A year ago, the ACLU put Hollywood’s gender gap on blast—a move that spurred investigations into hiring practices in the film and television industries by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs. But the growing call for an end to sexism in Hollywood—and even federal investigations—haven’t led to much progress.
When the ACLU published its 15-page letter on Hollywood’s sexism last May—directed at the EEOC, Department of Labor and Department of Fair Housing and Employment, and pointing out that women are frequently excluded from director roles—the number of women employed in film and television had remained mostly static and, in some cases, had even gone down since 1998. The employment data the ACLU cited was based on films and TV shows released in 2013 and 2014; now, a year later, the numbers for 2015 reveal that the gender gap in Hollywood is still wide open.
The Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film found that in 2015, women made up just 9 percent of the total number of directors working on the top 250 highest-grossing domestic films, and 12 percent of the top 500. In addition, women were only 11 percent of total writers, 20 percent of executive producers, 22 percent of editors and 6 percent of cinematographers.
All of these numbers, dismal as they are, show a slight improvement from the numbers in the ACLU’s letter—but not enough. A 2 percent increase in the number of women directing top-grossing films since 2014 is hardly a revolution, and women holding less than a quarter of Hollywood’s top behind-the-scenes jobs isn’t exactly cause for celebration.
“In the year since our [letter] was released, there has been much lip service paid to furthering opportunities for women, but few definitive steps and no serious movement in the number of women directors hired,” said Melissa Goodman, director of the LGBTQ, Gender and Reproductive Justice Project at the ACLU of Southern California, in a statement Wednesday.
This stagnation has a real impact on the work being produced in Hollywood, and it’s a net negative for both the film and television industries to maintain such large gaps in women’s representation on set and behind the scenes. Women have been a majority of movie-goers since 2010, and women are also a large share of prime-time broadcast TV viewers. That may be why films that pass the Bechdel Test—in which two female characters have a conversation about something other than a man—have a stronger return on investment than films that don’t. (Data shows that women prefer female characters, too, and that women are more likely to put them on screen.)
But this fight—and the EEOC’s investigation into Hollywood sexism—is far from over. According to sources close to the investigation who spoke to the Los Angeles Times, the EEOC is now expanding its scope and interviewing “studio executives, producers, agents, actors and male directors” about the treatment of women in Hollywood. (Initially, they had interviewed only women directors.) If the EEOC concludes that systemic discrimination is holding women back in television and film, legal action could be taken against studios and talent agencies seen as complicit in the problem.
“We are confident,” Goodman said in her statement, “that the government will corroborate our work and push industry leaders to address the ongoing violations of the legal and civil rights of these directors and of all women in the film and television industries.”
If she’s right, what comes next after these two investigations could be a pivotal moment for women in Hollywood. But if film and television execs know what’s good for them—and what their viewers want—they won’t wait that long to start giving women the opportunities they deserve.
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