The ACLU Wants the Government to Investigate Hollywood’s Gender Bias

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Michelle MacLaren, recently hired, and fired, to direct Wonder Woman. Photo: Angela Weiss/Getty Images

The American Civil Liberties Union is officially asking state and federal governments to investigate Hollywood's gender gap, particularly against female directors. In letters sent to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and other agencies, the ACLU called for an inquiry into "the widespread exclusion of women directors from employment in directing episodic television and feature films." According to a USC study cited by the ACLU, less than 2 percent of the highest-grossing films of 2013 and 2014 were directed by women, and one third of television shows covered had never hired a female director. And despite Hollywood's lip service in favor of diversity, things don't appear to be getting better on the ground floor; a recent DGA study found that only 18 percent of first-time television directors were women. 

To combat the common industry argument that the gender gap is proof only that there aren't enough talented female directors, the ACLU is also asking agencies to investigate the hiring processes at major Hollywood studios, which it says is heavily reliant on social connections that mean men only hire other men. And when female directors do get in the pipeline, the ceiling on their careers is often lower than it would be for men. "If you make an independent film and reach the gold standard, and your film is chosen to be at the Sundance Film Festival, and it sells at Sundance, or gets festival play and wins audience awards — the studios after that seem to offer, if anything, women a very small project," an anonymous female director told the ACLU. "They don’t put the kind of budgets behind women that they risk with less experienced men."

Though many studios have diversity initiatives aimed at bringing in more female voices, the ACLU called these efforts "ineffective" and claimed the film industry rarely enforces its own internal diversity agreements. "Real change is needed to address this entrenched and long-running problem of discrimination against women directors," the organization concluded. "External investigations and oversight by government entities tasked with enforcing civil rights laws is necessary to effectuate this change."