Women Directors Share Stories Of Discrimination In Hollywood

“There’s an assumption that hiring a woman is a risk.”


Kathryn Bigelow won the Academy Award for Best Director for The Hurt Locker in 2010.

Gabriel Bouys / Getty Images

Earlier this week the American Civil Liberties Union sent letters to federal and state agencies asking for an investigation of Hollywood’s hiring practices when it comes to women directors.

Through studies and interviews, the ACLU of Southern California and the national ACLU Women’s Rights Project concluded that women are highly underrepresented as directors in film and television. In 2014, women directed only 7% of the 250 top-grossing films.

The ACLU letter referenced sexist remarks made toward female directors. BuzzFeed News asked women in the film and television industry to recount times they experienced gender discrimination. Some of their statements have been edited and condensed for clarity.


“If I knew you had a boyfriend I wouldn’t have hired you.”


Benjamin Heath

Clara Aranovich, director:

I’ve wanted to be a filmmaker from a very young age. I identified very early on that this was my life’s passion and goal and had a clear-cut idea on how to achieve it. First I went to Dartmouth undergrad with the eventual goal to go to USC film school.

I was jarringly introduced to sexism at Dartmouth; it’s an unabashedly sexist community. One really feels it in its culture thanks to the fact that it’s the last Ivy League to have gone co-ed, and that wasn’t until 1972. I went from Dartmouth straight into film, and in an odd way, the sexism felt familiar. As a woman, I was simply regarded as a lesser commodity.

Women are gravely underrepresented in the film industry. There’s deep, pervading sexism that’s hard to expose because anyone in a decision-making position is too savvy to admit to his or her own sexist feelings. The proof is undeniably in the numbers, though.

When I was producing, a superior once told me, “If I knew you had a boyfriend I wouldn’t have hired you,” but this type of story is a dime a dozen and not unique to film, I’m afraid. I’d taken this particular job because I needed money.

In order to climb to the point of directing my own feature, I’ve had to build my reel and thus take almost any directing work I can, like commercials — which are very competitive to book.

I’ve observed that female director friends and I have often had to lean more heavily on our past work because people in hiring positions are so goddamn terrified we won’t be able to deliver.

When I finally booked my biggest commercial directing job, for a large TV/electronics company, I was paired with an older male co-director by request of the agency and client, suspiciously. I didn’t complain, honestly, because I learned a lot and built a great working relationship with my co-director.

Since then, I’ve finally been getting commercial directing offers, but only for female-oriented content — makeup, tampons — which is fine, but the agencies are speculating what women want to see and thus those jobs tend not to lead to the most cinematic content. If I’m directing commercials, I’m just like every other director with his or her sights set on Cannes — I want to make cinematic, arresting content, like Levi’s and Nike spots. Why am I being relegated to beauty lighting and uninspiring content? My previous work looks nothing like a beauty commercial, so the answer is clearly that it’s because I’m female.


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