That’s The Way It Is

Walter Cronkite would end his nightly broadcasts saying, “And that’s the way it is,” asserting that the CBS Evening News was telling the truth for that day. Well, the way it is for women directors in the TV and film business is appalling. That point was brought home yesterday at the Directors Guild of America, where female guild members met for “The 2013 Women Of Action Summit”.

We knew the numbers: in the 2011-12 season, women directed only 15% of episodic television. In features, the numbers are even worse. We listened to numerous distinguished speakers (27 in all) on three panels describe their own rollercoaster careers and determined efforts to gain credibility and respect in a business that continues to operate in a paterfamilias paradigm. The audience applauded as impassioned speeches were made for that paradigm to shift. And a lunchtime brainstorming session among all the participants came up with practical steps toward just that.

But I don’t hold out much hope that we can reach gender parity in the directing ranks any time soon. In the 2011-12 DGA Report which assessed hiring practices for episodic TV, there were numerous shows that hired women or minority directors for fewer than 15% of their episodes, including some of which I have directed: Hart of Dixie, Castle, Rizzoli and Isles, and Revenge. There were 26 shows in that list, and eight shows that hired no women or minorities at all. On the other hand, there were 41 shows that hired women or minorities for at least 30% of their episodes. That’s great, but why are we stopping at 30%? It could be because there just aren’t that many women directors: females make up just 13.4 per cent of the directors’ category in the DGA. So essentially, there are two barriers to gender parity in directing: the entrenched male-oriented paradigm, and the lack of women with the qualifications to do the job.

So while efforts are made on both micro- and macrocosm levels (allow new directors to shadow experienced ones, invite showrunners, studios and networks to open their rigid hiring lists) there are those of us who continue to represent women in this workplace. And we must do it better, in order to hold the banner high for all those who come after us. We must understand the craft fully, navigate the culture subtly, come to set fully prepared and confident, and be the visionary leader that unites all the elements into a product that exceeds the expectations of the buyers. Those of us who are lucky enough to be in that fifteen per cent have to be strong enough and talented enough to dismiss from doubters’ minds the nagging thought that women are not good enough to do this job – because sadly, even in this day and age, we are all tarred with the same brush. One woman director who fails makes it harder for the rest of us, even though we may have nothing in common except our gender. You don’t hear references to the other 85% as “men directors” and one man’s failure doesn’t reflect on the others.

That is still so for women. But we don’t whine about it. We just work harder to guarantee that we excel, both for our individual careers and for the women who come after us. In that way, someday, we won’t be talking about “women directors” but just “great directors”, since gender has nothing to do with it. And that’s the way it is – or will be.