ACLU Seeks Government Inquiry Into Hollywood Gender Bias

By Jonathan Handel

The ACLU on Tuesday asked three state and federal agencies to take steps to end gender disparities in the hiring and recruiting of movie and TV directors, hoping that government intervention may succeed in ending what the organization called outright discrimination, where statistical reports and moral suasion have failed.

In letters to the agencies, the civil rights organization called for government investigation of studios, networks and talent agencies into what it called systemic “overt sex stereotyping and implicit bias.” If one or more do investigate and find bias, they could file legal charges.

Related: Female-Directed Films Get Smaller Distribution Deals Than Male Counterparts, Study Says

“External oversight and pressure are needed to fix this long-running civil rights problem,” said Melissa Goodman, director of the L.G.B.T., Gender and Reproductive Justice Project at the ACLU of Southern California in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter. “This is a severe and stark problem.”

The letters, detailed missives fifteen pages each, are backed up with footnotes referencing the numerous studies of hundreds and top film and TV episodes that have found that women directed less than 5 percent of top grossing films in recent years and under fifteen percent of recent TV episodes.

The ACLU letters follow an investigation by the organization in which it acquired anecdotal evidence from about fifty women directors. That investigation, in turn, was prompted by complaints from a handful of women directors, said Goodman.

The DGA has taken some steps to combat gender disparities, said Goodman, but she added that those steps are “widely viewed as ineffective” and that one of them, a program in which women can shadow a working director on the job, was viewed as “demeaning,” since men weren’t expected to do so.

The DGA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The three agencies receiving the ACLU letters are the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, California Department of Fair Employment and Housing and the Labor Department’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs.

Goodman declined to speculate on the likelihood they would investigate, but said that the ACLU was selective about asking for agency investigations.