Magazine article Variety

Breaking the Old Boy Network

Magazine article Variety

Breaking the Old Boy Network

Article excerpt

One. Zero. One. Zero. One.

That is not a fragment of computer code. It's the number of women of color who directed episodes of television in the 2014-2015 TV season by AMC, FX, HBO, Netflix and Showtime.

Only one zero is needed for "Bones," "Supernatural," "NCIS" and " & Order: SVU." Between 2010 and 2014, not a single woman of color directed any of those long-running dramas. Yet in the same time frame, "Grey's Anatomy" managed to hire 21 non-white women to direct.

When it comes to the issue of diversity in Hollywood, non-white women are the proverbial canaries in the coal mine. A meaningful commitment to diversity will mean they are hired regularly, along with white women and men of color. Their near-absence hints at much deeper systemic problems in the TV industry.

The DGA says more than 3,900 episodes of scripted television were churned out last season. But peak TV has not led to peak diversity behind the camera.

"Executive producers are like, 'Well, I can't get any agents to send (women and people of color) to me.' Agents are like, i can't get these people approved by the network.' The network is saying, 'The studio won't approve them.' There's a vicious cycle of people saying it's somebody else's fault," says "Arrow" executive producer Wendy Mericle, one of 40 key players at various levels throughout the industry Variety interviewed for this story.

Television is a showrunners' medium, to be sure, and the industry has made a modicum of long-overdue progress when it comes to diversifying the ranks of creators. But those efforts at inclusion have yet to infiltrate directorial rosters in a significant way.

An analysis of DGA stats reveals that efforts to launch and sustain the careers of white women, men of color and women of color have not dismantled the institutional hurdles faced by those groups in broadcast, cable and streaming realms. Beyond the broadcast networks, the pool of diverse directors with "prestige" credits remains tiny. The networks with the worst records acknowledge they have to do better, and point to their upcoming slates as signs of progress, but it will take more than incremental changes to reverse a systemic problem.

It's a case of statistical gridlock: Wh ite men constitute 31% of the American population, but for years, they've gotten more than two-thirds of directing gigs - at some cable networks, the number is closer to 80% or even 90%. That imbalance led the ACLU to begin an investigation of Hollywood more than two years ago.

"What we learned through that investigation painted what I think is a disturbing picture of very long-running, systemic discrimination throughout the industry," says Melissa Goodman, director of the LGBTQ, Gender and Reproductive Justice Project for the ACLU of Southern California. There's no doubt that the ACLU inquiry, which led to an ongoing Equal Employment Opportunity Commission investigation of Hollywood's hiring of female directors, made the industry sit up and take notice.

"Now that studios are not owned by one man and they're part of big conglomerates, they have responsibilities, and they can't just discriminate like that. They know that," says Lexi Alexander, director of the films "Green Street Hooligans" and "Punisher: War Zone," who recently directed her first TV episode, an installment of the CWs "Arrow."

Yet one of the industry's most sought-after helmers, Lesli Linka Glatter, who also serves as an executive producer on "Homeland," does believe there is discrimination going on. "I don't think anyone is sitting in a room twirling mustaches," she says. "I think it's more ingrained than that."

TV is ultimately a practical place. Production executives need to know the directors they hire will bring in episodes on time and on budget. Showrunners want to work with helmers who have delivered for them in the past.

One major problem is that it's difficult to get that first TV directing credit - even for John Singleton. …

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