The founder members of the Women’s Steering Committee: Nell Cox, Lynne Littman, Susan Bay, Dolores Ferraro, and Victoria Hochberg.
Last night attended the 35th Anniversary of the Women’s Steering Committee at the DGA. It was a celebration of sorts. The night was honoring the women who started the committee 35 yrs ago as well as three renowned female Directors: Patty Jenkins (Monster), Mimi Leder (The Leftovers) and Betty Thomas (Private Parts). Yet, there was an undertone of sadness and defeat that was addressed, but not harped on.
Yesterday morning, I received the DGA (Directors Guild of America) monthly publication, and on the front cover was the heading- “Employers Make No Improvement in Diversity Hiring In Episodic Television: DGA Report.” This isn’t the first I’ve heard or seen of these bleak numbers. Two % of episodes of television are directed by minority females. The fact that I fall under this category, (yes, I am half Mexican) makes me feel both privileged and terrified. “Privileged” because I’ve been given a shot and am now a member of the DGA, and “terrified” because so many of my colleagues are NOT working as directors and the numbers have not improved significantly in the last few years. In fact, they are getting worse.
When I was 17 and made my first film, I had an understanding of how difficult it was to get a film made, mainly because I had to convince 50 of my friends to come to a dingy club in Hollywood at 2 am and pretend dance until 6am. In order to get them there, I had to throw a party at my house in La Mirada and then bus them in so they had no escape. It was fun to me. One of the most creative parts of film making is convincing other people to do things for you after they’ve already said no three times. That part I was willing to take on and make a part of my life- forever. I always knew I wanted to be a filmmaker. What I hadn’t considered is that I was going to be a part of a movement.
Now that I’m sorta “in the mix” as they say in the Directing pool, I am realizing, accepting, contemplating- however you want to put it- what these numbers actually mean to me personally. What are the odds that I would pick such a difficult career to break into? Kind of makes sense, considering my personality. I enjoy breaking through barriers, not taking no for an answer, proving myself and surprising other people. It can be empowering. What I’m really starting to realize is… this is not about me.
I am a part of this very small piece of the pie, whether I like it or not; whether I’m talented or deserving, or not. And gender bias is a real thing whether I’m working or not. This thing is much bigger than I, and women before me have given their all to try and change it. It’s not fair, and it’s not right. So how do we change it? How have the women who we honored last night been able to break through and KEEP WORKING?
Martha Coolidge who moderated the panel asked each of the women HOW they did it, essentially. Their stories were fascinating. Brett Ratner wrote Patty Jenkins a check for her first film. Steven Spielberg mentored Mimi Leder. Betty Thomas lied and said she was Directing a show that she was actually shadowing. The show runner got wind of this and eventually hired her to direct an episode. If you’re looking for some common denominator in their stories- which I was, it all came down to connecting with someone in authority to hire these directors, believe in them, mentor them and HIRE them. So, if women directors are not getting hired, then the disconnect must be that there isn’t enough of this happening. Meaning: show runners have to take personal responsibility to go out of their comfort zones and hire more capable women. We are out there! There are show runners who are doing this. The big one everyone knows about is of course, Shonda Shonda Shonda Rhimes. I say her name three times because she has the authority to hire 3 times over, with 3 shows on the air. She does more than her fair share of hiring women and minorities to direct her shows.
Now- Mimi Leder, Patty Jenkins and Betty Thomas didn’t become Directors because someone felt sorry for them. They became Directors because they ARE directors and their talent got the attention of someone who could hire them or write them a check to make a film. I say this only because there have been some not- so- savory comments I’ve heard about only hiring the person that it best for the job, blah blah blah… if it were only that easy. It’s all about proximity folks. Just like a great education, and most things of privilege. If they don’t know that we exist, how can they hire us?
Mimi Leder was a script supervisor ON SET. Patty Jenkins was an assistant camera operator ON SET. Betty Thomas shadowed for a year on one show ON SET before she got the chance to direct an episode. These women were around and in their face. So when I look at what they did and what they are doing now, I am hopeful. I am also more confident that I am on the right path. I am very lucky that I was chosen to be a part of the DGA/Disney/ABC Directing Fellowship Program because it has allowed me to be ON SET for the last 2 years. Not only am I getting a front row seat to some of the greatest directors and the best shows, but I am making myself known. I am putting myself in proximity to those who have the power to hire me.
You may be wondering why the industry is involved in a heated discussion about this. Well- because it’s important. Five women thirty-five years ago, thought it important enough to sue the studios and it is important today. Why? Because just like Congress, the entertainment industry, in front of and behind the camera, should reflect positive images and stories in which their viewing audiences can relate. Exploring other points of views helps a culture to mature and become more compassionate and empathetic. And if it is about me, maybe even just a little bit… shouldn’t I have the chance to do something I love and something I’ve dedicated my life to studying? It’s not about the world owing me something, it’s about wanting the chance to give back to the world- to show em’ what I’ve got!
Directing is a tricky profession. Sometimes it seems like lighting has to strike in order to just be on set DIRECTING. Martha Coolidge said last night, “Directing is addicting,” to which the panel giggled and a hush came over the crowd. The she said, “It’s true. Sometime, someone will have to deal with that.” We all laughed. It is addicting. Which is maybe why we deal with all the waiting and all the “No’s”. One of the original five WSC members said, “I have had the great privilege of making a few films I am proud of.” And I thought, wow. I hope I get there. That’s all I want to be able to say. What an honor.
So, here I go! On the shoulders of giants- Mimi, Patty and Betty- here I go!