
“A common complaint,” she said, “is that when women directors ask their agents to set them up for meetings for shows they love, they’re told they don’t hire women directors, or that they hired one once and it didn’t work out. These are things we hear all the time. It’s endemic.”
Giese, whose directing credits include Hunger and When Saturday Comes, is a longtime advocate for female directors and was instrumental in getting the ACLU to call for the EEOC investigation that has now been launched.
Women currently get only about 16% of the episodic TV directing jobs, and last year directed less than 5% of the major studio releases. “The numbers are so low,” Giese said, “that I don’t see how the EEOC is going to come to any other conclusion but that legal action is necessary.”
The EEOC has the power to file a class action lawsuit against the industry if it concludes that there is a pattern and practice of discrimination against female directors.
This is not the first time the federal agency has investigated Hollywood. In 1969, the EEOC held several days of hearings in Los Angeles and concluded that women and minorities were being discriminated against in behind-the-scenes jobs. But lacking enforcement powers at the time, it referred the matter to the Justice Department. The DOJ and the industry later agreed to establish “goals and timetables” to increase minority representation in many jobs covered by the IATSE, but that produced very few improvements. Female directors weren’t even included.
The EEOC launched another probe of Hollywood’s hiring practices in 1984, but under the direction of then-EEOC chairman – and now Supreme Court Justice – Clarence Thomas, nothing ever came of the year-long investigation.
The DGA filed a class-action discrimination suit against Warner Bros and Columbia in 1983 on behalf of female and minority directors. A federal judge dismissed the DGA as a class representative in the suit, however, after finding that a potential conflict could arise if plaintiffs chose “to prosecute claims against the DGA.”
“Executives in our industry seem to respond only when they are forced to and when their bank accounts are threatened,” Giese told Deadline. “This was certainly the case in the 1983-85 class action lawsuit against the studios, an action which drove the number of women directors up from one-half of one percent to an extraordinary 16% in just 10 years, from 1985 to 1995.”
The six women who pushed for that class action suit – Victoria Hochberg, Lynne Littman, Joelle Dobrow, Susan Bay, Dolores Ferraro and Nell Cox – have come to be known as The Original Six.
“There is not one single woman working in Hollywood today who does not have The Original Six to thank for their jobs,” Giese said. “They founded the Women’s Committee at the DGA, collected the statistics for female employment, and spearheaded the class action lawsuit that the DGA led.”