Peak Inequality: Investigating the Lack of Diversity Among TV Directors
Posted by NALIP on November 12, 2015
Maureen Ryan, TV Columnist
This story first appeared in the November 10, 2015 issue of Variety.
One. Zero. One. Zero. One.
That is the number of women of color who directed episodes of television in the 2014-2015 TV season at AMC, FX, HBO, Netflix and Showtime, respectively.
Only one zero is needed for “Bones,” “Supernatural,” “NCIS” and “Law & Order: SVU.” Between 2010 and 2014, not a single woman of color directed any of those long-running dramas. Yet in the same time frame, “Grey’s Anatomy” hired 21 non-white women to direct.
When it comes to the issue of diversity in Hollywood, non-white women are the proverbial canaries in the coalmine. A meaningful commitment to inclusion will mean they are hired regularly, along with white women and men of color. Their near-absence hints at much deeper institutional problems in the TV industry.
The DGA says more than 3,900 episodes of scripted television were churned out last season. ButPeak TV has not led to peak diversity behind the camera.
“Executive producers are like, ‘Well, I can’t get any agents to send [women and people of color] to me.’ Agents are like, ‘I can’t get these people approved by the network.’ The network is saying, ‘The studio won’t approve them.’ There’s a vicious cycle of people saying it’s somebody else’s fault,” says “Arrow” executive producer Wendy Mericle, one of 40 key players at various levels throughout the industry Variety interviewed for this story.
|ON THE MENU|
|According to the Directors Guild of America, the number of TV episodes has exploded over the past few years, from less than 3,000 five years ago to almost 4,000 in the 2014-15 season. But as these charts show, white men still directed the most episodic television — and overall, cable’s track record on diversity lags behind that of the broadcast networks.|
Television is a writer’s medium, unlike film, and the industry has made a modicum of long-overdue progress when it comes to diversifying the ranks of creators. But those efforts at inclusion have yet to infiltrate directorial rosters in a significant way.
Efforts to open up the ranks of TV directors have been too limited to truly alter the repetitive annual DGA reports. Adding to the problem: Women and people of color who somehow break through the hurdles at the broadcast networks are rarely of interest to cable and streaming outlets. In that segment of the industry, DGA stats reveal that efforts to nurture the careers of white women, men of color and women of color are lacking, and thus the pool of diverse directors with “prestige” credits remains tiny. The networks with the worst records acknowledge they have to do better, and point to their upcoming slates as signs of progress, but it will take more than incremental changes to reverse systemic problems.
Greater efforts could be made to alter the membership of the DGA, of course, but the irony is, diverse directors with experience are already in the guild — hundreds if not thousands of them. But if their credits are more than a year or two old, they might as well be invisible to the industry. The end result is statistical gridlock. White men constitute 31 percent of the American population, but for years, they’ve gotten more than two-thirds of directing gigs — and at some cable networks, that number is closer to 80 or even 90 percent.
Those kinds of profound imbalances led the ACLU to begin an investigation of Hollywood more than two years ago.
“What we learned through that investigation painted what I think is a disturbing picture of very long-running, systemic discrimination throughout the industry,” says Melissa Goodman, director of the LGBTQ, Gender & Reproductive Justice Project for the ACLU of Southern California. “We thought this was very important because the effects of this exclusion from director positions is a cultural matter. …the discrimination happening within culture production actually helps reinforce discrimination that happens in the wider world.” (Click here for the complete interview with Goodman.)
Some efforts to change how TV hires directors were already underway, but there’s no doubt that the ACLU inquiry, which led to an ongoing Equal Employment Opportunity Commission investigation of Hollywood’s employment of female directors, made the industry sit up and take notice.
“Now that studios are not owned by one man and they’re part of big conglomerates, they have responsibilities and they can’t just discriminate like that. They know that,” says Lexi Alexander, director of the films “Green Street Hooligans,” “Punisher: War Zone.” Alexander recently directed her first TV episode, an installment of the CW superhero show “Arrow,” and she has become an eloquent spokeswoman for women and people of color who feel excluded by the industry. On Twitter, she recently pointed out that if she or another director of Arab descent had gotten a chance to direct “Homeland,” perhaps graffiti in Arabic mocking the show would not have appeared in a recent episode.
Her passion and advocacy boil down to a simple idea: “Maybe some of the problems we have could be solved by not having one point of view and letting other people also tell stories.”
BUILDING AN ‘EMPIRE’: John Singleton directed an episode of the Fox hit last season, but getting a film director approved for a TV gig wasn’t simple.
Hollywood storytellers are in the business of creating fantasies and fictional tales, but the industry’s output masks the fact that it is an intensely practical place. Production executives need to know the directors they hire will to bring in episodes on time and on budget, and actors and crews want to work with someone who is collaborative yet decisive and efficient, and who can navigate the culture of their show.
“You want a visionary and you want someone to service the vision of another, which is just complicated, and not everyone can do both of those things,” says Gary S. Levine, president of programming for Showtime. “You’re also handing over the reins of a $4 or $5 million movie for each episode.” (Click here to read more from executives and showrunners.)
Of course, the most important people in the hiring process are usually showrunners. “It’s fair to say showrunners are generally under siege from the moment the writing begins to when the final episode has been locked and posted,” says Levine. Thus it’s not illogical for them to want to work with helmers who have delivered for them in the past.
“For a writer, I can read scripts. The problem for directors is that someone has to take a chance on them and basically put millions of dollars behind them,” says Tara Butters, an executive producer of “Marvel’s Agent Carter.”
Given that many if not most showrunners and established TV directors are white men, if no effort is made to change the system, the status quo efficiently replicates itself.
“It’s just inertia,” says a senior network executive. “You have to be actually willing to expand the talent pool and give someone a crack.”
But it’s more than just inertia. Directing TV “is a boys club and it was for many, many years,” says Mericle.
“There is discrimination going on,” says Lesli Linka Glatter, an executive producer and director of “Homeland.” “I don’t think anyone is sitting in a room twirling mustaches. I think it’s more ingrained than that.” (Click here to read more from Linka Glatter.)
“As image creators, we know the power of images. The fact that a woman or person of color does not fit the archetypal idea of what a director looks like influences people more than they might know,” says director Laura Belsey (“Criminal Minds,” “Law & Order: SVU”). “We are dealing with thousands of years of imagery that reinforce these concepts of what power looks like.”
One of the major bottlenecks in the system is that it’s difficult to get that first TV directing credit — even for John Singleton.
“Empire” executive producer Lee Daniels had to bow out of directing a season one episode of the Fox hit, and he wanted Singleton to take his place. But making that happen was far from a sure thing, reports “Empire” executive producer and showrunner Ilene Chaiken. (Click here to read the full Q&A with Chaiken.)
“The initial response was the kind of automatic response, which is ‘We can’t, he’s never done it before. He doesn’t know how,’” she says.
Singleton had already decided to move into the television realm and had spent time observing a director on the set of a different show. Through a series of meetings with her and Fox executives, she says, he convinced everyone he understood the quick pace of television, where prep time is limited and directors are expected to get through several script pages each day.
“He went through a series of interviews and went about making everybody comfortable in the way he made me comfortable, and then we gave him that opportunity that doesn’t usually get given,” Chaiken says. “But it absolutely takes advocacy.”
Chaiken says she understands the nervousness of executives who are pondering whether to take a chance on a first-time TV director. “I’m sure they’ve seen their fair share of very challenging situations,” she says. “It’s costly to them when they approve someone who turns out not to be qualified and able to manage the rigors of directing an episode.” But she also recognizes how difficult it can be for anyone to break in, even if they’ve directed in other arenas.
HITTING THE HITS: Directing stats for longest-running show on each broadcast net, 2010-14
“It’s that classic Catch-22 that plagues us in the television business,” Chaiken says. “You can’t do [TV] unless you’ve already done it.”
“Budgets are tight and expectations are high, so experience is prized. It’s hard for anyone, regardless of sex or color, to break in,” says Michael Nankin (“Battlestar Galactica,” “Defiance”).
A spokeswoman for the DGA points out that no one has to be in the guild to be hired to direct television; getting hired can begin the paperwork process that leads to admission. But if it was a challenge to get the director of “Boyz n the Hood” and “2 Fast 2 Furious” approved to direct his first TV episode, it is even more intensely difficult for a woman or person of color without connections to get that initial credit. A six-year study released by the DGA in September revealed that 82 percent of first-time episodic directors were male and 86 percent were white.
“I agree with the premise that it’s easier to be white and be male in an environment where there are already a lot of white males in the positions of authority,” says John Landgraf, CEO of FX Networks and FX Productions. (Click here to read more from Landgraf.)
But some producers are intent on bucking the system. Greg Berlanti, executive producer of “Supergirl,” “The Flash,” “Arrow,” “Blindspot,” “The Mysteries of Laura” and the upcoming “DC’s Legends of Tomorrow,” has made a vow to increase the number of women and people of color directing his superhero shows and to foster the career of newer directors. (Diverse directors on “Arrow” increased from 19 percent in 2012-2013 to 30 percent in 2014-2015.)
“We have all put into place a promise to ourselves each year to improve our numbers, so that when other people are looking for diverse directors who do this kind of show, they’ve got the credentials and there’s not a ceiling there,” Berlanti says.
“Sometimes the journeyman directors haven’t fared as well on our shows because we really try to make a movie,” says Andrew Kreisberg, who is an executive producer on the Berlanti superhero dramas. “We’ve actually had a lot more success with people who are coming in without as much experience who’ve just been young and hungry and excited, people like Antonio Negret and Thor Freudenthal. We’re actually more inclined to take a chance on somebody like Lexi Alexander who hasn’t done as much TV, but she’s coming in with all that enthusiasm and all that excitement, rather than getting someone who’s just going from show to show to show.”
When Chaiken and her fellow executive producers Daniels and Danny Strong were assembling a directing slate for “Empire,” having African-American directors was a huge priority: most of the first season’s directors were black men and women of color.
“Fox has been incredibly supportive, but they would have been happy – not happy but, you know, fine — if I had booked a bunch of really good white guys they’d worked with before,” says Chaiken. “They wouldn’t have pushed back if I had a predominantly white, male roster with just some representations of diversity.”
Chaiken’s efforts to identify and hire non-white and female directors have not flagged this season; she recently booked a first-time TV director who didn’t necessarily have A-list connections. Chaiken had worked with Cherien Dabis on “The L Word,” where Dabis had been a writer. Dabis later directed independent features, and after participating in the Fox Global Directors Initiative, she was approved to direct “Empire.”
“Shadowing,” or spending weeks observing other directors on TV sets in order to gain experience and connections, is not uncommon in the TV industry. Some of it is informal, but as of 2014, every DGA signatory — i.e., all the studios in the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers — is required to have a formal program that gives shadowing opportunities to women and people of color, most of whom have at least some directing experience.
Through these programs, participants are introduced to showrunners and other industry contacts, and in the best-case scenario, the program coordinators act as advocates and mentors who help emerging directors snare jobs. According to Tiffany Smith-Anoa’i, senior vice president for entertainment diversity and communications at CBS, the watchwords of the CBS Directing Initiative are “exposure, access and opportunity.”
“The programs are not necessarily designed to get people directing jobs. They’re designed to give them access to the people who are responsible for hiring and help them to build relationships,” says Tim McNeal, vice president of creative talent development and inclusion at ABC.
And that is the biggest problem with the programs, according to several directors interviewed for this story. In most cases, participants are not guaranteed a directing credit by the time they’ve finished the program. The weeks of shadowing may produce a connection that results in a job — or it may not. (A few directors spoke fondly of a program for women and people of color run by John Wells Productions several years ago; it typically guaranteed participants a directing credit by the time they’d completed the mentoring sessions.)
The programs vary in how long they last and how they compensate those who take part. The NBC Universal Emerging Director Program pays participants $1500 per week while they’re shadowing and covers expenses if they have to travel to a set; many pay less. NBC’s program, by the way, is unusual in that it has a “pay or play” clause: Within a year of completing the program, participants are guaranteed either a directing credit or the guild-minimum director’s fee, which program graduates can defer in hopes of getting a directing credit from an NBCU network in the future.
Smith-Anoa’i counts it as a victory that six female directors in a row have been booked on the current season of “Criminal Minds” (two were graduates of CBS’ program). After years of introducing showrunners to an array of diverse candidates, some executive producers have gotten the message that she and the network’s current executives frequently reinforce — the idea, as Smith-Anoa’i puts it, that “just one is not enough.”
Some of the shadowing programs have been in existence for years, but many are much newer, so their full effects have yet not been felt. Belsey, who went through the CBS program, said the network’s executives “have really gone to bat for me. I would not be where I am today without their efforts.”
But the programs are small: CBS takes between two and four candidates every year; NBC’s program allows for four participants per season. It’s natural to wonder if programs with such an artisanal feel will bring significant change to an industry with such glaring and systemic disparities.
Accountability is also murky. It’s unclear what penalties studios face for running programs poorly or for producing “graduates” who never actually book directing jobs. A DGA spokeswoman says “we’ve made effectiveness enforceable through arbitration,” but declined to say how that effectiveness is measured or what consequences could be meted out.
A woman of color who has directed an independent feature says she was torn when presented with an informal opportunity to shadow a director on the set of a show that has never hired a woman.
“It would be likely enriching and allow me to meet a lot of people, but would almost certainly not result in getting asked to direct the show in the future,” she says. “And I’d be dedicating a week or two away from my day job to have this experience.” (Click here to read comments from the directors interviewed for this story.)
Another woman of color who has directed films was $3,000 out of pocket when she had to spend two weeks away from home on a TV set — a shadowing experience that was not part of a formal program but was required before she could direct an episode of that show.
“It’s costing me money and we’re already not making money,” this director says. “I’m thinking, ‘How is someone who has been sidelined for years going to afford this?’ I have women director friends who are losing their houses.”
Every year, the DGA stats depict women and people of color as having to settle for less than a third of the pie; all the formal and informal efforts of various individuals and programs have not altered a deeply unbalanced situation. When it comes to the big picture, it’s fair to ask: Is any of it working?
“It hasn’t worked so far,” Linka Glatter says. “I think there’s more that everyone can do. When you have a problem, there is always more to do until it is no longer a problem. But obviously there’s a bigger issue — we need to be dealing with the employers, who need to change their hiring practices.”
But there’s a problem there, too: No one can agree on what constitutes a qualified diverse directing candidate.
Many showrunners say they want more women and people of color directing their shows, but almost all of them say the candidates they want are often booked solid and scarcity is an enormous problem.
When trying to hire women directors and directors of color, “it’s like the land-grab scene at the end of ‘Far and Away,’” says Chris Dingess, an executive producer of “Marvel’s Agent Carter.”
Yet plenty of women and people of color with directing experience, in the DGA and out of it, say they’re ready, willing and able to work — and no one will hire them. Investigating this massive disconnect requires doing a little math.
According to the DGA, around 9,600 of its 16,000 members are directors, and 14 percent of the directing members are women. The guild reports that 8.4 percent of its directing members are African-American, Latino, Asian-American and Native American. All told, that is about 2,150 diverse candidates. Of course, some women are also people of color, so that overlap reduces the overall number by an unknown amount (the DGA would not provide precise numbers).
Even if one were to err on the side of caution, one could postulate that there are between 1,800 and 2,000 diverse directors in the DGA. That should be sufficient to direct a much larger chunk of the 3,900 episodes produced in the most recent season tracked by the guild.
“I hear way too often, ‘Well, there are just no women directors. It’s just not true,” Linka Glatter says. “Maybe there’s a handful of people that get hired all the time, but you have to look a little harder than that and they’re there.”
Another issue is the differing situations of non-white men and all women. Men of color directed 15 percent of TV episodes in the 2014-2015 season, and while that number could improve, it’s more reflective of their percentage of the population, which is around 18-19 percent. During that time frame, 13 percent of TV episodes were directed by white women and 3 percent by women of color. Women are more than half of the American population, but they’re getting less than a sixth of the TV directing jobs.
“I don’t want to be seen as trying to keep men of color out of directing,” one female director of color says. “But when it comes to directors, ‘diverse’ often translates into ‘men who aren’t white.’”
The exclusion of women of all races is by no means rare: In the 2013-2013 season, 70 shows hired no women, and a fifth of all TV programs had directing rosters that were less than 10 percent female.
“Equal gender perspective in our media is a critical aspect of giving voice to the silenced half of our world’s population,” wrote film director Maria Giese in an August essay. It was Guise who went to the ACLU two years ago in an effort to have more light shed on Hollywood’s hiring practices, and the ACLU,in its letter referring the matter to the EEOC and two other government agencies, decided to focus on the treatment of women in the industry.
“It’s not actually hard to find women directors who are talented and qualified and able and willing to work,” says the ACLU’s Goodman. “Gender discrimination is illegal, and Hollywood doesn’t get a free pass to violate civil rights law just because of the product that it’s creating.”
“People hire people they’ve worked with, or they hire people their friends have worked with. The system needs to become more professional and less personal,” says Nell Scovell, a showrunner and TV director.
Another female writer/director had a simple suggestion: “The studio and networks should insist tomorrow that every show be shot with 50 percent minority and female directors.”
“That’s not even plausible. The pool is not big enough to meet those numbers,” counters a studio executive who works on diversity issues.
“If older, established (i.e. white, male directors) were paid to shadow new, diverse directors to help insure their success, that might make everyone less nervous,” the female writer/director says. Another experienced woman who has directed film and television had a similar idea: What if TV shows had two or three producing directors on staff, instead of one (or none)? Ideally, those producing directors could spend less time competing for jobs and more time helping new directors learn the ropes, just as more senior writers help guide junior members of a writing staff.
That woman has directed every year of her lengthy career, but she took one year off due to a family situation. The moment she resumed looking for work, she says she heard, “Oh, you don’t have anything current.”
In talking to executives and others with hiring power, it becomes clear that candidates without recent TV credits are at a serious disadvantage.
“Just because someone is in the DGA or just because someone has directed an independent film doesn’t make them qualified to come in and direct an episode of one of our shows,” a studio executive says. “Just because you’re a director doesn’t mean that you’re a good director or that you’re qualified to direct the television that’s being produced today. If you were a director five years ago, the technology is vastly different today.”
“If you haven’t worked in five years, that’s a long time,” Linka Glatter says. “That would be a long time for a male director. So I don’t think that has to do with gender.”
That said, for a woman or person of color looking to get back in the directing saddle, it’s a harder road. Almost everyone interviewed for this story agreed that agencies are much less likely to represent directors who are not white men — and if women and people of color do have representation, agents often don’t advocate strongly for them.
“Agents don’t want to represent women because they think we don’t make money,” one director says. In its referral letter, the ACLU stated that the agencies “provide cover to networks who can blame the lack of women directors on the fact that the agencies do not supply them with” a diverse list.
Smith-Anoa’i pointed out that booking the second directing job can be tougher than getting the first one. For that reason, she and Jeanne Mau, vice president of CBS entertainment diversity, worked extensively with two female directors with similar difficulties: Their only TV credits were three years old. “We work to build momentum up again, and with the weight of CBS behind it, it’s been very fruitful,” she says, noting that both women went on to book multiple jobs.
Still, the mixed messages about what constitutes appropriate experience levels can be intensely frustrating.
“When it comes to qualifications, they constantly change the rules on us,” Alexander says.
If being away from the game for a couple of years puts someone out of the running, “what are you saying to the woman who has directed 30 episodes of TV but has not worked in eight years, because no showrunner has hired her because she doesn’t play golf?” one female director asked.
That lack of opportunity can make it all the more galling to read the rosters of new directors that appear in the DGA magazine.
“If qualifications are a big concern, why is a showrunner bringing over a British guy who has done one commercial?” she says. “There are so many people who are clearly willing take more chances on white guys, whether it’s crew members or actors in the cast or a guy who did a cool indie film.”
This director pauses, afraid of the B word.
“It always looks bitter, it always looks like we don’t want the white guys to get jobs,” she says. “That’s not the case. We just want them to see how un-level the playing field is.”
The playing field is especially rocky away from the broadcast networks.
Looking at the numbers, it’s clear that broadcast networks have a better track record than most cable and pay-cable nets when it comes to diversity. At ABC, home of Shonda Rhimes’ “TGIT” block, not to mention “Fresh Off the Boat” and “Black-ish,” women and people of color directed a third of all episodes in the most recent season, even as the number of episodes made by the network shot up by 17 percent in the last few years.
At HBO, the total number of episodes went up by almost 60 percent since the 2012-2013 season, but the percentage of white men directing episodic TV increased as well — to 77 percent.
“The number of diverse directors on our episodes is of course not where we want them to be,” the network says through a spokesman. “We have great multicultural representation in the director’s chair in our other areas of original programming like films and specials, but series must and will improve.”
Part of the problem is that the cable, streaming and pay-cable networks may not be all that interested in directors who cut their teeth on the procedurals and sitcoms of the broadcast networks.
“Some of it is frankly snob appeal. There is a little bit of caste system within TV, where the producers of a Showtime series or an HBO series don’t really want to hire the director from an NBC series or a Fox series,” says Showtime’s Levine. “And some of it is just greater ambition in terms of the filmmaking.”
The star system that has grown up around showrunners also plays a role: As television’s reach, influence and money-making possibilities expand — and as the sheer number of scripted programs shoots up — competition for talent has gotten even more ferocious. Executives privately grouse about how hard it is to find competent showrunners, making the proven ones especially hot commodities.
“The great showrunners are star players, and I get why the networks and studios court them,” says a director who has worked television and film. “They can say, ‘This directing slate is not diverse at all or not diverse enough,’ but if the showrunner is powerful enough, what’s the studio going to do? Are they really going to make that showrunner angry — over the directing roster?”
It’s no secret that some showrunners leave the broadcast networks for the creative freedom offered elsewhere, and that autonomy extends to the realm of hiring.
“We don’t tell them what to do,” says Landgraf. “Ultimately the decision of who hires directors for shows on FX is not made by FX. It’s made by people we’ve hired who are executive producers and showrunners.”
“I do want [the FX/FXX diversity statistics] to be different two years from now,” Landgraf adds. “What I don’t intend to do is take the hiring decisions for the episodic directors out of the hands of our executive producers.”
Pointing out a network’s unbalanced DGA stats is one way to get inundated with data about diverse hires and projects in the pipeline. Showtime pointed out that women and people of color directed between 25 and 50 percent of the most recent or upcoming seasons of “Homeland,” “House of Lies,” “Billions,” “Shameless” and “The Affair.”
The reason to identify and pursue diverse directors is partly a matter of doing a “pro-social thing, but part of it is just for our own survival,” says Levine, who notes that successful Showtime directors often go on to helm films or shoot pilots elsewhere. “We need to refresh that talent pool to fill our slots for directors. The more we are out there looking for new people to introduce to the Showtime producers — I think automatically the diversity picture changes when you do that.”
“We’re programming for diverse and eclectic tastes and for an increasingly global audience. So the folks working on those titles and the folks here at Netflix serving those consumers have to increasingly be more reflective of the audience we serve and the programs we make,” says Cindy Holland, vice president of original content for Netflix. (Click here to read a Q&A with Holland.)
Netflix is still relatively new to the television game, and when it started out, its DGA stats were similar to FX’s. But in the last couple of years, while greatly increasing its output, Netflix has improved its track record somewhat, although it is still in the arena of Showtime and HBO numbers. “We absolutely want [director diversity] to increase further,” Holland says.
Directors usually face resistance when they walk on to the set of a show they’ve never worked on before, and some of that is universal — whether the director is white or non-white, male or female.
“‘We don’t want you, we want the people we like,’” is how one African-American director laughingly summed up the reaction of most crews to a new helmer. This director usually gets hired again, she notes, because she gets things done. “They love me because I’m efficient.”
But women and people of color don’t have to just be efficient, good and diplomatic: They have to endure large and small acts of aggression and resistance that white male directors don’t encounter.
“Once I was on the set and I was organizing some props in a room that needed to be in the shot for story reasons,” a female director says. “A guy from the crew says to me, ‘You can take the woman out of the kitchen but you can’t take the kitchen out of the woman!’ He thought that was funny. He thought he was buddying up to me. My reaction was to say nothing and just move on, but in my mind, I was saying, ‘There is no way you actually just said that to me. Are you serious?’ I couldn’t believe it.”
“You try to be on your best behavior. You can never be caught crying, you can never be caught raising your voice. And at the same time, watch how quickly they say ‘She doesn’t know how to make a decision,’” says a woman of color director. “I know I can’t get into shouting match with the director of photography over what I’ve asked him to do, what he is supposed to do, what I’ve been hired to do. I cannot lose my temper.”
“It takes a ludicrous amount of will and confidence to make it to the top in any Hollywood field. I think something many white males fail to recognize is how much the positive expectations and support they received played into their ability to withstand that resistance,” notes a senior television executive (who is white and male).
If women of color, men of color and white women direct more episodes of television and crews learn that resistance is futile, perhaps there will be less fodder for sites like “Shit People Say to Women Directors.” But changing a culture is easier said than done, in part because every factor that might move the needle on issues of diversity and inclusion is dependent on a host of busy, ambitious people adding more tasks and efforts to their plates.
To combat institutional hurdles and systematic bias, both conscious and unconscious, takes money, energy and time. It takes a shift in priorities. It’s reasonable to wonder if this complex problem will continue to be seen as worthy of people’s time in an uncertain environment in which the main imperative is to make money.
The fact remains that at cable channels, streaming services and broadcast networks alike, directing slates with zero diversity can still get through the system. In the 2013-2014 season, 30 percent of all TV networks had zero women directing any of their shows. Doing the math on the hiring of people of color as directors is not hard, given that at many networks, the diversity numbers for multiple shows amount to rows of zeros. Awareness of bias and institutional problems in the industry has increased, especially of late, but three years from now, five years from now, will Hollywoood have moved on to other concerns?
Perhaps not, if the ranks of creators, executive producers and show runners begin to look more like the population of America.
“In the long run, the best thing you could possibly do to improve the situation is have more showrunners that are women and people of color,” says Landgraf, who notes that FX has commissioned new programs from Pamela Adlon and Donald Glover and is working on a pilot with Singleton.
Unions could step up their efforts to diversify as well, according to Julie Plec, executive producer of “The Vampire Diaries,” “The Originals” and “Containment.” She notes that many of the new directors on her shows come from the crew, which is a common pathway to the director’s chair.
“I did a panel where a woman was saying, ‘How do we get more female directors?’” Plec recalls. “And I said, ‘You tell the cinematographers union and you tell IATSE to do more outreach to get more women into their unions, and get them working up their way up the ladder.’
“If I’m going to point the finger, I would love to see a program out of the DGA that mentors women and diverse directing members, to help them to develop so that they can direct more episodic television. And I don’t see them doing that,” says one studio executive.
Why does it matter if a woman directs a network comedy or an award-winning drama? Why is it important that African-American men and women direct a show that’s primarily about an African-American family? Couldn’t anyone do that?
“No. It matters in dozens of ways,” says Chaiken. “It matters because they’re telling culturally specific stories. There are plenty of non-African-American filmmakers who direct ‘Empire’ and they do a great job. But sometimes there are cultural nuances that might be missed. It’s also about the feeling on the set, about the interaction with the cast and the sense that this is a show that’s being made by people who are equally invested in the stories they’re telling, and have those insights and know the secret knowledge. It’s all of those things that are really important in filmmaking.”
“Studios and networks — their priority is success and that’s not a bad thing,” adds Chaiken. “That’s exactly what they’re supposed to be doing. The thing that makes the biggest difference is the recognition that this is what’s going to make us all successful. Telling new stories with new voices and diversity and representation and exciting voices that haven’t been heard is what’s going to make really good, dynamic television.”
Check this out at Variety.com