Lifetime Invests in AFI Grads, Guarantees Jobs to Female Filmmakers

The partnership with the AFI Conservatory Directing Workshop for Women was unveiled by 'Unreal' co-creator Sarah Gertrude Shapiro at THR's Women in Entertainment breakfast.
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Sarah Gertrude Shapiro & Nancy Dubuc

A&E Networks CEO Nancy Dubuc is acutely aware of the gender imbalance in Hollywood — but rather than bemoan the inequality, she’s opted to do something about it.

At The Hollywood Reporter’s Women in Entertainment breakfast Wednesday morning, Dubuc and her team announced a partnership with the AFI Conservatory Directing Workshop for Women (DWW) to guarantee a job to every graduate of the Institute’s acclaimed program. The joint effort, which was unveiled from stage by AFI grad and Unreal co-creator Sarah Gertrude Shapiro, serves as part of Lifetime’s "Broad Focus" push, dedicated to cultivating and supporting women behind the camera.

"To address what seems like an endless cycle of gender inequity in media, I believe we need to think beyond what our industry has already tried to do through mentorships and internships. We need to stop talking and start moving the needle, and one solution is to simply give women jobs," Dubuc explained. "Our unprecedented alliance with the AFI Conservatory Directing Workshop for Women is just a first step and I and hope it will inspire others to join our charge."

Shapiro expounded on the 2016 initiative in her empowering speech, which centered on her own experiences coming up as a director in Hollywood. "I just got shut down over and over and over again. Never mind I showed substantial talent, never mind I had the drive of a herd of stampeding elephants and the work ethic of a woodpecker on methamphetamines — I was constantly passed over for guys. Just guys," she said from the podium. "For those of us who have been systematically cock-blocked from doing our lives work because of our race or gender, we know it’s humiliating, it’s horrible and any sane person would give up and go someplace they were welcome. And many have. Because you really start to believe there’s something wrong with you."

For Shapiro, the AFI Directing Workshop for Women did something "vital" and "life-saving," she added. "They deemed me worthy. They invested in me. They took me seriously. They didn’t think there was a damn thing wrong with me." In fact, her AFI short film, Sequin Raze, became the driver for Lifetime to pilot Unreal, the most critically acclaimed scripted series in the network’s history. Shapiro used her time on stage to urge the other powerful women in the room to "walk the walk" as Dubuc has.

The announcement is part of a broader push inside the female-led company. To that end, since announcing the "Broad Focus" initiative, 42 percent of Lifetime’s original movie directors in 2015 have been women, accounting for the top five most-watched movies on the network and three of the top five original films in ad-supported cable with women. At AFI, the Directing Workshop has spanned 40 years, and has been expressly committed to increasing the number of female directors in Hollywood.