On March 2, the DGA’s Women’s Steering Committee (WSC) hosted an all-day event dedicated to the empowerment of women directors and the support of female voices, stories and images in film and television. Held in the Guild’s Los Angeles theater complex, the 2013 Women of Action Summit featured presentations, panels, roundtable discussions and a keynote address by actor and advocate Geena Davis. The ultimate goal of the summit was to help build a thriving coalition united in the goal of increasing employment for women DGA members.
The summit outlined a series of suggestions such as building greater participation in the WSC and forging stronger connections between various women’s organizations in pursuit of the same goal; encouraging women to call on their advocates, find mentors and market themselves more vigorously; calling on members to support the Guild in its efforts to fight for increased diversity; and encouraging the Guild to find new ways to push the industry toward greater employment diversity.
The summit opened with a welcome from WSC Co-Chair Rachel Feldman who explained that the day was about women helping women. Then WSC Women of Action Event Committee member Maria Giese introduced DGA Board Alternate Victoria Hochberg, who chronicled the history of women in directing and the situation that led to the formation of the WSC. Hochberg revealed how in 1979, after noting the meager statistics on women being hired to direct films and television, she and fellow Guild members Susan Bay, Nell Cox, Joelle Dobrow, Dolores Ferraro and Lynne Littman spent a year researching the facts surrounding these employment opportunities before presenting a detailed report to the National Board. This ultimately resulted in the official formation of the Committee to work on remedies.
In her keynote address, Academy Award®-winner and advocate Geena Davis spoke about the latest research from The Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media (GDI) which works within the media and entertainment industry to engage, educate, and influence the need for gender balance, reduce stereotyping and create a wide variety of female characters for entertainment targeting children 11 and under. Davis’ address was prefaced by a screening of a PSA from the GDI’s website, SeeJane.org, that seeks to empower young girls through more positive role models in media and offers the logline “If she can see it, she can be it.”
“Every woman who is a director is a true hero, in my opinion, because you’re blazing a trail,” said Davis. She explained how the reaction to her role in Ridley Scott’s seminal film Thelma and Louise sharpened her awareness not only of the power of media images and how few opportunities there were for women to walk out of a movie feeling empowered by the female character they had just viewed on the screen, an impression strengthened when, as a mother, she noted how few female characters there were in G-rated movies. This ultimately led to the founding of the GDI. “I decided as a mother that in the 21st century, surely kids should be seeing boys and girls sharing the sandbox. My institute has commissioned the largest study ever done on gender depictions in media covering a 20-year span and the results were stunning. In family-rated films for every one female character there are three male characters, and the female characters that do exist, the majority of them are stereotyped and/or highly sexualized.” The study also revealed that while there has been some improvement, at the current rate, it will take 700 years to achieve parity. “We can’t wait for significant change to happen in the natural course of time,” Davis added. “We need to add women across all sectors. Add women, encourage women, include women, vote for women, HIRE women! Our world will only improve when more women equal creators and contributors in all areas of society.”
Davis’ address was followed by a brief Q&A where the attendees could ask her questions about the GDI and its mission.
Panel Discussion 1: Employment Equity Matters
On the heels of the keynote address, the summit presented the first panel of the day, Employment Equity Matters, and explored that subject with directors Debbie Allen (Grey's Anatomy), Catherine Hardwicke (Red Riding Hood), Amy Heckerling (Vamps), Mimi Leder (Shameless), Nancy Meyers (It's Complicated), Robin Swicord (The Jane Austen Book Club), DGA Third Vice President Betty Thomas (Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel), and Nia Vardalos (I Hate Valentine’s Day) in a conversation moderated by DGA Past President Martha Coolidge (Cult). The discussion was a fitting complement to the information delivered in the Davis’ address.
“I don’t want to be called a ‘woman’ director,” said Coolidge. “We’ve worked all our lives to not be called ‘women’ directors. That is what I know of all of us. I want to be called a director and I want to direct and I’ll see the world in my way.”
Vardalos made the point that perhaps the best approach to achieving hiring parity was through the numbers. “I have written four or five movies that were directed by men. I love all those men, but when I suggested that we have a female director, their response was ‘This is a chick flick. We don’t want to make it more of a chick flick.’ But now I know how to do it. With the movie I’m writing now, I’m going to say, ‘I would like it directed by a woman. These are the women and here are the numbers their last films made.’ They’re not going to listen to us appealing to their morality or their sense of fairness. We have to follow the money.” And Thomas drew laughs when she rose and illustrated another form of empowerment as she said, “In a room full of men, I always stand up because they’re always shorter than me.”
Panel Discussion 2: Making the Choice for Change
The second panel, Making the Choice for Change, offered the thoughts of directors Valerie Faris (Ruby Sparks), Victoria Hochberg (Sex & The City), Mary Lambert (Mega Python vs. Gatoroid), Lynne Littman (Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters' First 100 Years), Freida Mock (Anita), Jennifer Siebel Newsom (Miss Representation), and Kimberly Peirce (Carrie); Sundance Institute Executive Director Keri Putnam; and Mandalay Pictures President Cathy Schulman in a conversation that looked for solutions that might bring about needed changes in the industry. Director Penelope Spheeris (Five, “Cheyanne”) served as the moderator of this lively dialogue.
One subject discussed was the possibility of creating a change in attitudes by bringing to light some of the hidden aspects of hiring practices. “Right now we know that in the system jobs go around, but you never know what jobs are out there, or who’s on that list unless your agent tells you. But I bet you most of those lists don’t have women on them,” said Peirce. “Hiring practices are very insular in the agency system. We’re not going to change anything overnight, but in terms of a paradigm shift, can’t we start making that stuff more public? At least give us a shot in the room. If we don’t get that job, we’re going to get another job. So I think the first thing is to open up the hiring practices and give us our shot.”
Dovetailing the spirit of the keynote address, Faris opined that the public needed to be made more aware of women’s successes as directors. “The statistics I would really like to hear are the ones that show how competent we are and how our movies do well. I want to see the positive business-oriented outcomes. We do contribute a lot to this business. I just don’t think it gets reported on.”
Lunch Break and Brainstorming
During the midday break, Event Committee member Sandra Milliner announced that the luncheon would include roundtable discussions and brainstorming sessions where everyone could offer up new ideas. The sessions at each table were moderated by the Women of Action Summit Director Ambassadors and WSC Representatives who were seated at each table.
Panel Discussion 3: Creating Opportunities for Women in Film & TV
Committee member Dianne Bartlow announced the reconvening of the summit following the lunch break. The day’s final panel discussion: Creating Opportunities for Women in Film & TV, featured showrunners and production executives who revealed how they work. The panelists were DGA First Vice-President/Diversity Task Force Co-Chair Paris Barclay (Sons of Anarchy); DGA Board Member/Diversity Task Force Co-Chair Lesli Linka Glatter (Homeland), Director/Executive Producer Callie Khouri (Nashville), Director/Executive Producer Betsy Thomas (Whitney), Director/ executive producer Matthew Weiner (Mad Men); Producer Susan Cartsonis (Beastly); and TNT and TBS Senior Vice President of Original Programming Lillah McCarthy, moderated by BET Networks President of Original Programming/Director Loretha Jones (The Parent 'Hood).
Barclay gave statistics on the current percentage of women at the DGA – Women represent 22.3% of the overall membership, which includes directors, assistant directors, unit production managers, associate directors and stage managers; within the category of director members, women represent 13.5% of directors. Speaking as an executive producer, he strongly encouraged women to market themselves more aggressively and said that best thing they can do is tell the person hiring them two things: how they will make their life easier; how they will make their show better.
Linka Glatter suggested that women also explore the various paths now available via new media productions. “I do think the fact that we have these alternative means – whether it’s the Internet or cell phones or whatever –is a really good thing” said Linka Glatter. “I see people getting jobs from it. So the good news is you can tell your story. There’s a way to do it cheaply and it actually can become something else. That’s a positive.”
The summit concluded with an invitation from WSC Co-Chair Melanie Wagor to continue the work initiated that day by attending upcoming meetings of the DGA Women’s Steering Committee.