The Directors Guild of America has some new numbers out about the percentage of episodes of each major show that are directed by men. And they’re impressively terrible: white women directed 11 percent of the 2,600 episodes the guild analyzed, while women of color directed just 1 percent of episodes.
Of the shows that had no episodes directed by women, Fringe, iCarly, Victorious, and Weeds all have a female lead, and Burn Notice, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Justified, and Leverage, all have significant female characters. Bored to Death had no female directors, but it’s a comedy about three white dudes. Of the shows where fewer than 15 percent of the episodes were directed by women, Army Wives had 8 percent of its episodes directed by women, Cougar Town had 9, and True Blood had 10 percent. Again, all shows with ostensible female leads, where networks seem relatively confident that the stories involved can be brought to life by men. The pattern doesn’t really go in the opposite direction, though: there are just a handful of shows that have a significant number of episodes directed by women, like Hung with 60 percent, and Mad Men with 31 percent.
We talked about this a bit in comments last week in the context of Maureen Ryan’s piece on women writers, but if we’re going to assume that there’s some essential insight about their own gender that men and women bring to writers’ rooms and directors’ chairs, then we should see a lot more parity in writing and directing: there are a lot of female characters on television. And if some men and women are uniquely good at writing and directing stories about people of the opposite gender, there’s no reason men would have an exclusive lock on that ability to see beyond themselves. I agree that we shouldn’t be looking for strict parity here, but there is no way that there are 82 men who want to direct television episodes for every 12 women who do.
And while it’s great that the DGA put out these numbers, I am vastly curious how the membership plans to address them. Television directing jobs are a finite resource. Unless men are willing to give up some work they have now, the numbers aren’t going to get better in the immediate future. And if the networks aren’t very aggressively hiring and mentoring women to prepare them to replace men as they get out of the game, things are going to get better for a very long time.