Hollywood’s gender bias is now a civil rights issue. This is huge.

Gender inequality in Hollywood has been a recurring theme in entertainment stories recently, and this issue is about to get some real muscle behind it. The New York Times reports that American Civil Liberties Union just announced that they will be putting the pressure on state and federal agencies to investigate Hollywood studios, networks, and agencies for gender discrimination in hiring practices. If discrimination is found, legal action would logically follow. In other words, these institutions would be charged with enabling, or even encouraging gender discrimination, and if the plaintiffs won their cases, Hollywood would have to literally pay for its sexism.

In their letter to states and the feds, the ACLU points to some dismal figures: out of the top 100 grossing movies of the past two years, only 1.9% were directed by women (that number rises to a not-that-much-better 4% when we look at the past dozen years). The Director’s Guild of America reviewed 3,500 episodes from 220 televisions shows shot in 2013 and 2014 and found that only 14% were directed by women. There are now (and for a while have been) an equal number of men and women graduating from college film programs. This is not about 2 or 4 or 14% of women “wanting” to be directors. This is about an army of talented and hardworking female filmmakers being shut out of work they have every right to be doing because of institutionalized misogyny.

The Times also reported that the ACLU interviewed 50 female directors on the subject, and within their letter included all sorts of horror stories. An executive told one of these directors that a television show was not “woman friendly,” another woman interviewed found out from her agent that a producer had asked repeatedly for that agent to “not send women” for jobs, yet another woman was told, regarding a television position, that the show had “already hired their woman for the season.”

“Women directors aren’t working on an even playing field and aren’t getting a fair opportunity to succeed,” Melissa Goodman of the ACLU of Southern California told the Times. “Gender discrimination is illegal. And really, Hollywood doesn’t get this free pass when it comes to civil rights and gender discrimination.”

In response to the ACLU’s action, Oscar-winning director Kathryn Bigelow voiced her support.

“I have always firmly believed that every director should be judged solely by their work, and not by their work based on their gender. Hollywood is supposedly a community of forward thinking and progressive people yet this horrific situation for women directors persists,” Bigelow said in a statement to Time.com. “Gender discrimination stigmatizes our entire industry. Change is essential. Gender neutral hiring is essential.”

She’s absolutely right. These figures and stories are truly disconcerting and alarming, and though it’s rough confronting this hard truth, it’s thrilling that the ACLU is on the case, shaking up Hollywood, and taking the industry to task for its insidious sexism. These hiring practices can not be allowed to continue, and, with hope and some help from the ACLU and the American government, it WON’T be allowed to continue. We’re thrilled about the changes afoot and optimistic that this battle will lead to real and lasting change within the industry.

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