The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has contacted several women directors in Hollywood in an effort to determine whether legal intervention is necessary to disrupt the industry’s discriminatory hiring practices.
In a letter sent to some 50 women filmmakers, the EEOC – which is responsible for protecting individuals from employment discrimination based on sex, race, color, religion and national origin through enforcement of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 – requested interviews with them to “learn more about the gender-related issues” women behind the camera face in both the film and television industries.
In May, following the release of a study by the San Diego State University Center for the Study of Women in Television in Film revealing only 7 percent of 2014’s 250 top-grossing movies were helmed by women, the ACLU of Southern California and the national ACLU Women’s Rights Project urged state and federal rights agencies to investigate Hollywood’s failure to hire equal numbers of women. Additional studies, including a DGA report finding women directed just 16 percent of television episodes between 2014 and 2015, were also cited in their complaint.
“Women directors simply aren’t getting a fair opportunity to succeed, because of systemic discrimination,” explained ACLU Women’s Rights Project senior staff attorney Ariela Migdal. “It’s time for our civil rights enforcement agencies to take action to ensure that women have a level playing field.”
The EEOC’s recent moves mark the agency’s first major step in over thirty years to address gender inequality in the film industry. Just two years ago, filmmaker Marie Giese challenged the commission to investigate Hollywood’s hiring practices, only to be told it “couldn’t take this on in an industrywide approach,” suggesting instead individual lawsuits be filed by women against studios within a 12-month period “with smoking-gun evidence.” Concerned no women would risk their careers for fear on being blacklisted, Giese took her complaint to the ACLU.
Though it is unclear whether the EEOC’s investigation will result in a class action lawsuit against Hollywood’s most egregious offenders – under law, the agency cannot confirm or deny the existence of a charge – women filmmakers like Giese remain hopeful.
“This investigation is long overdue,” Giese told Deadline Hollywood. “I hope this will be the spearhead to create equality for every woman in our industry, and for every woman in every industry in America.”
Media Resources: Deadline Hollywood 10/6/15; Variety 10/6/15