The organization told the New York Times on Tuesday that it will ask state and federal agencies to investigate Hollywood studios, networks and talent agencies, and possibly charge them, over what the A.C.L.U. describes as rampant and intentional gender discrimination in recruiting and hiring female directors.
“Women directors aren’t working on an even playing field and aren’t getting a fair opportunity to succeed,” said Melissa Goodman, director of the L.G.B.T., Gender and Reproductive Justice Project at the A.C.L.U. of Southern California. “Gender discrimination is illegal. And really Hollywood doesn’t get this free pass when it comes to civil rights and gender discrimination.”
The A.C.L.U. has detailed statistical and anecdotal evidence of systemic “overt sex stereotyping and implicit bias” in letters sent to the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing and the Labor Department’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs.
“Real change is needed to address this entrenched and long-running problem of discrimination against women directors,” one of the letters reads. “External investigations and oversight by government entities tasked with enforcing civil rights laws is necessary to effectuate this change.”
Goodman has asked the government to take a look behind the scenes as to how studios make shortlists for directors — a Hollywood hiring process she says has “the least transparency.” Goodman wants investigators to look at employer records to determine who makes it onto the lists, and why, since numbers have shown women are far less likely to make the jump from directing an independent film to a studio picture.
Just last year, TheWrap found out of the entire crop of summer movies, only one was directed by a woman. 37 were directed by white men, and just two were directed by black men.
And the A.C.L.U. is pointing a finger at talent agencies, too.
The civil rights organization has collected statements from 50 female directors who report some form of discrimination in their Hollywood career, whether being told by executives that a show was not “woman friendly,” or learning producers told agents “not to send women” for certain jobs.
One female director who spoke to the Times anonymously said this: “Sometimes showrunners will say, ‘This isn’t a good show for a woman director, or our actors are hard on women.'” Or they’re approaching it as if ‘We’re protecting you by not giving you this job.’ That way they turn it on its side, to make everything OK.”
Even worse, the problem appears to extend far past directing gigs. A study by San Diego State University’s Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film shows that women made up only 17 percent of directors, writers, executive producers, producers, editors and cinematographers who worked on the top 250 domestic grossing movies of the year.
“The findings drive home the point that men continue to construct the vast majority of the visual and aural worlds featured in U.S. films,” said Dr. Martha Lauzen, executive director of the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at SDSU.
The same institute also found that there are fewer jobs for leading actresses available, since female characters made up just 12 percent of protagonists in the top 100 domestic-grossing films of 2014. This figure is three percent below 2013’s study and four percent below the number in 2002.
Helen Hunt, an Oscar-winning actress (“As Good as It Gets”) who has directed several TV episodes and two feature films, went on the record earlier this month to say women in Hollywood are “f–ked.”
“What are the great movies for younger women where they’re the protagonist [being] made now? You know what I mean? The whole thing — there’s no equal rights amendment. We’re fucked,” Hunt told the Huffington Post.