July 1, 2015

Is Hollywood Really Sexist? These Top Female Filmmakers Speak Out

Ava DuVernay
Is Hollywood really as sexist and discriminatory against female directors as people say, or are we all just being a bunch of drama queens?

Bloomberg asked that question to several female filmmakers, including Twilight director Catherine Hardwicke, former DGA president Martha Coolidge, and Oscar nominee Lexi Alexander, and their answers are pretty eye-opening and -- well -- straight up depressing. 

At this point, if you don't see that there's something wrong, or at the very least, questionable about the hiring practices of Hollywood studios, as well as the overall treatment of women in the industry, all you need to do is look around a film set, or open your browser and read the Shit People Say to Women Directors Tumblr. If you're still not convinced of any discriminatory treatment, then that Bloomberg video might've filled you in on the struggles women face as they work try to find work in the industry. If you're still not convinced, perhaps ask yourself why the ACLU has launched a campaign asking state and federal agencies to investigate the hiring practices of the major studios in Hollywood, as well as TV networks, the Directors Guild, and talent agencies. (If you haven't signed the ACLU's petition, you can do that here.)

The solution to this problem, if there is a problem -- and I only say "if" because I'm trying (barely) to be objective, is complicated. It's a complicated issue after all. The ACLU's demand for an inquiry into Hollywood's hiring practices is a great place to start, since, obviously, there needs to be evidence of wrongdoing before any legal action can take place. But the Bloomberg video is a great place for all of us to start to gain some insight and perspective on a side of the film industry we may know nothing about. I'm sure we've all seen and/or experienced sexism and discrimination while working on a film, and unfortunately these are not isolated incidents. The problem is systemic.

And to all those who will undoubtedly respond to this by saying, "People should be hired based on talent and capability," I 100% agree. In fact, if the industry actually did that, there would be more women working in film. Period.     

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34 Comments

Made it! Let the comments begin

July 1, 2015 at 3:33PM

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I think it would be great to see more equal representation behind the camera. I've heard a lot of bad stories about how women in filmmaking get treated, and I think there's a pretty clear inequality in the actual movies made in Hollywood storytelling, as well. In my university's film program I did not know very many women, despite a 3:2 ratio of women to men at the school overall. The women I did know, with only one exception, were on the producer side of things and didn't care for production crew roles. I'm curious why that is. The existing male-skewed culture of film crews probably doesn't help encourage women to get involved.

July 1, 2015 at 3:48PM

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Philip Heinrich
Director, Producer
949

I wanted to support this video but I can not. This should have been a rough cut because the message is off. First the lead in is problematic. The main photo is misleading. Ava DuVernay is not in this video and there are no representations of African American women at all. One woman discourages women become filmmakers should have been edited out. And finally, the proposal of having two diversity grouping is as flawed as having one that men of color are the preferred hire.

July 1, 2015 at 4:11PM

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Goddamn, I'm glad SOMEONE said something about it.
The American feminism argument is funny: see, it only applies when White women are the center-point and this video is just another form of proof of that. However when it comes to supporting ALL women, especially those of color....*crickets*

Ava's image being used to leverage the argument, the "Black man" mention early on; I've seen this time and time again. This is ONLY relevant when there is a White image attached. But total silence when women of Color are the subject points (and usually are by a much larger margin).

There ARE in fact oppressive divides as well as sub-divides within this country and globally.

But see, no one will say that...

July 6, 2015 at 6:37PM

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"In crowd scenes there is only 17 percent women".. when I go to a club there is similar amount of women also. I'm kind of frustrated about that too :) That joke aside I really don't care about Avengers and who is going to be employed and overpaid. There is almost nothing honest about that kind of movie and in Hollywood in general. Incoming wave of low b films will allow people to stand out regardless of gender. F* Hollywood, I wouldn't feel better about it even if woman were employed there 51 percent..

July 1, 2015 at 5:34PM, Edited July 1, 5:39PM

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I think it depends on the type of clubs you go to ;)

July 2, 2015 at 8:23AM

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Will Poole
Director/Producer/Writer
191

On an article about whether or not Hollywood is sexist your contribution is "I really don't care"?

July 3, 2015 at 3:35AM

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Paul Kachris-Newman
DP, Writer, Editor, & SoundClown
307

Funny. That's what you said to me when I cut your hair last.

July 9, 2015 at 7:28PM

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Hi If a woman can direct and has the creative vision she should be considered for the production if her style of direction and vision meets the needs of the film. I do however have a problem with the 'Shit people say to women directors' tumbler. As with any anonymous forum people can make stuff up and some of the story's sound made up.

Equality yes but tumblr no haha.

July 1, 2015 at 5:57PM, Edited July 1, 5:57PM

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I really have a huge issue with that Tumblr, too. A ton of it's clearly bogus, mixed in with some real, and some of it's utterly irrelevant. The thing is, if I'm the director, I have the right to fire people if they say shitty things about my gender/sexual orientation/choice of clothing/whatever. And I have done that, twice. As a director, you're not powerless, even on commercial projects. Not at all. Someone sexually harasses you or one of your crew? Fire their ass, then gloat about it instead of whining about being a victim. 'Cause you are THE BOSS on set. And when it comes to producers treating you badly? Don't work with them. Why would you take a project from a producer who's an a-hole? There's plenty of producers who aren't. Finally, this business is really hard for everyone. So maybe don't try to just be a director for hire- own your projects, and make it so nobody can say no to you. It's the only way, unless you're related by blood or other things to the 'powers that be'. The trick, I'm learning, is to not need those fuckers. Then, they want/need you.

July 2, 2015 at 10:21AM, Edited July 2, 10:22AM

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Patrick Ortman
I tell stories. Sometimes for money. Sometimes, not.

Here's what I don't get. Why don't female filmmakers align their directing careers towards the more lucrative filmmaking? I don't see any doing super hero style, disaster style, action style movies that says- "yeah, she'd be perfect for the job."
Granted, lots of male directors are a bunch of directors for hire. But I say, get the best person for each job." Only noteworthy directress I've come across made the Babadook.
Does anyone find it patronizing that a woman was chosen to direct Wonder Woman movie? Or a black woman set to direct Black Panther comic movie?
To me this is as funny as when you watch 80s 90s teenage television shows and a black kid, Asian kid and white kid go to the mall to meet girls. ANd who do they come across? A black girl, a white girl and Asian girl- perfectly mirroring each other as they approach.

July 1, 2015 at 6:29PM

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Vincent Gortho
none
1075

Oh c'mon, Bigelow would be (or rather IS) an ideal director for that crap. Who you kidding?

July 1, 2015 at 7:36PM, Edited July 1, 7:37PM

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Vincent, did you watch the clip and hear the statistics? Women desperately want to direct those movies. But studios won't hire them.
One woman wrote a script and got a major female star and a powerful female producer attached. They are so entrenched in the Hollywood system that they feel a male needs to direct it.
Women cannot get Hollywood jobs. That's the point.

July 2, 2015 at 4:00AM

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Charlie K
1361

yeah. I watched it. I'm not really talking about singular cases. Plenty of similar scenarios happen with men. But in general.

July 2, 2015 at 6:41PM

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Vincent Gortho
none
1075

I also desperately want to direct those movies... but the studios won't hire me.

July 3, 2015 at 3:27AM

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ASDF

July 1, 2015 at 7:10PM, Edited July 1, 7:17PM

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Brian Anthony
Student
366

If a woman could prove her skills would make the film extraordinary, a producer or director would be foolish to pass on her. They're not in it for the money or anything;) Go ask Tiny Fey how do do a comedy. You think they would pass, because hey we don't need to gross a billion dollars ...."she's just a girl". Oh please. Your work stands for itself. This is as moronic as the "systemic problem" in the video game industry, and tech, and app developers and engineering, ALL keeping women out. There are simply MORE men, because more guys are film geeks, gamers, nerds, ect, so MORE men are naturally working in those fields. How about all those male nurses and elementary teachers=) Care to guess why they are the minority in those fields? Don't see the ACLU investigating that problem too much?

July 1, 2015 at 8:28PM, Edited July 1, 8:31PM

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Josh.R
Motion Designer/Predator
908

I agree that hiring a woman director because you have a quota of women you need directing is ludicrous and insulting (I am a woman director). I don't want the job just because I'm a woman, I want it because I'm the best for the job, that you can afford and has the right vision for the film. That said, women should be allowed the same chance as men and I don't know if they are. It's easy to say that you considered a woman for the job but just chose the man and it could still be subtle discrimination. It's hard to say.

July 1, 2015 at 10:02PM

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Janet Swainston
Director/writer
8

Well, the problem with that logic is that for it to make sense, it would mean that being a woman and being a great director are mutually exclusive, which is nuts. The problem with asking this question is that the industry is not fair, so therefore one group is not even given the chance. Hence the point of pushing for more women, its not about "meeting some quota" its about being fair and giving hungry directors work.

July 3, 2015 at 12:06AM

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Gvickie Xiong
Editor/Cinematographer/Director
791

EDIT: Why the hell did this get reposted like 5 time NFS? You guys really need to fix this.

July 3, 2015 at 12:06AM, Edited July 3, 12:08AM

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Gvickie Xiong
Editor/Cinematographer/Director
791

So, Josh, if a director were given a $34M budget to direct a feature, and it grossed $400M, you would say he proved his skills? I would.
But what if he were a she, as in Twilight, directed by a woman. She had trouble getting her next job.
If this is a business, then who wouldn't want someone who gave you an 11x return on your millions?

July 2, 2015 at 4:05AM

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Charlie K
1361

x

July 2, 2015 at 4:05AM, Edited July 2, 4:08AM

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Charlie K
1361

There are lots of factors when it comes to a film's success. Twilight itself was a terrible movie and was successful on name recognition alone. You be hard pressed to find anyone that would admit the first movie was well directed. Let be honest here=) Hardwicke got Red Riding Hood after Twilight, so what's the problem? It didn't do as well, so looking at IMDB, she's doing some series, ect. The industry is fickle. Did she get her shot? Yup. 2 Shots actually. What more can you ask for? Who knows what kind of person she is, how well she gets along with people, her contacts, friends, ect. For anyone to claim women aren't getting their shot is ludicrous. There are still a crap load more men, so by sheer numbers more men are going to get the jobs. Maybe they're better buddies with other important people. Thats the way the game is played. Life isn't fair. Hollywood certainly isn't fair and anyone trying to artificially even the odds is doing a disservice to everyone. Want to make a film and not have to deal with Hollywood, find your own financing or use Kickstarter, then show everyone at Sundance how its done=)

July 3, 2015 at 6:04PM

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Josh.R
Motion Designer/Predator
908

Studios and film financiers are risk adverse and ready to lay blame with the artist to rationalise their own failures. Working in the industry for 12 years, it's mind blowing the extent to which the suits will go to mitigate risk, including meddling with the project and creating the failure they were fearing. Bigger the budget, the more so. Smaller and novice financiers are as bad, wary of failure, they often adopt the conventional studio concepts like that classic notion of casting any name actor to secure sales, even if it's D-list has-been. If they feel obligated to address inequality they will always fall back to a conservative position rather than be at the helm of a failed production. Not to say it isn't largely old fashioned chauvinism, but its hard for any talented person to break into feature directing much less have a successful career. Catherine Hardwicke followed Twilight with Red Riding Hood, which bombed badly. That's hard for any director to come back from, but it was also a terrible movie. Was it her fault or did the studio meddle with her vision? In any case a massive critical and financial failure is going to sideline any director for a while, fair or not. Same with Lexi Alexander's Punisher: War Zone, a disaster. This business is a field of land mines, it's hostile and at any given moment your one step away from disaster. Any progress in this business will be relatively slow. This doesn't address the problem but it's something that wasn't at all examined in that piece. E

July 1, 2015 at 8:33PM

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eric wadsworth
Director, Storyboard artist, VFX artist.
105

awesome post, eric.

July 1, 2015 at 11:16PM

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Vincent Gortho
none
1075

Hopefully things change. I would like to see a true variety of faces and people in the film/tv world. If anything, it just makes it a more interesting, nicer place to work in. :)

July 2, 2015 at 8:30AM

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Will Poole
Director/Producer/Writer
191

Yes the industry is sexist to women, when you have such a low pool of women directors on a list with a "catch 22" style that requires you to have worked in order to be on the list but then not hiring women so they can fit that so called list. To such a degree that women on a higher ladder cant lend a hand because that person will be in competition with them, this would not be such an issue if the pool of women directors wasn't so small!

And people, this is not about "fitting some quota," its about being fair. How so? Because you cant find the "best person for the job" when someone is holding the door closed for the rest of the other gender to even be in the same consideration.

That's straight privilege thinking, its time we all become more aware of it.

July 3, 2015 at 12:20AM, Edited July 3, 12:21AM

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Gvickie Xiong
Editor/Cinematographer/Director
791

Cold facts: women make up 51% of the U.S. population but a tiny fraction of the readership of sites like this one. See for yourself the shocking and shameless sexism:

http://www.alexa.com/siteinfo/nofilmschool.com

July 3, 2015 at 11:13AM, Edited July 3, 11:13AM

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William, check out the stats for specifically male-oriented sites like menshealth, askmen, GQ, and even porn sites. Then check out the stats for technical filmmaking sites like NFS, dvxuser, and philipbloom.net.

If you think this isn't proof of a large and insidious conspiracy, then I don't know what is.

July 4, 2015 at 10:04PM

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finally someone who gets it

July 12, 2015 at 2:55AM

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Brian Anthony
Student
366

Maybe if there were more women directors we could have one mystery or crime series (ehem HBO) that is not centered around rape or violence against women.

July 8, 2015 at 10:33AM, Edited July 8, 10:33AM

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Sam Fuller
Creative Director
79

Perhaps if there were more female directors we could have one crime or mystery drama that is not centered around rape or violence against women. (ehem HBO)

July 8, 2015 at 10:37AM

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Sam Fuller
Creative Director
79

I dont care about Hollywood film but it seems the best way to break in would be to make a decent indie film so in terms of that I guess I have some observations.

My little daughter is already video crazy so this would be my advice to her.

@Dont avoid tech even if it hurts and isnt as much fun as critical theory and the history of feminism in film (very short and recent course). Cameras, sound recorders and editing suites are core and will get you in the door to film outfits ad taken more seriously than the nth whatever assistant or wrangler. And hell ... (see next point)
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@Make your own stuff - not just as graduation films but all the time - its constant skills development and contact with people whom go on to sets everywhere. Whence the delusion that useful film contacts are made at cafes, colloquia , seminars etc - look at the backstory of most good indie directors - they made stuff without waiting around for the call from above.

@Don't hang back - half the time a female is proposed for a directing role in our group she demurs saying 'I'm not sure I'm ready - I'd rather first or produce'. Maybe its cultural or politeness but too late - the offer has moved on to the less qualified males with their hands waving desperately.

@Flog your stuff - I've seen many directors hawking their shorts/ trailers/pitches around for ages before they got funded and on the escalator. Never seen a female do it. And I'm not talking indiegogo / kickstarter - real foot/phone/mail work.

As someone else commented - talent does not out by itself or quality of a project etc but quality plus quantity plus insistent promotion - thats unstoppable.

July 10, 2015 at 7:03PM

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