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U.S. Government Agencies Probe Sexist Hiring Practices In Hollywood

CREDIT: WIKICOMMONS/RAINDOG808
CREDIT: WIKICOMMONS/RAINDOG808

On Wednesday, the ACLU announced a federal investigation into sexist hiring practices in Hollywood is underway. In response to an official request by the ACLU of Southern California and the ACLU Women’s Rights Project, the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs are “launching a wide-ranging and well-resourced investigation into the industry’s hiring practices.”

Melissa Goodman, director of the LGBTQ, Gender and Reproductive Justice Project at the ACLU of Southern California, wrote in her statement:

In the year since our report was released, there has been much lip-service paid to furthering opportunities for women, but few definitive steps and no serious movement in the number of women directors hired. We are confident that the government will corroborate our work and push industry leaders to address the ongoing violations of the legal and civil rights of these directors and of all women in the film and television industries.

The EEOC, which typically does not comment on ongoing investigations, has not confirmed that this probe is taking place. But seven months ago, the organization reportedly began interviewing female directors, speaking with over 50 of them, and has, according to the L.A. Times, broadened “its circle of interview subjects to include studio executives, producers, agents, actors and male directors.”

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Inside The ‘Secret Meeting’ To Solve Gender Inequality In HollywoodOn October 14, 44 Hollywood insiders met at the Pacific Design Center in Los Angeles. This co-ed group of leaders came…thinkprogress.orgThe American Civil Liberties Union issued its request a year ago, using heaps of data and testimony from women directors to make the case that Hollywood is so viciously sexist that its employment practices constitute a civil rights violation. The formal inquiry called for “an investigation into systemic failure to hire women directors at all levels of the film and television industry,” arguing that the status quo was a violation of Title VII.

A key statistic from the ACLU’s letter was pulled from a study out of USC Annenberg that found only 1.9 percent of directors of the top-grossing 100 films of 2013 and of 2014 were women. (The numbers in independent film, it turns out, are not a whole lot better.) As for television: 70 television shows — so, 31 percent of all the shows on air in the 2013–2014 season — did not employ a single female director.

The ACLU spent more than a year gathering research on discriminatory hiring practices in Hollywood, including the harder-to-measure experiences of implicit bias, like a studio essentially saying they want a director who is “into action” to send a message that only male candidates need apply. The research also involved teasing out the ways in which neutral mechanisms can “have the effect of shutting women out,” as Ariela Migdal, senior staff attorney at the ACLU, and Melissa Goodman, director of the LGBTQ Gender and Reproductive Justice Project of the ACLU of Southern California, told ThinkProgress at the time, like a dependence on word-of-mouth recruiting and short lists, which, what do you know, often have no women on them.

Only 28 Percent Of Independent Film Directors Are WomenA just-released study on the state of women working behind the camera in independent films reveals that we have, once…thinkprogress.orgThere is precedent for the type of action the ACLU says the EEOC is currently taking. In the 1960s and 1970s, federal agencies were called upon to address gender and race discrimination in Hollywood. But those efforts, which involved the EEOC, the OFCCP, the California Advisory Committee to the United States Commission on Civil Rights, the Department of Justice, and the General Services Administration, fizzled out by the mid ’70s. Even after the whole rigmarole of holding hearings, issuing reports, and settling with some unions and studios, the impact of those efforts was insignificant. Perhaps you heard some rumblings about just how white the Oscars have been lately?

Last October, a group of nearly 50 Hollywood insiders met at a summit organized by Sundance Institute and Women in Film, Los Angeles, to try to battle gender discrimination from within the industry. They emerged with four main ideas: Advocating “unconscious bias” training throughout the film and television industries; developing and launching a gender parity stamp to recognize entities and projects that demonstrate progress toward gender equality; piloting a sponsor/protégé program; and having self-identified ambassadors spread the word about these plans to the studios, networks and agencies.

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But none of their efforts including tackling one of the more high-profile challenges women face in Hollywood (and everywhere else in America): The pay gap. As Jennifer Lawrence wrote in Lenny Letter last fall, she discovered she was paid less than her male American Hustle costars after the Sony Hack, and she was not alone. Charlize Theron found she would be earning $10 million less than her male costar in The Huntsman, Chris Hemsworth; she was able to negotiate a $10 million raise. But the problem extended beyond actress all the way to the executives: Columbia Pictures co-presidents of production Michael De Luca and Hannah Minghella have the same exact job, and De Luca makes almost $1 million more than Minghella.

Should the EEOC find that a pattern of discrimination exists, the L.A. Times reports, “it could take legal action against the studios or talent agencies, or seek a solution through mediation. But the complicated process by which films are greenlighted and directors chosen makes a legal path difficult, due to the large number of people involved in hiring, including agents, managers, producers, studio executives and the Directors Guild of America.”