ACLU Wants Civil Rights Investigation of Hollywood Sexism


Major Hollywood film and TV studios have long been criticized for failing to create a level playing field for women. While insiders and studies have highlighted the entertainment industry’s one-sided hiring practices in recent months and years, now the complainants have found an ally.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California and the national ACLU Women’s Rights Project said Tuesday they will ask federal and California civil rights agencies to investigate a “systemic failure” to hire female directors in film and television.

The New York Times reports those accused of gender discrimination include Hollywood’s major studios, networks and talent agencies, and all could potentially face litigagation, for what the ACLU described as widespread and intentional discrimination.

Melissa Goodman, Director of the L.G.B.T., Gender and Reproductive Justice Project at the ACLU of Southern California, said: “Women directors aren’t working on an even playing field and aren’t getting a fair opportunity to succeed… Gender discrimination is illegal. And really Hollywood doesn’t get this free pass when it comes to civil rights and gender discrimination.”

While the group has not named any specific guilty parties, they are requesting civil rights agencies to look at statistical evidence of systemic “overt sex stereotyping and implicit bias.”

Among the evidence, are recent studies and hiring information from studios, networks and the Directors Guild of America to identify employers with the worst records, according to the Times.

Letters being sent to the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing and the Labor Department’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs detail what the group calls evidence of discrimination, and state if the agencies find proof of bias, the guilty parties could find themselves in court.

The letters include a University of Southern California study found that only 1.9% of the top-grossing 100 films over the last two years were directed by women.

Another USC study found in 2013 that the percentage of female characters speaking on screen dipped to a five-year low of 28.4% in 2012.

One April report by Stacy L. Smith, director of the Media, Diversity, & Social Change Initiative at USC’s Annenberg School, also analyzed the obstacles and opportunities women face in the industry.

A survey of 59 filmmakers, film buyers, and sellers reinforced common industry attitudes regarding commercial limitations for female-directed films.

The results, as reported by Variety:

44% said female directors are perceived to make films for a subset and/or less significant portion of the marketplace.

42% believe there is a scarcity of female directors and a small pool to choose from in top-grossing films.

25% cited women’s perceived lack of ambition in taking on directing jobs.

22% cited the skewed representation of women in decision making roles in the industry as a factor in limiting job opportunities for female directors.

12% cited the belief that women “can’t handle” certain types of films or aspects of production, such as commanding a large crew.

The ACLU has also collected stories from 50 female directors, whose agents claimed to have been told by producers to “not send women” for prospective jobs or who were personally told “we already hired a woman this season” when looking for work, the industry news site reported Tuesday.


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