With the number of women directing films and television shows in Hollywood decreasing in recent decades, ACLU sent letters Tuesday to federal and state agencies asking for an investigation into the industry's hiring practices.
Through studies and interviews with 50 female directors, the ACLU of Southern California and the national ACLU Women's Rights Project detailed in the letters disparities in hiring women directors in both television and films and highlighted male dominance in Hollywood.
The letters were sent to the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs.
"Just because it's Hollywood doesn't mean they're not subject to the same discrimination rules," Ariela Migdal, senior staff attorney for the ACLU's Women's Rights Project told BuzzFeed News.
According to Migdal and the letters, women in the industry have often times been told "we don't hire women," or "we tried hiring a woman once." One of the directors interviewed by the ACLU said producers and studio executives repeatedly told her agent "not to send women" for job consideration. A Tumblr titled "Shit People Say to Women Directors" anonymously documents similar comments made to females in the film industry.
In 2014, women directed only 7% of the 250 top grossing films. The number is less than what it was in 1998, where 9% of the top-grossed films were directed by women. Only 1.9% of directors of the 100 top-grossing films of 2013 and 2014 were women, according to the ACLU, citing research done by Dr. Stacy Smith at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.
When Kathryn Bigelow won the Academy Award for best directing for her film The Hurt Locker in 2010, people thought things would change for women, Migdal said. "But the numbers didn't change. Women's own experiences weren't isolated. They were part of a bigger picture."
Migdal attributed this drop to a growing interest in studios making action-packed superhero films, which women are stereotyped as not wanting.
Migdal said that female directors are typecast, and told they are better suited for projects that are "women-oriented," such as romantic comedies and commercials for "girl products." Men with less experience are favored to direct horror, action, and superhero films and television shows.
A report published in April by the Sundance Institute and Women in Film's Women Filmmakers Initiative with research conducted by Smith, found that half of Hollywood's decision makers said genres like action and horror "may not appeal" to women directors.
"There's been a real reluctance to hand over these special effects, action-packed films to women," Migdal said.
Last month, Michelle MacLaren, set to direct "Wonder Woman" and be the first female in that role for a major superhero film, parted ways with Warner Brothers. In a statement at the time, Warner Brothers said McLaren and the studio ended their collaboration over creative differences. It was later announced that Patty Jenkins would direct the film.
The alleged discrimination crosses over to televisions shows as well, Migdal said. Of the more than 220 television shows – 3,500 episodes – analyzed from 2013 to 2014, women directed 14%. Nearly a third of network shows hired no women directors. The ACLU concluded that white men directed 69% of all television episodes that were reviewed.
The discriminatory practices start at entry level, the ACLU wrote in the letters, despite women being well-represented in film schools such as NYU, USC, and UCLA. A recent study over five years concluded that only 18% of first time directors are women.
Once a woman is hired for her first job, or directs her first independent film, she is "systematically underemployed thereafter," the ACLU wrote. "They find it harder to obtain steady employment compared to men."
Under state and federal law, the civil rights agencies have the authority to investigate discriminatory practices that violate employment discrimination laws. In the 1960s and 1970s, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission asked the Justice Department for help identifying employment discrimination for women and minorities.
"Our ultimate goal is to have women have an equal change," Migdal said. "You have seen industries change over time, but it doesn't happen unless it comes from the top and people feel accountable."