The DGA has hit back at the ACLU over the civil rights group’s charge that the guild recommends directors for particular projects. In its recent letter to the EEOC calling for a government investigation of the lack of job opportunities for female directors, the ACLU claimed that “the Directors Guild itself reportedly uses short lists to recommend directors for particular projects, but the lists are not transparent or publicly available.”
“It’s not true,” a DGA spokesman told Deadline. “If the ACLU had contacted us, they would have found out that there are no shortlists. The DGA does not make recommendations for hiring.”
The guild does, however, use its membership database to provide contact information to employers based on their specific requests. If an employer, for example, is looking for a female director in Atlanta with recent experience on multi-camera episodic TV shows, the DGA can and does provide contact information for all of its members who match those criteria. But the guild is not a hiring hall and, contrary to the ACLU’s assertion, does not keep a secret list of favored directors. The guild also maintains a contact list of all its female and minority members that is accessible for anyone to see on its website. But it does not, and will not, provide any recommended list to any employer.
Stating that “a number of women pointed to ways in which the DGA perpetuates discriminatory hiring practices,” the ACLU letter doubled down on its “secret list” theory when it said, “The most common complaint was that the DGA did not actively advocate enough for the hiring of women directors and, when it did, promoted or referred only a small handful of women members.”
In fact, the guild does not promote or recommend individual members to employers.
The ACLU’s letter accurately noted that “the DGA maintains a list of ‘experienced women and minority directors’ that it provides to production companies” but returned to its “secret list” theory when it stated that “a number of the women we spoke to believe that the DGA under-includes women when it provides shortlists of recommended directors to prospective employers, and that this undercuts its claim that it is attempting to get more women hired. A related complaint is that the DGA refers a small number of women repeatedly to employers, excluding most women.”
The ACLU’s letter immediately followed this inaccurate claim with a statement about Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act that, while accurate, inaccurately implied that the DGA had violated the Act with its “secret list.” Title VII, the ACLU noted, “prohibits labor organizations from discriminating against members on the basis of sex. Specifically, labor organizations cannot ‘limit, segregate, or classify its membership or applicants for membership…fail or refuse to refer for employment” in a way that would tend to ‘deprive’ or ‘limit’ employment opportunities because of the individual’s sex.”
In fact, the DGA doesn’t do any of that.
“Our letters to civil rights agencies report what many women, including Directors Guild members, told us, as well as the DGA’s own statements on its web site about maintaining lists of experienced directors to give to production companies,” Ariela Migdal, senior staff attorney for the ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project, told Deadline. “Those we have talked to aren’t aware of any way for the public or for women directors to see who’s on those lists.”
The studios, networks and production companies are known to keep lists of directors they think might be right for their projects, but the DGA does not. “These lists,” the ACLU said, “which are widely used in the industry, disproportionately exclude women; in a recent study, industry executives and agents asked to name who appear on such lists most frequently named zero women directors. The chair of one major studio described this problem to The New York Times: the hiring team starts with a list of candidates, but women aren’t on the list in numbers. ‘When we start our interview process what I find is, more often than not, that the majority of candidates are male.’ Numerous institutions within the chain of employment are culpable in utilizing these lists that result in the exclusion of women directors – lists come from talent agencies, production companies, and studios. The Directors Guild itself reportedly uses short lists to recommend directors for particular projects…”
These inaccurate claims about the DGA’s “secret list” raise serious questions about the thoroughness of the ACLU’s research, as does its misidentification of management’s AMPTP as the “Association of Motion Picture & Television Producers.” In fact, the AMPTP hasn’t gone by that name since the late-1970s, when it broke apart and reformed in 1982 as the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers.
The narrowness of the scope of its inquiry into the way directors are hired also raises questions. In television, they’re usually hired by the shows’ executive producers and showrunners – the vast majority of whom are writers – and it’s the networks, studios and production companies who hire the showrunners. A recent Writers Guild report found that women held only 15.1% of the executive producer positions last season, a decline from 18.6% from the previous season. “Of the 457 executive producer positions in 2013-14, women occupied 136,” the WGA report found. “As women represent slightly more than half of the U.S. population, the group was underrepresented by a factor of more than 3-to-1 among the writers who ran television shows in 2013-14.”
The ACLU, however, made no call for a government investigation into the way showrunners – the writers who hire the directors – are hired. In fact, the word “writer” isn’t mentioned in its 15-page letter to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
To get more female TV directors, a good place to start might be to hire more female executive producers. As one female director with nearly 50 directing credits told the ACLU: “Decisions [about hiring] are made by the showrunner. And the showrunner is not always, but most often, a man, and they hire their friends. Their friends, not surprisingly, are men. … And so the networks and the studios will pressure these guys to hire a woman, and they will hire one woman, because they have to, or they’ll hire two women, out of 22 episodes, because they have to, and then maybe they’ll hire one back. And then they’ll hire none. There are plenty of shows that I have been up for and had good meetings on where I don’t get hired and I think, ‘Why? I’m capable, I’m qualified, I did my homework. I check all the boxes – I can work with actors. I can work with difficult people. I can do action. So what box is missing?’ There really isn’t one. Then statistics come out and you see that particular show hasn’t hired a woman. There’s only one conclusion.”
Actually, there are two: that sexism is still rampant in Hollywood and that there aren’t enough female showrunners to hire the female directors. The WGA has been trying to get the industry to do that for years, but still the problem persists.
Asked why the ACLU focused solely on the lack of female directors and not on the exclusion of female writers and showrunners, Migdal told Deadline: “To your question, we have heard some about writers, but we were primarily contacted by directors. We have heard from 50 women directors, and we focused on that problem, where we had both the solid data as well as the anecdotal reports to back up our request that the civil rights agencies get involved.”
The American Civil Liberties Union has been reaching out to female directors for more than a year, looking to build a case against the industry’s hiring practices. “If you are a director who has been discriminated against, excluded from directing jobs in television or get less TV work than your male peers, we’d love to hear your story to learn more about the experiences of women in the directing industry,” the group said on its website.
The civil rights organization made no similar request to hear from TV writers, many of whom hire – or don’t hire – female directors.
Much of the ACLU’s letter blamed the DGA for the shortage of female directors, but the DGA obviously can’t be blamed for the lack of job opportunities for female writers, cinematographers, studio heads, truck drivers, grips, art directors and nearly every other job category in Hollywood. But that didn’t stop the ACLU from making the DGA the scapegoat.
In response to the ACLU’s letter, the DGA said the “lack of network and studio action to hire more women and minority directors is deplorable. The DGA has been a long-standing advocate pressuring the industry to do the right thing, which is to change their hiring practices and hire more women and minority directors.”
The DGA, in fact, has done more to promote diversity in the workplace than any other union and any other organization in Hollywood, and is the only union to sue the studios for failing to hire more women and minorities.
And in its most recent round of contract negotiations, DGA Executive Director Jay Roth insisted that there would not be a film and TV deal until and unless the last two studio holdouts agreed to establish a DGA diversity program. Both studios agreed, and a deal was struck.
Today, all of the major studios and networks have DGA diversity programs designed to get more jobs for women and minority directors. These include the CBS Directing Initiative, the Disney/ABC Directing Program, the Fox Global Directors Initiative, the HBO Access Program, the NBC Universal Directing Fellowship, the Sony Pictures Television Diverse Directors Program, the Viacom Media Networks Music Group – Spectrum Director Diversity Program, and the Warner Bros. Director Program.
Many women directors told the ACLU that these programs were ineffective; some even said they were insulting. As one veteran female director told the ACLU: “For those of us who have been in the business for a while, who have managed against tremendously difficult odds to make movies or find employment in TV, even accumulate long lists of awards along the way … these [programs] are a slap in the face and just another way to humiliate a group of people who are already being marginalized by a flawed and biased establishment.”
Clearly the DGA’s efforts haven’t fixed the problem, but it’s not for a lack of trying. And by making the guild the scapegoat, the ACLU fundamentally has misrepresented the way the DGA works to promote the hiring of women and minority directors.
Making matters worse, the ACLU didn’t even contact the DGA to check its facts before releasing its report. “The ACLU has made no effort to contact the DGA concerning the issues raised in its letters,” the guild said. “The ACLU’s assertions reflect this lack of investigation as to the guild, and ignore its efforts to combat discrimination against women directors and to promote the employment of women directors. There are few issues to which the DGA is more committed than improving employment opportunities for women and minority directors. It is time change.”
DGA President Paris Barclay believes that change must come from the bottom up. “There’s a big opportunity here for those in charge of hiring to make a difference – but they’re not,” he said earlier this year on the release of the guild’s latest report on the hiring of women and minority directors. “Without change at the entry level – where women and minority directors get their first directing assignment – it’ll be status quo from here to eternity. Every director needs a first shot to break into the business – and what this report reveals is that studios, networks and executive producers need to challenge their own hiring practices and offer talented women and minority directors the same opportunities they are giving white males.”
But to change things at the bottom, change also might have to come from the top, where the hiring decisions ultimately are made. Whether a governmental agency can, or will, or should do anything about that remains to be seen.