In the 84-year history of the Academy Awards, only four women have been nominated for Best Director. Only four! And only one (Kathryn Bigelow for The Hurt Locker) has won. So how many female director members are there in the Director's Guild of America? I called the DGA, and they confirmed the number as 13.5 percent, a number on the ascent I am told, but obviously still low. Even with Bigelow's Oscar win in 2009, why are the statistics for female directors (in both film and television) less than golden?
One of today's busiest television directors, and one of the few women solicited to direct pilots (the brass ring for TV directors), is Lesli Linka Glatter whose credits date back to the 1980s, and recently include True Blood, Mad Men, The Walking Dead, and Aaron Sorkin's upcoming HBO series, Newsroom:
When I started, it was very uncommon for women to be directing -- why that's true, I don't know because I feel women are extremely suited for directing. Being a director whether you're male or female is not an easy world. I think once you get in the club, you're in, but it's hard to get in. Paris Barclay and I are chairs of the Diversity Committee at the DGA, and we very actively meet with networks and studios about this to encourage shows that have never hired women or minorities to do that -- of course you can't make someone hire people they don't want to hire, but its important that people are aware of it.
Pam Veasey (executive producer of CSI: New York, Ringer) comments:
I make a concerted effort to hire female directors on my shows, but I'm not the last voice on the subject. The powers that be at the network have to approve. I do hold out hope for the future of women in directing. What was so great about Kathryn Bigelow winning the Best Director Oscar for The Hurt Locker was that was a 'guy' movie. She took on a film about male soldiers fighting in the trenches, and bombs going off -- not pretty stuff. You need an example for everybody so they can see there is an opportunity.
Mentoring is an area in all disciplines of the entertainment industry where veterans can be of service to those trying to break in. Lesli Linka Glatter is a believer in this:
Everyone who's doing what they do has had someone else help them. Everybody has a first job, and needs a hand more than once in their career. We all need a lot of talent, a lot of tenacity and a little bit of luck -- and nothing stays the same. As a director, It's definitely hard to get your first episode unless you're coming off from doing a really wonderful indie film; the powers that hire are nervous, and understandably. On a first season show, the series is trying to find itself so they don't want to hire a director with a learning curve, and on an established show where the train is on the track, they want to make sure you can keep up with everything. But the fact is new directors are indeed hired, and a lot of the time it comes from the cast or the crew. That's why it's important to have these mentoring programs for someone who was a theatre director or someone who has worked in another medium to take that next step.
I have literally been in meetings where people say, 'we hired a woman once and it didn't work, so we're not going to hire any more women.' Could you imagine if they said, 'we hired a white guy once, but it didn't work.'
An organization devoted to making women visible and powerful in media is The Women's Media Center founded by Jane Fonda, Robin Morgan and Gloria Steinem. Among their startling findings is a chart on page seven where only 4 percent of cinematographers, 5 percent of directors, and 14 percent of writers of the Top 250 grossing films of 2011 were women.
Furthermore, the report finds that women are most likely to work in the feature film genres of romantic comedy, and romantic drama -- and least likely to work in the genres of horror, action, and comedy.
Statistics being what they may, today's directors can be self-generating. They can pick up a camera and make their movie for very little money. Glatter adds:
If you want to direct, you need a recent piece of work to show, but if you don't have that recent piece, then you can make your own piece. And that's exciting. And this will hopefully open the door for new diverse directors to enter -- we can't have the same group of directors directing everything. We have to get the next generation of directors working. Network TV is becoming more female driven, and showing more diversity in front of, and behind, the camera than ever. And the more diversity, the better -- it gets us to tell different kinds of stories.
Kathryn Bigelow's win for Best Director at the 2010 British Academy Film Awards: