This story on the female Emmy directing nominees uses material drawn from the Down to the Wire issue of TheWrap’s Emmy magazine.
The numbers couldn’t be more dramatic, and the timing couldn’t be more disheartening.
After a year in which the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements swept through Hollywood and the culture, and a year in which we were focused on the inequities faced by women in the entertainment industry and beyond, the Emmy nominations came out.
And in the seven directing categories, the gender breakdown was pitiful: Forty men were nominated for directing but only four women.
We spoke to the four women directors who were nominated: Kari Skogland for the drama series “The Handmaid’s Tale,” Amy Sherman-Palladino for the comedy series “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” Carrie Brownstein for the variety series “Portlandia” and Lynn Novick (who co-directed with Ken Burns) for the documentary “The Vietnam War.”
In the other three directing categories — Outstanding Directing for a Limited Series, Movie or Dramatic Special, for a Variety Special and for a Reality Program — all the nominees were men.
Sherman-Palladino, who was not available for video above, shared her thoughts in a phone interview. “It’s so stark it’s breathtaking,” she said. “And when I look at my category, it was always a category that more women would slip into. And the fact that I’m the only girl at the party is, frankly, f—ing ridiculous. I mean, what the hell?
The co-creator of “The Gilmore Girls” and “Mrs. Maisel” in part blamed the networks’ reliance on lists.
“When you get a pilot, you’re given a list of the approved directors, and sometimes people don’t want to push past that list. And there aren’t very many women on the list,” she said. “We keep talking about [‘Wonder Woman’ director] Patty Jenkins, but who’s the next Patty Jenkins? She was supposed to open the door so there’d be 12 more Patty Jenkinses, and open doors are supposed to stay open.”
Sherman-Palladino noted the irony that her show deals with a woman trying to be recognized in a male environment. “When I did the pilot, I had no political agenda,” she said. “But when you see a storyline about a woman having to struggle, you realize it’s not that far off from what’s happening now.
“That story took place in 1959 and now it’s 2018. It’s, ‘C’mon, people!’ We’ve got to keep getting women through the door — and when they get through the door, women have to turn around and yank more women through the door. It’s not going to happen quickly just because we pushed a few goons out of power.”
For “Portlandia” co-creator and performer Carrie Brownstein, the disparity in nominees serves as a wake-up call. “People assume that progress is inevitable, and it’s not,” she said. “Progress is not a linear, upward trajectory, and it’s not something that can be a hobby — we can’t dabble in the betterment of society, we actually have to work at it.
“We live in an unequal system, and we’ve been raised to value things that keep us unequal. We can’t just dismantle that with some news articles or a couple of meetings — it has to be an institutional shift, and those don’t happen overnight.”
Skoglund, whose series “The Handmaid’s Tale” places its heroines center stage, noted the slowness of progress. “It’s getting to be a very old story. The demoralizing thing about that statistic, four versus 40, is that it happened after such a banner year for women,” she said. “I spent 15 years working on the DGA Women’s Steering Committee trying to move that needle, and the only way to change it is to actively change it.
“It has to start with studios saying they’re going to even up the numbers. That takes time and training. The statistics come out, and we feel like nothing’s changed — but if we knew something was bubbling and percolating underneath those statistics, and there’s going to be more to choose from next year, that would put a tremendously positive spin on this. I would say that where it’s really changed is that we’re no longer afraid to be vocal. In the past, if you were too vocal, it was considered a negative. Now it’s encouraged.”
And while there have traditionally more opportunities for women to break into directing jobs in the documentary field, Novick noted, “even in the doc world, there are structural problems in who gets to be in charge, who gets to speak, who’s deemed to have the authority to tell a story.”
Some of the resistance comes from seeing women in charge. “If you’re a director, you’re telling other people what to do, and you have to assert a certain kind of authority and purpose,” she said. “And I fear that in our unconscious bias, we tend to accord that responsibility more readily to men.”
See video interviews with Brownstein, Skogland and Novick above. To read more of TheWrap’s Down to the Wire issue, click here.