Penalty Box: Hollywood Sexism and the Need for Purposeful Protest Penalty Box: Hollywood Sexism and the Need for Purposeful Protest
Sexism has become a hot button topic of late in the entertainment industry, thanks in large part to social media. Penalty Box: Hollywood Sexism and the Need for Purposeful Protest

Sexism has become a hot button topic of late in the entertainment industry (and others, such as hockey with a very recent incident in the NHL), thanks in large part to social media. Now everyone and their dog can chime in on whatever they feel like to a global audience, regardless of their background. I’m OK with that, let the masses speak. I’m also OK with the overall push to obtain more high profile work in the industry for female directors and writers, not to mention higher quality female roles for actresses to play (cookie-cutter characters still rule the day).

Protest is patriotism. Speaking out against the status quo is admirable, especially when the status quo simply isn’t good enough for a society that should be built on equality. Race, gender, religion, whatever, none of that should matter and maybe one day we’ll get to a point where prejudice is abolished, but for now it isn’t, so fighting for that future is all we have.

However, this seemingly eternal fight brings with it its own set of problems. Groups that should be on the same page turn against each other. Conflicts erupt from within. Groups fracture into smaller, less powerful groups. Voices are silenced due to everyone drowning each other out. It’s what those in control want and expect. A unified front could topple them, but individual swarms can be swatted or, even worse, tempted and turned.

Anyway, I’ve gone way off topic now, so let’s just get back to the obvious sexism in Hollywood. Yes, it is obvious, that much is true. Sexism everywhere is pretty damn obvious. It happens, all the time. That’s not up for debate. What is up for debate, at least for me at this moment, is whether or not those fighting to end sexism should be taking some of the extreme stances that I’ve seen of late. Well, not really extreme, I mean this hasn’t exactly turned into violence and heads rolling down Sunset Boulevard…yet. I’m simply talking extreme from an entertainment perspective, ie. boycotting male-driven programming.

Recently there has been talk on social media of boycotting TV shows that hire primarily male writers and directors. There is merit to such a boycott based on these findings from the Director’s Guild of America, which basically shows that only 14% of all prime time episodic content is directed by women. However, a boycott that simply consists of “not watching” a particular show is a pretty weak ass form of protest. It’s also unfair to the many potentially talented individuals that may have worked extremely hard on the show, regardless of their gender.

One of the recent shows singled out was Netflix’s Daredevil, which employed zero female directors and just the one female writer. Is that ideal from a diversity standpoint? Of course not, but is it reason enough to not watch it, especially when one considers how many shows have a similar or worse gender diversity issue among their writers/directors? I don’t think so. Also, lots of great, talented people worked on Daredevil and, truth be told, many of them are women. The cast includes actresses such as Rosario Dawson, Deborah Ann Woll, and Ayelet Zurer. There are multiple female producers and the only line producer was a woman. Casting, production design, art direction, and set decoration were handled exclusively by women. Other departments such as art, sound, makeup, visual effects, editorial, and stunts included numerous women. In my mind, ignoring Daredevil for not hiring enough female writers/directors is an injustice towards both the men and women who were involved with the production.

Attacking or ignoring specific shows isn’t going to fix the problem and this is readily apparent when one digs a little deeper to discover an interesting fact that isn’t quite as public as a DGA report. When you first hear that only 14% of prime time television is directed by women it sounds pretty damn shocking and inexcusable. However, what if you combine that information with the fact that actual enrollment in the DGA is comprised of roughly 16% women? That’s an estimate from the author of this blog and based on my own research I can’t see the actual percentage being any higher than 20% at best. Knowing this, that first percentage makes a heck of a lot more sense now. Studios are tied to hiring from an existing resource pool and if that resource pool is predominantly male then predominantly males are going to be hired.

Another interesting point made by the referenced blog post (which is well worth a read as it goes into far more detail on these issues than I do) is that the unions themselves are part of the problem. Labor unions and guilds take care of their existing membership first so they work with the studios to ensure their members get the majority of the jobs available. Making matters worse is that gaining entry into a guild isn’t exactly easy, especially if you’re a woman. You need to work in order to accumulate the necessary credentials and women only make up roughly 23% of film crews, meaning they have far less opportunity to do so. That’s where change needs to start; entry-level hiring. Apparently there are roughly equal numbers of men and women coming out of film schools and the like. If that’s the case then hiring should reflect that, but it doesn’t.

How do we fix it? I don’t know. All I know is it begins at the bottom. Achieving greater gender diversity on the ground floor will see that diversity grow upwards throughout the industry. It won’t happen overnight and it will likely take a lot of work, but it’s a start. It’s a shame that the current situation has gone on as long as it has, but the same thing can be said about a lot of bad situations that overstayed their welcome. Real action, real protest, and real demands will help lead women towards a brighter future in the entertainment industry.

In closing, TV shows and movies themselves aren’t the problem. The industry as a whole is the problem and it’s not going to get the message from you choosing not to watch a small portion of its output. Instead, turn your focus towards doing everything you can to help up and coming female talent get their foot in the door. That’s how you can really make a difference.

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Puck Propaganda Director of Written Content

Puck is a renowned Grammar Nazi who suffers from OCD and occasional bouts of indiscriminate rage. His love/hate relationship with film, television, music, video games, comics, and sports often leads to uncompromisingly honest opinions and analysis. Puck's goal is to ensure the site provides high quality, diverse material that encourages discourse among current readers while also enticing new visitors.