Lady Justice Looms Large as EEOC Gears Up for Potential Lawsuit Against Major Studios

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When San Diego State’s Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film published their 19th annual Celluloid Ceiling report at the start of the year, it revealed that women only made up 7 percent of all directors of the top 250 films. That statistic is demoralizing enough on its own without the realization that it’s two percent lower than the year before. Overall, the report found that women occupied only 17 percent of the studio workforce in the roles analyzed, including writers, executive and non-executive producers, editors, and cinematographers.

However, the worst aspect of the report is that it’s not surprising. When it comes to the Hollywood landscape, this is, unfortunately, par for the course. Despite plenty of people talking about diversity and how we need to be doing better, there’s not a lot of action being taken to put their money where their mouths are. And that’s where Lady Justice comes in.

This morning, Deadline reported that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has moved into the settlement phase after investigating allegations “that they systemically discriminated against women directors.” According to a source, if a settlement is not agreed upon, a lawsuit may be filed against the studios and possibly even get referred to the Department of Justice.

Is this going too far? The short answer: absolutely not.

Diversity is a necessary and critical thing, especially in an industry that is all about narrative. And if diversity is not achieved or strived for naturally, then it must be demanded without hesitation.

This is why affirmative action programs were created and why they should and still do exist today. As Deadline points out, Directors Guild of America attempted to press the studios into adopting a rule similar to the NFL’s Rooney Rule, which requires teams to interview diverse candidates for senior coaching and operation jobs. It’s sort of a less stringent form of affirmative action, one that doesn’t have a quota or preferences, but something that encourages diverse candidates nonetheless.

There’s no saying what will happen based on the EEOC’s results, whether it ends with a settlement or a lawsuit. The action that’s taken against and by the studios is anyone’s guess, but ideally, it would lead to a stronger effort to hire more women in director’s chairs because there’s no reason that shouldn’t be happening right now — except for, of course, systematic sexism and (primarily white) male privilege.

It’s not as though there’s a dearth of female directors. They’re out there, in droves, waiting for an opportunity to let their voices be heard and their talents go on display. They’re out there creating beautiful and compelling works if only more people would notice and see that they deserve to have a larger platform. And in some cases, yes, female directors would inherently be better choices than male directors. There are certain stories out there that should be told and helmed by women.

Once the studios see this — really see this — and do something about it, once the Oscars start nominating women in more categories beyond Best Actress and Supporting Actress, once the world of movies starts to make the progress that television has been making (female TV directors increased from the 2014-15 season to the 2015-16 season), then progress will happen. Nothing could come of this EEOC investigation, even if it does result in a lawsuit, but all that would do is further blemish the movie industry and its lack of commitment to diversity. Ideally, positive action will be taken just as it was with the internship case against Fox. In that case, unpaid interns filed a lawsuit against Fox for violating the Fair Labor Standards Act by not paying them. By the end, multimillion-dollar settlements were agreed upon and now multiple companies have either scrapped internships altogether or they pay their interns (clearly the better result and hopefully what happens here, with more female directors being hired).

Diversity will only help the movie industry. Hidden Figures, currently the most financially successful Best Picture nominee of the year, has proven that stories about women, and women of color at that, are worth making — for what they inspire, for what they represent, and yes, even for the very deep pockets of studio executives. Placing diversity behind the camera will work the same way and frankly, it’s about damn time.

 | Associate Editor
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