“Nothing is More Important Than Hiring: Nothing. Who you decide to hire impacts every part of your organization: from its values and vision to its ability to innovate, adapt and survive.“ (Stanford Grad School of Business)
The hiring statistics for women in Hollywood are dismal, and it’s not just for female directors. For all 2014 films, 85% of films had no female directors, 80% had no female writers, 57% had no female executive producers, 78% had no female editors and 92% had no female cinematographers, according to the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University.
I’m in the middle of production on a documentary about women directors and what I’m trying to figure out is, “Why?”
The award-winning, capable women I’ve interviewed (of varying races and ages) all have important things in common: drive, talent, ambition, guts, discipline. But the main one is the one most obvious and the most unavoidable: being a woman.
“That’s one career all females have in common, whether we like it or not: being a woman.” ~ “All About Eve.”
Now I have to ask you. Could you imagine a man doing this speech?
BuzzFeedPOP did a role reversal video showing what it would look like if women’s roles in films were played by men. I think it’s interesting:
It seems obvious to have to say this, but professionals deserve to be judged by their work alone. Right? To consider them based on their gender would be discriminatory. However, it seems that as a culture we haven’t escaped identifying women first by their gender identity, which for women has become closely associated to personal concerns like style, looks, and romantic relationships.
Hollywood is not the only place this happens. Check out what happens when male athletes are asked the same questions female athletes are asked:
So there’s a culture issue that women directors have to face that clearly needs addressing, but I think there’s even more to it. I believe there is a deep, systemic habit that has permeated both women and men’s reactions when it comes to the issue of hiring. A habit so simple and basic that we miss it: human beings’ tendency to gravitate toward people that remind us of ourselves.
“There’s plenty of research to show that we evaluate people more positively when we feel they’re more like us. Similarities in experience, attitude, political views, and physical appearance all increase the likelihood that people will “connect” — even if those similarities are hiding weaknesses that make the person ill-suited for the job.” Stanford School of Business
Like children playing a “matching” game our minds prefer what looks familiar.
For example, director Brad Bird is credited to have said the following about picking out director Colin Trevorrow for “Jurassic World.” “There is this guy that reminds me of me…” SlashFilm.
Like chooses like and soon it becomes the status quo.
Director Martha Coolidge had an interesting observation while being interviewed for the CT Hall of Fame. “When I applied to film school they said, “You can’t be a director! You can’t name five women directors. There ARE no women directors.” And I could only name one at that time: Agnes Varda. That’s the only one I knew.”
According to Ally Acker, there were more women directing before 1920 than in any other time in history. What exactly happened is still something I’m learning about but I think it’s fair to say that where money and status are high, so is aggressive competition. Sadly, I think unionizing may have played a part.
Let’s let director William Friedkin explain what is arguably a common “male gaze.” “I’ve been in Hollywood for fifty years and I have never met an executive of a television or movie company, or a talent agency, that was prejudiced against people of different colors or against women. I’ve never met anyone,” he said. “Now, why there are more men directing films than women, I can’t answer that. But it’s not because of prejudice.” (The Playlist)
If you read the full article you will see he is not-so-subtly suggesting that there aren’t as many women working as directors in films because men are simply better at directing.
Despite thousands of beautifully shot films and television programs that make it clear women can direct just as well as any man, this idea is deeply rooted in our culture. Even now women directors are presented as some kind of exquisite exception at which we ogle. We measure and analyze them as if they are some minor percentage of the population miraculously able to overcome some kind of “singularly female disorder.”
This brings us to the issue of child bearing as it is possibly the most quoted reason for not hiring women. But motherhood isn’t an insurmountable obstacle for women who decide they want to work.
“As a single mum who was freelance, I didn’t have the money to take time off when I had my son, so I kept the pregnancy quiet and then appeared on set when he was three days old with him strapped to me in a papoose. Everybody was shocked… I just carried on determined not to let it effect my work.” ~Trudy Bellinger, director.
There is no question that parenthood is a challenge, but it is not one that should come into play when deciding whether or not a woman can direct a film, or work at any job for that matter.
Actor Jeremy Renner made a very pertinent observation when asked about Kathryn Bigelow’s status as a “woman” director. He said, “What does having a set of ovaries have to do with directing a film? It’s through her eyes that she sees, not her mammaries or anything else that defines her as a woman.” 60 Minutes.
So what is the solution to bias, blind choices, and cultural stereotyping? Clearly we need to evolve as a culture. Meanwhile, I think we just need to keep seeing women directing and that starts with two simple words: “you’re hired.”
Editor’s note: The Director List has over 1000 female directors in their searchable database, and we have the #HireaMs database to fill your team with women in all areas of production, crew, and post production!