ACLU accuses Hollywood of violating women directors’ civil rights

May 12, 2015, 6:45 PM UTC
Nominee for Best Director Kathryn Bigelo
Nominee for Best Director Kathryn Bigelow for "The Hurt Locker," flanked by ex-husband and fellow nominee for Best Director James Cameron for "Avatar," reacts as her movie wins for best Sound Editing and Sound Mixing at the 82nd Academy Awards at the Kodak Theater in Hollywood, California on March 07, 2010. AFP PHOTO Gabriel BOUYS (Photo credit should read GABRIEL BOUYS/AFP/Getty Images)
Photograph by Gabriel Bouys — AFP/Getty Images

It’s no secret that female directors in Hollywood face sexism. A recent study found only 1.9% of the directors of the top-growing films of 2013 and 2014 were women. A Tumblr blog Sh-t People Say to Women Directors (& Other Women in Film) is overflowing with anonymous reports of outrageous sexism.

Now, the American Civil Liberties Union is calling for a federal and state civil rights investigation.

In a 15-page letter released Tuesday (and first reported by The New York Times), the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California called for the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and other agencies to investigate the Hollywood studios and TV networks and producers for what it called a “systemic failure to hire women directors in violation of Title VII at all levels of the film and television industry.”

The ACLU said it spoke to 50 women directors, most of whom preferred not to be named, and heard stories of male-dominated shortlists that ice out women and neglected diversity programs and policies. The ACLU didn’t name specific studios or producers.

The EEOC “should gather further evidence of the barriers — both intentionally discriminatory and practices with a discriminatory effect on women — that women directors systematically experience,” said the letter signed by A.C.L.U. of Southern California Director Melissa Goodman and attorney Ariela Midgal. “Further, the Commission should examine the use of ‘lists’ for hiring directors, and investigate any disparities as to who is required (formally or informally) to go through shadowing programs in order to get episodes” in television.

It continued: “Based on available statistics and our own investigation, it is likely the agency will find systemic conduct that violates Title VII.”

The group cited precedent going back to the 1960s, when the commission took to the courts to advance gender and racial equality in film and television, prompting a Justice Department investigation. As a result, settlement pacts were reached with the Association of Motion Picture and Television Producers as well as several unions for which oversight ended in the late 70s.

The ACLU’s request is the most recent attempt to shine a spotlight on what some feel is institutionalized sexism in Hollywood. As new studies reveal, the stats show little progress has been made when it comes to women directing films. Last year, women accounted for just 7 percent of directors for the top-grossing 250 films, down two points from 1998, according to the Center For the Study of Women in Television & Film. This spring, the Sundance Film Festival and Women in Film Los Angeles unveiled the results of a three-year study revealing that only 4 percent of the 1,300 top movies released between 2002 and 2014 were helmed by women.


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