While the #OscarsSoWhite controversy is grabbing the most attention these days, a group of federal lawyers in Los Angeles is quietly interviewing Hollywood’s top women directors in a wide-ranging investigation into alleged gender bias.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission sent letters to women directors last October and began conducting extensive interviews late last year in a probe prompted by the American Civil Liberties Union.
“I ended up talking … about my career for a good 3-4 hours,” Lexi Alexander, a director on television’s “Arrow,” wrote this month in the Huffington Post. “By the time I was done I felt like I had just finished a three-day full contact kickboxing tournament… bruised and emotionally beat.”
Alexander said that as she left the building, she spotted a “high-profile female director” making her way through security. “It wouldn’t have been appropriate to introduce myself because we’re not all ‘out’ on how much we’re part of this investigation,” she wrote, “but I will never get that image out of my head of her laughing while being patted down by a security guard… and me knowing that she wouldn’t be laughing in a few hours, once her interview was done.”
Hollywood’s employment and casting practices came under sharp scrutiny after the Academy Awards nominated an all-white slate of actors and actresses for the second year in a row. Several celebrities have said they will boycott the awards and the Academy has announced sweeping changes in its membership rules.
Studies have shown widespread racial and gender imbalance favoring whites in movies and television. A recent report by the Directors Guild of American found that white men made up 82.4 percent of the directors of feature films released in 2013 and 2014, and only 6.4 percent were women and 12.5 percent minorities.
Last year, the ACLU petitioned three government agencies to investigate gender discrimination against women directors, alleging a pattern of institutional bias. “We believe that the failure to hire women directors and give them a fair opportunity to succeed in the field is a civil rights issue,” said the petition.
ACLU attorney Melissa Goodman, director of the LGTQ, Gender and Reproductive Justice Project at the ACLU of Southern California, said she was “very encouraged” that the federal government will “take the problem of systematic exclusion of women directors from work very seriously.”
“One of the things I’ve been most encouraged by since we made this request to the government agencies in May is the huge numbers of women now stepping forward to talk about this problem,” she said. “What you’re seeing is that women, people of color, are fed up. They’re fed up with what is a very systematic, very long-running exclusion of women and people of color from one of the most important industries in our country.”