The XX Factor

The ACLU Demands an Investigation Into Hollywood’s Gender Discrimination

Kathryn Bigelow, pictured at the 2010 Academy Awards, remains the only woman to win the Best Director Oscar. 

Photo by Gabriel Bouys/AFP/Getty Images

Gender bias in Hollywood is so entrenched that it seems insurmountable, but the New York Times reports that the ACLU is confronting the behemoth anyway. “On Tuesday the American Civil Liberties Union will ask state and federal agencies to investigate the hiring practices of Hollywood’s major studios, networks and talent agencies, and possibly bring charges against them,” Cara Buckley at the New York Times writes, “for what the organization described as rampant and intentional gender discrimination in recruiting and hiring female directors.”

The ACLU of Southern California, which is leading the effort alongside the national ACLU Women’s Rights Project, has details on the investigation, which could reveal whether Hollywood studios are disregarding state and federal regulations banning discrimination against women. They have plenty of statistical evidence to bring to the table:

Last year, 70 network shows—nearly a third—hired no women directors at all. The numbers for women remained static from the previous report. White men directed 69 percent of all television episodes analyzed. “Women directors simply aren’t getting a fair opportunity to succeed, because of systemic discrimination,” said Ariela Migdal, senior staff attorney with the ACLU Women’s Rights Project.

The go-to excuse for these discrepancies is the claim that there’s not enough women in the pipeline who have enough experience for these jobs. But according to ACLU lawyers, female students “are well represented in prominent film schools such as USC, NYU and UCLA,” with a “roughly equal” number of women as men focusing on directing. What’s more, the number of women being hired for Hollywood jobs has remained static or worse for two decades: “In 2014, women were only 7 percent of directors on the top 250 grossing films, [which is] 2 percentage points lower than it was in 1998.”

There’s reason to believe that women are held to a higher experience standard than men when it comes to directing jobs. Take, for instance, Michelle MacLaren, who was set to be the first female director of a major superhero flick, departing the set of Wonder Woman so hastily. Variety reported that inside sources told them that studio executives “became increasingly concerned about MacLaren directing a large-scale, action-packed production when her experience was limited to the small screen.”

“With most of her recent experience coming from quiet, small-scale kitchen sink dramas like Game Of Thrones and The Walking Dead,” Mike Vago of the AV Club sarcastically wrote, “[MacLaren] clearly didn’t have enough experience with battle scenes or complicated location shooting.” Contrast her experience with the Russo brothers, who directed Captain America: Winter Soldier and are on tap for three more Marvel films—prior to helming some of the biggest superhero movies of all time, the Russo brothers worked mostly in sitcoms such as Community and Happy Endings

It’s easy to dismiss this as a bunch of rich people haggling over a few choice jobs. But Hollywood movies and TV shows really define American culture, both in our eyes and around the world, more than nearly any other single institution or industry. The male-heavy leadership has led to that vision being a weird, corrupted one: a world where men seem to outnumber women 10-1, where women disappear from view after they turn 40, while elderly men are treated like they’re at the height of virility, and where no one has noticed that men yelling “Let her go!” at a villain manhandling the damsel is a cliché that needed to die years ago. Hollywood needs to hire more women—not for the sake of those women, but for the sake of those of us in the audience who are done watching the same male power fantasies regurgitated again and again.