Women Take the Wheel on Gender Parity in Entertainment

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Women at work, calling for gender parity, at the Women's March Jan, 21, 2017.

Arguing gender parity. Damn. Popcorn, anyone?

There’s such an onslaught in politics, gender and harassment, I feel like the sexual-predator-in-chief actually, unwittingly (how else could he?), unleashed something positive. It’s possible that women and other decent people are finally, unequivocally fed up with blatant grossness, abuse, dishonesty, racism and inequity all around us. At least as far as sexual harassment and discrimination are concerned, we may have reached the tipping point. So I’m only giving Trump credit for being so disgusting that the dam has broken.

Calls for 50/50 gender parity in the arts (at the very least) are getting louder. I’m proud The Clyde Fitch Report (CFR) subscribes to this model. One writer-editor on The CFR, Devra Thomas, oversees The Marbury Project, including her own work and others’ who write about parity, women’s issues in the arts and arts advocacy.

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For interests more salacious, there is a Hollywood purge happening right now, ousting those who’ve used their positions of power to bully, manipulate, make and destroy the hopes and dreams of actors of both sexes. It was women who rang the first bell, though, with Bill Cosby, Roger Ailes and then with Harvey Weinstein.

Things are touchy. I’ve worked in the film (specifically TV commercial) industry for years as a producer. We’ve always been a tight knit group, or maybe it’s more accurate to say we consist of many tight knit groups. Production people assist each other in finding obscure props, equipment and experts or share lists of capable crew from Peoria to Pahrump. A few have created online groups, which, while observing a basic protocol, make seeking info and sharing with a wider pool much easier.

Mona Lisa disapproving
“Gender discrimination? I think not.”

The other day, an argument erupted in one group after a helpful member asked for recommendations for female crew in Los Angeles. She was swiftly accused of gender discrimination by another member, and the group was off to the races: indictments flew, attempts at levity caused outrage, people puffed up their chests and declared how lily white their records of inclusiveness were. In the meantime, another level-headed member pointed out, the catalytic email had only asked for names, and didn’t make any reference to a job offer, or seeking to hire women over men. It was the same effect you see in arguments everywhere now. Sometimes you can’t even tell what people are arguing about, or where they stand. I come away from Facebook fights very confused on a regular basis. I don’t argue, ever, at least not since a family member blocked me. Now I only comment with acid sarcasm, one of my specialties.

The hard, cold and very tired fact is, women are under-represented in the film industry, as are people of color and other minorities. Unless there’s a proactive approach to righting the problem, it won’t be solved. To quote someone’s response to the kerfuffle,

Yes. Let’s all stand up for the under-hired male members of the film industry. It’s been so very tough on them. When the amount of hired female cinematographers rises from its current estimated number of 2 percent to over 50 percent, I think you can call out gender discrimination. The only way to increase that percentage is to hire women in that department and every department to help them rise up. Your application of logic infers equal measure for the male and female crew members. This does not apply in an industry that is so remarkably out of balance in terms of gender and race. I’ll check back in 2046 when we might get close to hitting that mark of concern.

(I edited this for brevity only, and I’d love to credit this smarty, but she didn’t respond to my email. Also, the percentage of women cinematographers working in the top 250 films of 2016 was estimated at about 5 percent.)

Ava DuVernay gender parity
Director Ava DuVernay at work.

Ava DuVernay took the lead on gender parity about two years ago when she made a commitment to hire only female directors for her series, Queen Sugar. That her announcement was quickly misinterpreted as “all-female” crews, when in fact, DuVernay committed to hiring diverse crews, is an example of the prolific problem of fake news spreading and a huge problem in and of itself. Does Ava DuVernay think she’s going to have to lower her standards to fill these roles? No, she’s considering a huge pool of creative talent that goes largely unnoticed and invalidated.

Reading the ongoing research by Dr. Stacy L. Smith at University of Southern California Annenberg (USC Annenberg) and Dr. Martha Lauzen at San Diego State University (SDSU) concerning gender and racial parity is shocking, and hail to both of them. They are both also researching content patterns pertaining to gender and race on screen in film and TV, and on-screen portrayals of women. In the case of the USC study, children’s responses to mass media portrayals (television, film, video games) of violence, gender and hyper-sexuality are being researched as well. Hallelujah!

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Do negativity and fear towards hiring quotas linger? Hell, yeah. Witness, in a small way, the teapot tempest online I described above. However, the only people I ever heard complain about quotas were white men. I actually like quotas. It seems they make racist, sexist decisions less possible, and gender parity more possible. Is there some form of discrimination involved in proactively giving jobs to capable people who are consistently overlooked or all but shut out of mainstream film crews? Yes, if your recruitment techniques result in “most of your hires” being the same nationality, gender, age, color, etc. It’s tricky business. Read the EEOC’s Prohibited Employment Practices.

Women, in the absence of huge numbers of proactive men, are championing women. The League of Professional Theatre Women, which “advocates for opportunities and visibility for female theater professionals,” has adopted an objective to achieve gender parity for professional women theater artists by 2020. Parity Productions plays an even wider game, ensuring the hiring of at least 50 percent women and transgender artists (directors, designers and playwrights) on each of their productions. They also provide support to other organizations and they have a list on their website of like-minded folks.

Hollywood women, in a city and industry rocking with its own scandals (and how can we not expect more?), are in. I believe emphatically and painfully blowing the whistle on Harvey Weinstein, James Toback, Bill Cosby and others is the direct result of disgust at what passes for a president, currently. Last week at TheWrap’s Power Women Breakfast in Los Angeles, ID-PR founder, Kelly Bush Novak, delivered a reportedly “fiery speech,” calling for “equal representation in our executives, directors, writers, showrunners, department heads, the DGA, WGA, Producers Guild, IATSE and SAG-AFTRA” by 2020.

Hillary Clinton gender parity
Hillary Clinton at the Women’s Media Center Awards in October.

The Women’s Media Center (WMC) founded by Jane Fonda, Gloria Steinem and Robin Morgan, recently honored women who have persisted at their annual Women’s Media Awards event October 26th. Among them were Ashley Judd, who helped fuel the Weinstein fire from a spark to a conflagration, receiving the WMC Speaking Truth to Power award. The Lifetime Achievement Award went to Maria Elena Salinas, co-anchor (until the end of this year) of Univision Network News, who has reported stories of the Latino community for over 30 years, starting at KMEX. That she has done this at Univision, which I can say from personal experience has a detestable macho culture, makes her a hero in my book any day. Other honorees included the indefatigable (except perhaps for a few weeks following Nov. 8, 2017) Hillary Clinton, pilloried but unbroken White House correspondent April Ryan and pioneering Latina journalist, Maria Hinojosa.

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I’m happy to know (because the commercial production world is enmeshed with advertising) that Unilever executive, Gail Tifford, leads a campaign called #SeeHer, which pushes the ad industry to increase the percentage of accurate portrayals of women and girls in advertising and media. Tifford attributes her inspiration to the WMC report “Status of Women in the U.S. Media,” as well as to a report from the World Economic Forum that anticipates it will be 118 years before true gender parity is reached!

Another effort that’s helping: In 2016, Director Alma Har’el founded Free the Bid, a nonprofit initiative whose mission is to fight gender bias against female directors in the commercial production world. It calls for ad agencies to include at least one female director every time they bid a commercial out to three directors (triple-bid), and in addition, urges production companies to add more women directors to their ranks. In the absence of a woman candidate fit for the job, the ad agency has to pledge to attempt to accomplish alternate forms of diversity for the project. I’m heartened by this.

So back to the production argument that occurred online. Producer Amelia Dallis, another smart cookie, reminded everyone that discussions like that were good to have. I agree, even if some of the comments were idiotic.