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Gender discrimination in Hollywood is real

by The Frame Staff | The Frame

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Director Rachel Feldman was interviewed by the EEOC about the discrimination she's faced in her film career. Rachelfeldman.com

It’s not new news that the entertainment business has a terrible record when it comes to diversity in hiring for jobs in film and television.

But what is new is that the federal government is doing something about it. Specifically, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission appears to have recently concluded its investigation into Hollywood’s hiring of women directors. 

Deadline is reporting that the EEOC has reached the conclusion that all the major movie studios “systemically discriminated against female directors” and are in settlement talks about how to change that.

Dave Robb wrote the story for Deadline. When he spoke with The Frame's John Horn, he offered an explanation for this kind of systemic discrimination:

A lot of people feel that the problem is that employment in Hollywood has long been a word of mouth kind of business. And if it's a bunch of white guys who mostly know white guys, they're going to hire white guys.

Now that the EEOC investigation found that major studios were in violation of Title 7 of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, they are in settlement negotiations with the EEOC. 

And this is exactly what the American Civil Liberties Union was hoping would happen. In May of 2015, the ACLU asked the EEOC to investigate how directors are hired in Hollywood. They'd done their own two year inquiry and found sufficient evidence of gender discrimination. There have also been numerous studies conducted over recent years — many from USC researcher Stacy Smith — tracking female employment in the business. 

USC's Stacy Smith/kpieper

Melissa Goodman is the director of the LGBTQ, Gender and Reproductive Justice Project at the ACLU of Southern California. She explained to The Frame why it was important to get the EEOC involved:

We thought here that government intervention was very necessary to fix this very long-running and very systemic problem. We don't want to see year after year these terrible numbers like Stacy Smith's come out and say the same thing.

Meanwhile, Deadline's David Robb told The Frame that if the settlement talks with the movie studios don't yield a sufficient plan then the EEOC may resort to filing a lawsuit. Goodman shared her hopes for the sorts of remedies that could come from the EEOC's talks.

Sometimes the most effective action is to simply say, you know what, we're acknowledging this is a problem and we're going to set real targets for increasing, by a certain percentage, the number of women — particularly I hope they're focusing on women of color directors — that they are going to hire and that they're actually going to monitor it, prioritize it and hold people accountable. 

Among the hundreds of women directors whom the EEOC interviewed during the course of its investigation was Rachel Feldman. She’s worked in television and film, with credits on “Doogie Howser, MD,” “Lizzie Maguire” and “Sisters.” She tells The Frame that in her meetings with the EEOC they asked a wide range of questions about how hiring works in Hollywood.

My interviews with the EEOC were extensive. I actually had two interviews and they were both three hours long. Part of the process for the EEOC was an educational one. You know, we had to educate them as to how this whole process worked. The other part of the interview process was to talk about our histories and about how we became directors and how we got our first jobs and very specific overt discrimination that we had encountered during our career, and subtle discrimination that we encounter in our careers.

When we reached her today, she told us what would happen when she’d go out for jobs a decade ago.

You would literally have meetings with producers who would say things like, 'Oh it's too bad, you're terrific, but we already had a woman this season.' Or they would say, 'My crew doesn't like working with women,' or 'My actresses don't like working with women.' And you know, you'd look at people and your eyes would go cross-eyed and you'd want to say, 'Yeah? Hello? This is crazy and why are you saying these things to me?' But you can't do that when you're trying to get a job, right?

To hear the radio story of this piece click the play button at the top of this page. To hear more stories like this subscribe to The Frame podcast on iTunes.

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