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Maria Giese & Her Inspiring Work To End Discrimination Against Women Directors

Saturday, December 5, 2015


Maria Giese

Maria Giese, a director and a member of the powerful Directors Guild of America (DGA), spoke out about discrimination against women directors in Hollywood long before the those interviewed by Maureen Dowd for a major New York Times article, published a couple of weeks ago – in interviews, through articles on her blog and in other social media.

Like Lexi Alexander, Maria is a hero. She began challenging the DGA back in 2011and in 2013 moved on to ask the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Southern California to investigate discrimination against women directors.

The ACLU set up a webpage, Tell Us Your Story, where it issued a warm invitation–
If you are a director who has been discriminated against, excluded from directing jobs in television or get less TV work than your male peers, we’d love to hear your story to learn more about the experiences of women in the directing industry. Please tell us your story below.
Women could respond by email or telephone, in confidence. And they did. Then, in May this year, the ACLU sent a 15-page letter to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the federal office of the Federal Contract Compliance Program, and to the state department of Fair Employment and Housing. The letter called on them all to investigate ‘the systemic failure to hire women directors at all levels of the film and television industry’.

The EEOC enforces the United States Civil Rights Act (1964), which makes it illegal to discriminate against someone on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, or sex (other legislation makes it illegal to discriminate on the grounds of age and disability). The commission also conducted a report on race and sex discrimination in Hollywood in the 1980s. In early October, it responded to the ACLU letter by issuing letters to some women directors, asking to interview them.

There have been many other long-term activist projects in the United States, like the books and moving image associated with Ally Acker's Reel HerstoryAlexis Krasilovsky's Shooting Women and  Beti Ellerson's Centre for the Study & Research of African Women in Cinema. There have been and are many amazing and courageous women who've kept making and distributing their work in spite of the obstacles, teaching and writing about films by and about women, who've created film festivals that have continued for decades as well as other events to showcase women's work in appropriate contexts.

And there's been a whole lot of recent activism, informed by data-gathering by academics like Martha Lauzen at San Diego State University's Centre for the Study of Women in Television & in Film, who's been gathering and disseminating The Celluloid Ceiling statistics for 18 years and Stacy Smith at USC Annenberg's Media, Diversity & Social Change Initiative, which has expanded over the last decade from studying gender and race representation in front of the camera to analysing women's representation behind the camera.

But the EEOC investigation seems to have led at last to genuine action among Hollywood decision makers.
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