If you’ve been keeping up with industry news, you will know that the DGA (Director’s Guild of America) has been working on a five year study to compile information on the gender and ethnicity of first-time episodic TV directors. The results reflect what we already knew. There are limited episodic TV directing opportunities for women and people of color. Of the 497 new first-time TV directors hired in the last 5 years, only 18% were women and 13% were people of color. Keep in mind these are first-time directors. This is not a case of established male directors getting jobs over less experienced women and people of color. These are all rookies. This research shows that of the 497 people who were handed their first opportunity to direct an episodic, about 408 were men and approximately 430 were white. This kind of discriminatory hiring is unacceptable.
So Now What?
When you break down the numbers, it becomes clear that first time directors are being chosen from three main pools of talent: writers (28%), ADs/ UPMs and directors in other genres (35%), and actors (18%). If the on-screen talent is mostly white and the writers rooms are mostly male, how can we expect to hire directors from diverse backgrounds? Also, the DGA has to look at itself. If you go to the DGA’s diversity page, you’ll find a number of directing initiatives from different networks and studios but none guarantees any actual opportunity to direct an episodic.
How to Move Forward
I’m a casting director, and I know that sometimes I have to ask directors and writers about diversity. Sometimes I’ll say “Would a woman work in this role?” or “Do ALL of the characters have to be white?” Almost every time, the director and the producer haven’t even considered the idea of hiring a woman or a person of color. It’s not that they’ve set out to be racist or sexist, they’re just reflecting what they see on screen. They’re oblivious. We need to take the same approach here, let those who hire directors (execs, networks, studios) know that you want to see more diversity behind the camera as well.
As TV watchers, we can do something even more radical. Here is the Worst List from the DGA (scroll down), it includes shows that hired fewer than 15% women and/ or people of color in the 2013-2014 season. Some of those shows are no longer running (research always lags behind) but the worst list includes shows like Hannibal, Fargo, and Resurrection three shows that hired zero women and zero people of color during the 2013-2014 season. The list also includes Mom (5%)The Mindy Project (9%), Castle (13%) and Once Upon a Time (14%) four shows that are almost exclusively watched by women that feature strong female characters. Do we march? Boycott? Write letters? Tweet? How do we open up a closed shop?
Let me know in the comments.