How Female Directors Overcame Years of Bias to Score Record Number of Emmy Nominations

TheWrap Emmy magazine: “There’s only so many years you can go into a meeting and hear, ‘We hired a woman once, and it didn’t work,'” Lesli Linka Glatter says

A version of this story about female directors first appeared in the Emmy Hot List issue of TheWrap’s Emmy magazine.

For director Lesli Linka Glatter, this year’s Emmys are a clear case of good news and bad news. Good news because women landed one-third of all the nominations in the seven directing categories, 16 out of the 48 total directing nominees, which is a record high for the Television Academy. Bad news because at a time when female directors would love to celebrate their success at the Emmys, they won’t be able to do so because the ceremony will be virtual.

“I have so many friends that are nominated this year, and I can’t walk the red carpet with them,” said Glatter, who has been pushing for a more level playing field for decades. “How sad.”

Sad but encouraging. Only two years removed from a set of directing nominations that included four women and 40 men, Emmy voters put at least one woman in every one of the seven directing categories, including two in the comedy-series category, two in drama series and four out of six in limited series or movie.

And the percentage of women who were nominated is larger than the percentage who submitted: Of the 877 directors on the ballot in the seven directing categories, 248 were women, about 28% of the total — but more than 33% of the nominees were female.

“I have been saying for quite a long time that directing is hard for everyone, but it shouldn’t be harder for our daughters to direct than our sons,” said Glatter, who received her sixth nomination for the “Homeland” finale. “We want an equal playing field, and I think this year’s nominations speak to that. I’ve been hoping for so many years that the issue of gender will become a non-issue. Are we there yet? I wouldn’t say that, but this is very exciting.”

This year’s total is a big jump from last year, when nine out of the 49 directing nominations went to women, and a huge jump from the dreadful 4-for-44 rate in 2018. Before now, female directors had the highest representation in 2013, when eight of the 33 nominees — or 24% — were women.

“When I started, I was pretty much always the only female director of that season,” said Nicole Kassell, one of two female directors — and three directors overall — nominated for “Watchmen.” “And nobody talked about it — it just was what it was. And then a couple of years ago there was a report put out that listed how shows were doing with director hires. It was kind of like a public shaming, and that was the moment where I felt like things really shifted. Now it’s a given that people are actively looking to hire women and people of color.”

Kassell is one of four women nominated for directing in the limited-series/movie category, the others being Steph Green, also for “Watchmen,” Maria Schrader for “Unorthodox” and the late Lynn Shelton for “Little Fires Everywhere.” The female drama-series nominees are Glatter for “Homeland,” Jessica Hobbs for “The Crown” and Mimi Leder for “The Morning Show,” while the comedy-series nominees are Gail Mancuso for “Modern Family” and Amy Sherman-Palladino for “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.”

Nadia Hallgren (“Becoming”), Julia Reichert (“American Factory”) and Rebecca Chaiklin (“Tiger King”) were nominated in the documentary and nonfiction directing categories, while the reality and variety categories had an unusually large number of female nominees: Ariel Boles for “Top Chef,” Pamela Fryman for “Live in Front of a Studio Audience,” Linda Mendoza for “Tiffany Haddish Presents: They Ready” and Dime Davis for “A Black Lady Sketch Show.”

Mimi Leder, who received her sixth directing nomination and 10th overall Emmy nomination for “The Morning Show” this year, agreed that there has been a shift in consciousness within the industry. “I think the hiring of women and people of color is much better than it ever has been in television, and slightly better in the feature world,” said Leder, who was the first female graduate of the AFI Conservatory.

“I started directing television in 1986, and it was very hard getting that first job. It was always men who gave me my breaks, and mostly men who hired me — the only woman who ever hired me from a studio was Sherry Lansing. But the world has changed, and the numbers speak to it.”

“Modern Family” director Gail Mancuso is one of two female nominees in the comedy-series category, joining “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” creator and director Sherman-Palladino. Mancuso has won twice before for “Modern Family,” more than 20 years after Roseanne gave her a chance to move into directing.

“To rise up, you need people along the way to mentor you and give you that break,” she said. “And that’s where I see the difference now. I really feel like there are some wonderful programs — diversity programs and female centered programs — that the networks are doing. They all help incentivize the hiring of female directors. And as a woman director myself, I always feel like I’m mentoring somebody who is shadowing me or calling me for advice.”

The result, said Glatter, is a significant change in how female directors are viewed. “It was in the news that this was so out of balance, and so it became part of the public conversation,” she said. “And there’s only so many years you can go into a meeting and hear, ‘We hired a woman once, and it didn’t work.'”

She laughed. “There is no female director who has not had that said to them at some point.”

Jennifer Maas contributed to this story.

Read more of the Emmy Hot List issue here.

EmmyWrap Down to the Wire cover

Steve Pond

Steve Pond

Awards Editor • • Twitter: @stevepond


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