LOS ANGELES (AP) — The government has yet to respond to the American Civil Liberties Union’s allegations of discrimination against female filmmakers, but Hollywood is certainly talking about it.
More than 1,700 industry professionals have signed a petition supporting the ACLU’s call last month for a federal investigation into Hollywood hiring practices, ACLU attorney Melissa Goodman said Monday. Celebs are also discussing the issue on red carpets.
“Obviously we need to create more opportunities. It’s not an even playing field,” Nicole Kidman said Tuesday as she arrived at Women in Film’s Crystal + Lucy Awards. “By having a dialogue, it helps.”
Goodman agrees. While she’s optimistic for a formal response, she’s gratified by the informal one so far.
“We have been very excited by… the conversations this has started,” she said. “One of the most amazing things is just the sheer number of women who have spoken out about gender bias they’ve experienced. I feel like it’s so much more in the public consciousness, which is so important.”
In letters to federal and state agencies, including the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the ACLU cited statistical evidence from various studies and anecdotal accounts from more than 50 female directors to support its allegations of discrimination. The agencies are not obliged to respond, though the EEOC has investigated unfair treatment against women and other minorities in the entertainment industry before.
Actress Kate Mara suspects discrimination could be at play, based on her experiences.
“I’ve been acting for more than half my life and I could count on one hand the amount of female directors I’ve worked with — and I’ve worked with countless male directors,” she said at the Women in Film event. “So I don’t know. I really hope that changes.”
Studies show women represent a tiny percentage of directors of studio movies, and have for decades. One study shows women directed four percent of top-grossing films over a 12-year period ending last year. Another puts the number around seven percent for last year. But men and women attend film schools in equal numbers and are equally likely to have their work accepted at festivals.
“Transparent” creator Jill Soloway is keenly aware of the challenges facing female directors in Hollywood, and she gets why men keep hiring men, but she only recently considered it might be a crime.
“We all write and create things that make us feel safe, so straight white males are naturally going to write things that make them the hero, and they are naturally going to hire their friends who make it easier for them to tell stories about people like them. I used to actually believe that that wasn’t illegal,” she said at Tuesday’s award ceremony. “Since the ACLU (action), and over the past couple years really understanding what privilege looks like and what inherent bias looks like, it actually is amoral and it is illegal to only tell stories about straight white men and always make them the hero.”
She advocates “disrupting and questioning practices all the way from beginning to end: Who’s acting? Who’s writing? Who’s producing?”
“Selma” director Ava DuVernay, one of the Women in Film honorees, said every effort matters when it comes to diversifying the entertainment business.
“I applaud anyone who is looking into what the unequal nature of our industry is and is really deconstructing it to try and solve it,” she said. “So whether it’s the ACLU or artists like myself who are just doing the work every day, it’s all really important.”
Increased attention on the issue, and knowing the government might get involved, could prompt some to take action, said actress and “The Mindy Project” creator Mindy Kaling in a recent interview.
“I think if it can make employers like me hire more women — you hope people are inspired to do it out of excitement to have different points of view or just to have varied types of talent working for you — but if you have to do it out of fear, great. Whatever it takes,” Kaling said. “I do think things like this are what can spur change.”
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