ACLU Seeks Government Inquiry Into Gender Bias in Directing

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An investigation could lead to legal charges.

The ACLU on Tuesday asked three state and federal agencies to take steps to end gender disparities in the hiring and recruiting of movie and TV directors, hoping that government intervention might succeed in ending what the organization called outright discrimination where statistical reports and moral suasion have failed.

In letters to the agencies, the civil rights organization called for government investigation of studios, networks and talent agencies into what it called systemic “overt sex stereotyping and implicit bias.” If one or more do investigate and find bias, legal charges could be filed.

“External oversight and pressure are needed to fix this long-running civil rights problem,” said Melissa Goodman, director of the LGBT, Gender and Reproductive Justice Project at the ACLU of Southern California in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter. “This is a severe and stark problem.”

The letters, detailed missives 15 pages each, are backed up with footnotes referencing the numerous studies of hundreds of top film and TV episodes that have found women directed less than 5 percent of top-grossing films in recent years and less than 15 percent of recent TV episodes.

The ACLU letters follow an investigation by the organization in which it acquired anecdotal evidence from about 50 women directors. That investigation was prompted by complaints from a handful of women directors, said Goodman.

The Directors Guild of America has taken some steps to combat gender disparity, said Goodman, but she added that those steps are “widely viewed as ineffective” and that one of them, a program in which women can shadow a working director on the job, was viewed as “demeaning,” because men weren’t expected to do so.

The DGA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The three agencies receiving the ACLU letters are the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing and the Labor Department’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs.

Goodman declined to speculate on the likelihood the government would investigate, but she said the ACLU was selective about asking for agency investigations.