Hollywood Hiring Investigation Could Take Years

Investigators have been interviewing dozens of female directors, as well as executives, producers, actors and actresses about hiring practices in Hollywood

The federal government has been investigating allegations of discrimination in the hiring of female film and television directors for a year, but any announcement regarding the results of the inquiry could still be a long way off, the I-Team has learned.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) launched its probe last October, at the request of the American Civil Liberties Union. Industry insiders tell NBC4 that investigators have been interviewing dozens of female directors, as well as executives, producers, actors and actresses about hiring practices on film and TV production sets.

A recent report conducted by the Media, Diversity and Social Change Initiative at USC's Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism found that since 2007, across 800 films and 886 directors, only 4 percent were women - the equivalent of 24 male directors hired for every one woman.

"Why in 2016 is this happening? How is this happening? But it is happening," said Kimberly Pierce, the award-winning director of "Boys Don't Cry," "Stop Loss" and the 2013 remake of "Carrie."

"It's depriving people like me to make our best work and it's depriving people like your audience of consuming all the best material in the world," Pierce said.

But a federal response to the problem may take longer than expected, said attorney and former EEOC investigator Dolores Leal.

"I remember I investigated [a hiring discrimination case] for three years, and this wasn't the entertainment industry, this was a private company," Leal told the I-Team. "They are complex investigations."

The EEOC declined to answer questions about the status of the investigation.

In a statement sent to the I-Team, spokeswoman Kimberly Smith-Brown said "Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, prohibits EEOC employees from confirming or denying the existence of charge filings, investigations or administrative resolutions... If we file a lawsuit, we post the press release announcing the litigation on our website and make our attorneys available for questions."

Oscar-winning producer and former STX studio head Cathy Schulman isn't waiting for an outcome of the investigation to enact change in Hollywood. As president of the advocacy group Women in Film LA, Schulman hosted a closed-door meeting last fall, gathering male and female industry leaders grappled with the issue of gender discrimination.

The reaction from some men in the room was striking, Schulman told NBC4.

"One by one, they said 'Oh my God, I've always chosen a man to do that,' or 'Of course, I think men do that better than women,'" Schulman said.

The all-day exercise resulted in a four-point action plan, with attendees vowing to:

  • Advocate "unconscious bias" training
  • Pair women directors with professional mentors
  • Appoint Industry "ambassadors" to spread the equality message to studios and talent agencies
  • Launch a "gender parity" stamp that would appear at the end of a film or TV production's closing credits to reward fair hiring practices

"The organization that I support and lead has given us a useful tool to make progressive, lasting change about our hiring practices," Schulman said. "It's time to stop talking about it, do the right thing and I hope I'm in a position to make that happen."

The meeting led to the creation of the Systemic Change Project, a joint venture between Women in Film LA and the Sundance Institute that's dedicated to bringing about significant progress in achieving gender equity in the entertainment industry.

In a statement to NBC4, the ACLU said, "We're encouraged that the government is taking a close and comprehensive look into the industry's hiring practices. We understand that investigations of this scope can be lengthy. While we wait for results, we will continue to advocate for greater inclusion in Hollywood. We urge the entertainment industry to take positive, pro-active steps toward bring more women and people of color into its ranks and spark real internal change as the government proceeds with this important work."

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