13 Jan Hollywood sexism is ingrained and should be investigated, ACLU says
Advocates to call for legal action over ‘rampant discrimination’ against women – especially female directors – across film and television industries
The Hollywood film industry is so sexist that it should be investigated for civil rights violations, according to a new campaign.
The so-called celluloid ceiling is firmly intact despite years of complaints about gender inequality, the American Civil Liberties Union reports. In particular, both aspiring and seasoned female directors are excluded from the vast majority of movies.
The ACLU will demand on Tuesday that both state and federal agencies investigate the hiring practices of Hollywood’s major studios, networks and talent agencies and consider filing legal charges.
“Hollywood is in a dire situation in terms of gender disparities and the industry has been pretty much getting away with it,” Ariela Migdal, a senior staff attorney in the Women’s Rights Project of the ACLU, told the Guardian on Tuesday.
In 2014, only 7% of the directors of the 250 top-grossing Hollywood-produced films were women – which was down 2% on the equivalent figure for 1998, the ACLU noted on Tuesday.
And last year, 70 network television shows – almost a third – hired no female directors at all, the advocacy group said.
There was also a significant element of racial bias, the group found, with 69% of all the television show episodes analysed by researchers for the ACLU having been directed by white men.
The ACLU has prepared letters with reports of statistics and complaints from individuals in the industry that amount to “systemic failure” to hire female directors at all levels in the film and television industry.
The letters will be sent on Tuesday to relevant government agencies that have the power to investigate and take legal action against studios and other companies in the industry that are found to be breaking employment laws.
ACLU researchers found that the number of women studying at leading film schools in the US was roughly on a par with men. And films directed by women do well at prestigious competitions such as the Sundance film festival, Migdal said.
“There is no shortage of talent,” she added. “But then the men get picked up by the studios and the women don’t. It’s blatant and it’s widespread across the industry. When you have statistics and a lot of complaints from individuals, it shows a pattern.”
The ACLU letters will go to the federal agencies the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC) and the Labor Department, and the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing.
Numerous studies in recent months have shown entrenched bias against women on the screen, behind the camera and writing the shows and movies.
But the ACLU said nothing is being done.
“The laws on employment discrimination are no different for Hollywood than they are for a factory or any other business,” Migdal told the Guardian.
An EEOC investigation, for example, has the power to force conciliation and compliance from a movie studio or be faced with a federal lawsuit, she said.
One female director with decades of experience said Hollywood worked by its own rules, which can be alluring but also allowed executives to say wildly inappropriate things. “Sometimes showrunners will say, ‘This isn’t a good show for a woman director, or our actors are hard on women,’” said the director in a report in the New York Times on the ACLU’s campaign. The director spoke on condition of anonymity because she feared career repercussions for speaking out.
“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.”
Meanwhile a blog on Tumblr called Shit People Say to Women Directors has been deluged with reports from women in the film and TV business complaining about untrammeled sexism.