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Director Says She Didn't Get A Gig Because She's A Woman

Director's chair via Shutterstock
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Director Barbara Stepansky always had a sense that it was more difficult for her and her female associates to get gigs directing major TV shows or feature films in Hollywood. Sometimes discrimination can be subtle, but Stepansky writes about a recent experience that made it clear that the glass ceiling was all-too-real. She wrote about her experience at No Girls Aloud, a site dedicated to female directors trying to smash the glass ceiling (h/t Jezebel). She writes about a male friend of hers who won a Student Emmy for his thesis film and was invited by a heavy-hitting producer/director to shadow him on the set of a prime-time TV drama. Later, he was hired to direct an episode.

Stepansky says that she's happy for her friend, but she's struck by how differently she was treated when she won the exact same award for her thesis film and was also approached by a heavy-hitting producer:

He was impressed with my thesis film, which had garnered the two top awards of the night. He also graciously invited me to come and visit the set of the show he was producing. I was allowed to shadow an episode he himself was directing for a day. During that visit, I asked about the opportunity to direct. 'Here's the thing,' he said. 'The lead actor hates female directors. We only had one in the first season, and she was never invited back. He just doesn’t like them.'

I’d like to live in a world where people are ashamed to say things like that, but for some reason it’s still OK. Take out the word 'female' in that quote and substitute it with 'black,' 'Jewish,' or 'gay.' You may tolerate your grandpa spouting misogynist rhetoric at Thanksgiving with a roll of your eyes, but it’s simply not acceptable coming from people who hold the keys to prestigious and lucrative jobs.

She writes about another experience where she offers to direct a TV show, only to be told the show would prefer someone white, male and ideally British. She writes that she's not sure that hard work and talent will be enough to do the kind of work she's pursuing. She asks: "Did my head hit the proverbial celluloid ceiling before I even got off the first floor?"Of course, Stepansky is far from the first person to note that Hollywood hasn't made quite as much progress as you'd expect by the 21st century. Kathryn Bigelow may have finally won the first Oscar for directing in 2010, but women are underrepresented in Hollywood. Women represent 5 percent of directors in Hollywood, according to a study of 2011, which actually represents a drop of 2 percent since the previous year.
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The numbers are a little better when you include other duties, like producing, writing, cinematography and editing. In 2011, women made up 18 percent of all directors, executive producers, producers, writers, cinematographers, and editors working on the top 250 domestic grossing films, which is a 2 percent increase from the year before and an increase of only 1 percent since 1998.

Manohla Dargis explored some of the reasons that women's representation behind the camera is so dismal. She notes that in 1920 actress-turned-director Ida May Park wrote that while directing was difficult, she predicted that it would be "fine work" for women as the film system evolved. But Dargis writes: "The problem is, 90 years later, women have advanced while much of the movie industry has not."

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