Ryan Murphy's Half Fest Analyzes Current State of Female Directors in TV

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An all-female panel of directors, writers and producers at CAA shared their thoughts on the current state of diversity empowerment in the entertainment industry and what work still needs to be done.

Ryan Murphy's Half Fest — a program part of a greater Half Initiative — was held at the Creative Artists Agency headquarters in Century City, where an array of diverse short films were showcased from female filmmakers.

In 2016, Murphy created the Half Initiative to make Hollywood more inclusive by creating more opportunities for underrepresented voices behind the camera. Since its launch, Ryan Murphy Television’s director slate has hired 60 percent women as directors, and 90 percent met at least one diversity target.

Concurrent with those hiring goals, the Initiative launched the Half Director Mentorship Program in which every director on a Ryan Murphy Television production mentors emerging women and minority directors through an episode, from pre- to post-production. Mentees are offered a stipend for their commitment, providing them with critical resources to meet their obligations while participating in this unique experience.

Short films were screened at the festival from CLASS II of the Half Directing Mentorship Program. Following the screenings, an all-female panel of filmmakers discussed their thoughts on the current state of diversity and inclusion in film and television.

Television director Jennifer Lynch (American Horror Story, The Walking Dead) commented on the ebb-and-flow toward the way for gender equality in television “Nobody blinks when I pull into the Fox lot and I say I’m a director. Nobody fucking blinks. Strangely, the sadness is that I still feel the best thing we can do is stop identifying each other in any way other than ‘Hi you look like a nice person.' I am constantly being reminded of my gender, my vagina, my uterus. I don’t think about that when I’m working. I don’t hold the camera with my vagina.”

DGA Award-winning director/producer/writer Tina Mabry (Pose, Insecure) pointed to her directorial work on the FX show Pose as an example of broader diversity and inclusion practices that need to be shown in the television industry. “You really saw it being applied as far as diversity and giving people a chance. You just need one ‘yes,'" she said. "Ryan, you gave me that yes to be able to direct on that show and share something very beautiful in season one and I really appreciate you trusting me with that. That’s one of the happiest moments in being able to see everybody. You look at a microcosm of the world when on that set.”

Mabry then pointed to a negative experience she had on another show, “My worst experience was on a show that I was directing. The first AD had a problem with women. He tried to sabotage my episode but he couldn't because thank god I directed before so I knew how to do my own show-and-tells. He didn’t do any of that. He had an attitude on set and wanted to blast me. I had to put him in his place in front of the whole crew. And I was a producer on the show. He got fired. That’s something that really hurt to have that happen.”

Writer/producer Erica Anderson (9-1-1, Cold Case) shared a gratifying moment she and other female writers had recently. “My happiest moment would be about five years ago, I’m in a group of all-women writers. It’s about 30 of us at the time. Over two-thirds of us were employed so all of us would encourage one another and those of us working were trying to find jobs for those not working. And you cut to five years later, everyone in that group are now working. That gives me hope.”

Despite the seemingly positive progressive change, Anderson shared a new obstacle that has arose, “The thing that gives me pause is some of those women I walk to say that they still feel invisible in the room. They’re at the table but there’s still some level of not feeling like they’re there. We need to go further in that conversation from inclusion to actually giving them a voice at the table.”