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David Poland

By David Poland

Proposed: The Mathematical Argument About Gender Equality In Hollywood Is Holding Things Back

I had an epiphany while looking at the Vulture 100 Women Directors Hollywood Should Be Hiring story, which I instantly felt in my gut would be worthless. (It is, pretty much.)

The reason I keep having a bad response to the now relentless repetition of the stats about how few women are directing feature films for major motion picture studios and top indies is that those stats, once there are believed, are a meaningless slap in the face of those who hire in Hollywood, with no purpose greater than creating shame. There is a great deal of pleasure in shaming others when one has been abused. I get that.

But are we at the point where we are now, collectively, seeking to improve the situation? Or do we want to keep shaming The Industry? Because they require different strategies, whether those who are so passionate in rolling out the shame want to believe it or not.

This is the point where I get accused of “mansplaining” because I have a penis and I don’t fall in lockstep behind whomever on strategy. That too is a form of shaming. But I am not ashamed. I legitimately want to see serious growth in the number of women directors hires by studios starting immediately. My penis is not a barrier to being able to strategize in an effective way. So please take the “mansplaining” argument to someone who doesn’t respect you because of your gender.

The Vulture piece is well-intended as a response to the claim that there are not enough female directors out there to hire. And the overall claim – that this is bullshit – is true. But that is where the reality ends and mythology begins.

I could expand that list of 100 to 150 in the next 10 minutes if need be. It’s not challenging, based on the list’s criteria.

However, in the real world, you could make a list of men who fit the criteria of the Vulture list and get to 900 without breaking a sweat. And not because women are not as good as men or don’t deserve equal consideration. It is because men have had the opportunities ahead of women for so long, in so many areas of filmed entertainment, that it is not a balanced fight.

Make a list of potential directors for a project with 90 men and 10 women and what are the odds that a woman on that list ends up with the job? (Rhetiorical question, right?)

I know… many will tell you – and many will be correct – that there aren’t even 10 women on that list in most cases at most studios on most projects. Yes. But this bit of math, like the others, misses the point.

It’s not about fair.

It is not an equal playing field and it has not been for a very, very long time (the entire last 50 years of the movie business).

Just because you can come up with 100 or 150 or 200 female directors who have shown skill as leaders on films and television in recent years does not fix the problem. Worse, a list like this almost makes it easier for anyone taking the “I just hire on quality and I don’t have enough female options to balance the field” line to make their case.

I don’t want to (or intend to) go through the entire list of 100, but let’s just look at the first 10.

Six of them are working right now or have a film or TV series coming out or have their next film or TV series lined up. (Ana Lily Amirpour, Andrea Arnold, Amma Assante, Elizabeth Banks in film and Jamie Babbit, Susanne Bier on television.)

Gillian Armstrong is 65 and just released a doc. Allison Anders is 60 and hasn’t had a domestic film release in 14 years. Debbie Allen is 65 and hasn’t directed a feature release in 20 years.

I have enormous respect for all three of these women as filmmakers and storytellers. But the fight against ageism in Hollywood is, while hugely significant, a different fight.

Lexi Alexander is, amongst that first 10, the person most due a chip on the shoulder. She is a legitimate action director. Punisher: War Zone was a financial bomb, but given her skill set, that should mean nothing. Green Street Hooligans was not only excellent, but highly acclaimed by critics.

I don’t know what Lexi Alexander says to employers, employees, agents, etc. But I do know that she is very outspoken when talking in public, whether about gender equality or filmmaking. That is a red flag for many employers when it comes to director hires of any gender in any genre. Yes, there are “lovable loudmouths” who get away with it and keep going. As you would expect, in a 90%+ male group of directors, the loudmouths who get away with it (and those who do not) are almost all male.

Is there discrimination against Lexi Alexander as a woman who works in an area of an industry in which women are rare and in a genre in which female directors are even more rare? Yes. Certainly. Is that why she hasn’t made another action film since 2008? Maybe. But I don’t know that. And the “well, there are guys who get away with (whatever) all the time” argument may be valid, but I would need to know the specifics of Alexander’s history and whatever male to whom you are comparing her in order to make a legitimate analysis.

Getting back to the first group, of working female directors, consider this… Ana Lily Amirpour and Andrea Arnold have not yet shown much (if any) interest in working in Mainstream Hollywood. Elizabeth Banks IS Mainstream Hollywood right now.

Susanne Bier has made some great foreign language films and two of her films have been Foreign Language Oscar nominated, with In A Better World winning. She has had opportunities at US studios which have not resulted in box office success, including a barely releasable film called Serena starring Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper.

Jamie Babbitt has been directing professionally for 16+ years, has made 5 features (3 theatrically released… 1 cult classic), and is certainly skilled enough to direct any straight drama or comedy a studio has.

Amma Assante is the rising star in this group (which is not meant to diminish the value of the other 4 already risen stars or the wunderkind, Ana Lily Amirpour). She had her second film released by Fox Searchlight (Belle), which did quite well. She has been a head writer on a hit UK series and has strong support from UK funders. And she has the political savvy and drive to go mainstream.

All 10 of these women deserve to work. None of them should be dismissed. The three who are 60+ have certainly, even with all their fame, been subject to an industry of aggressive sexism for decades. One (Bier) is working her way back into features and will likely make a foreign language film before her next English-language one. And one Alexander) feels like she has not been given her due, but may be suffering primarily from talking too loudly disease, which affects directors of all ages, genders, and races.

In the reality of Hollywood, there are two in the hot zone (Banks and Assante), two in the distinctly indie zone (Arnold and Amirpour), and there is one who the industry could not in any way call a “controversial” hire, though she is seen as a TV director primarily (Babbitt).

When I call, as I have for a couple of years now, for those who care to demand no fewer then three films per major studio releases per year to be directed by women, that means 36 films minimum in the next two years, which means that Banks (who will shoot at least one film) and both Assante or Babbitt, would (by my analysis) pretty much have to be amongst that 2016/2017 group in order to make that quota… and maybe another from this “first 10.”

My bigger point is… that list of 100 is probably, realistically, a list of 30. And that still wouldn’t be enough to fill the list of 36 that I am suggesting be the rallying point. Which is good, because that list of 100 is way too small and not accounting for the rising generation of young women (and women over 25 too) who should have opportunities to get films to direct from studios.

I love Alison Anders’ work. Her films still resonate with me, even the ones I had issues with. But getting Alison Anders work is not really what progressing into the future of female directors is about. There are exceptions amongst the ranks of older female directors, like Jane Campion, who has never stopped working. But “older” and “hasn’t made one in a long time” is a hard road for all kinds of reasons.

And I don’t need Ana Lily Amirpour to go mainstream and make a sex comedy for Universal. I don’t. She doesn’t… until she might want to and invest in such a direction in her work. Same as I feel about Kyle Patrick Alvarez.

I loved Desert Hearts… but you’re really putting Donna Deitch on a list of directors who Hollywood should hire? At 70? Do you know how many directors over 60 there were behind the Top 100 box office releases of last year? Two. Both were Clint Eastwood.

And to not to put too fine a point on it, 6 of the Next 10 of the Vulture piece are either in production, prepping, or about to release something.

The point of this is not to say that anything is okay. It’s not okay. Let me repeat, IT’S NOT OKAY.

But it’s not a math problem either. There are not enough women directors who fit what studios are looking for when compared to the long list of male directors to demand equality right away. There are not 100.

The point is… that doesn’t matter. The math is not the issue. More women need to be able to get into the door and prove themselves. And within a few years, the number of realistic hires for studio who happen to be female will multiply, perhaps exponentially.

This is not the right to vote or equal pay or whatever civil right you want to attach it to. This is an inequitable stuation that people who are responsible for large amounts of money need to be convinced is dead wrong and requires a legitimate effort to repair… not just more talk. Not “we love women and we’d love to hire them if we could find one” chatter. Not “7%… kill the men” chatter.

But lists with big, bold numbers, like this Vulture list make mockery of reality.

Used People is a seminal film in my life. I have quoted it for years. I love so many things in it. But Beeban Kidron is not only making a film for Univeral and Working Title right now, but she’s been busiy making docs since her last hit, released 10 years ago, Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason. The film was considered a miss in the U.S., since we only think of ourselves when we write about box office, but it almost matched the original smash worldwide. And who is she working for again? Working Title and Universal. She is a success story, best as I can tell. This doesn’t mean she has run into some asshole men. But if you are yelling at studios, demanding that they wise up, you should probably know that many of the women you are mentioning are, in fact, working.

And that doesn’t mean there isn’t a problem.

Math does not win the day over morality or logic or a moment in which an idea of what is right is embraced properly.

Stop trying to beat everyone to death on math. Everyone who matters knows the math. Time to aim higher. Time to demand action, not to keep posturing.

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51 Responses to “Proposed: The Mathematical Argument About Gender Equality In Hollywood Is Holding Things Back”

  1. Hmmm says:

    Why did you write this?

  2. kurt says:

    Wonderful. Why not go one better, and “fan-produce” packages in the current industry, for each of the 100 directors on the list?

    Match each director to a studio and their known executives who are good fit for each director’s temperament, work history and style; to types of projects (currently taken by unqualified names, stuck in development hell, and of course the directors’ own passion projects.) Then round off the packages with a matching lead, financing (eg. which foreign markets are the most open to presales) & release strategy and pattern.

    Fan-casting is popular because it builds conversations by using online social groups as convenient think tanks. It compares notes on the evolving perceptions about storytelling elements, the storytellers before and behind the camera, and how much (especially for niche, core audience) fan interest is in packaging specialized stories and projects (if we aren’t playing for the zero-sum of squeezing all 100 directors into studio tentpoles.)

  3. PcChongor says:

    Why is that gender equality is only ever talked about in terms of the most desirable things and jobs? Shouldn’t there also be a “Top 100” list of female convicts who could potentially help even out the death row statistics too?

  4. JS Partisan says:

    This is, one of my favorite things: BOOMERS vs. MILLENNIALS! The Boomer, defends a status quo, and has a problem with people being SHAMED! “They know that things are wrong! Stop posturing, and demand action!”

    The Millennial, who has grown up in a world where men in power do nothing, but keep other men in power. Shakes head and screams back, “Posturing? POSTURING? Shaming is how we take action. Shaming gets people fired, makes powerful people apologize when the used to not have to do so, and shaming moves the fucking needle. You had your turn at the table. Now, let some people who really want change in this world, shame the fuck out anyone, that stands in the way a needed change.”

    The times, ladies and gentlemen, are once again changing, and thank god they are. Enough of this baby boomer bullshit. Time for something new.

    If you Hollywood doesn’t like being called out on their shit, then HOLLYWOOD NEEDS TO STOP DOING IT! It’s that fucking simple.

  5. Amblinman says:

    Yeah, shaming has produced a lot. It’s 2015 and we’re still talking about gender inequality. Shaming – it just works! (Not meant to be a defense of the status quo, so any attempt on your part to paint it that way you can blow it out of your asshole.)

    However, here’s a piece of status quo I’ll defend: the presumptive of-course-the-white-guy-is-wrong stance on the Damon-Effie Brown kerfluffle. Basically Matt Damon got into trouble because he had the audacity to argue with a black woman. Score one for the shamers. (No, this isn’t specifically what David’s post is about but I think it’s part of the same conversation.)

  6. Stella's Boy says:

    Is it that Damon argued with a black woman, or is it the way he argued with her? Weren’t people upset with how condescending he seemed? I think you’re being disingenuous when you claim the outrage was only due to her being a black woman.

    Doesn’t the shaming help though? Doesn’t it bring needed attention to the issue so that people are aware of it and then do something about it (the action you plead for)? If people aren’t aware and don’t care, then nothing happens right?

  7. amblinman says:

    I didn’t find him condescending at all. If anything she spent the entire series beginning and ending every conversation with how many movies she produced as a means to say “Shut up, I know more than you do.” Damon was a schmuck for even apologizing for “whitesplaining”. The reflexive argument against anyone with white skin offering any commentary, pro or con, on issues of diversity is inherently a step back on all these issues. Cause guess what: white folks? Still mostly in power. Gotta work with ’em.

    Your point about shaming: but it obviously hasn’t led to jack or shit. Honestly it seems to be almost a parody of what Millennials think constitute tacking action: saying nasty things about someone on social media.

  8. Stella's Boy says:

    So should people not bring attention to it at all then? They should keep quiet otherwise they might come across like a clueless Millennial? If it hasn’t worked, is that entirely the fault of the people trying to bring attention to it? I’m struggling to understand the contention here: “Yes gender equality is a problem in Hollywood but solving it is being stopped by people doing math.” Studio execs would hire more women if only Millennials on social media stopped shaming them with math?

  9. JS Partisan says:

    No. He had the audacity to speak to a woman of color about diversity, and state his white Boston ass understands it more than she does. Of course he doesn’t, and the same went for his moronic comments about gay actors. He’s out of touch, and a lot of white guys out there are out of touch. This is the problem, and this is why they feel the fucking SHAME PADDLE from time to time.

    Also, Man, do I have to list all the people that shame has fucking wrecked? Seriously, this generation isn’t taking the baby boomer shit anymore, and lack of diversity is pure and utter baby boomer shit.

  10. PcChongor says:

    “Who shames the shamers?”

  11. amblinman says:

    “So should people not bring attention to it at all then?” Yes, I think that was my point. Seriously?

    JS; What Damon understands is the film industry and what goes into making a film, and yeah it can be argued he knows that arena better than Effie Brown does (I get it though. He’s white, so any experience, values, interests, ideas he has are summarily dismissed on all topics at any given time. It’s a great argument, well thought out by the people who brought you the SHAME PADDLE.)

  12. Stella's Boy says:

    I guess I don’t get your point, outside of defending Damon. If gender equality is indeed real and needs to be addressed, but sharing the math and shaming people is terrible and not productive, what’s the solution? OK so everyone knows the math, and shaming is bad. DP says time to demand action. Aren’t people already doing that? I don’t think it’s fair or accurate to say that right now all everyone is doing is behaving like Millennials on social media.

  13. JS Partisan says:

    Man, he understands being a white man making a movie not a black woman making a movie. The fact that you are defending him. Demonstrates a missing of the point.

  14. amblinman says:

    Oh god, can we retire “You’re not getting my point” or at least amend Godwin’s Law to cover it? Yeah, your point isn’t very complex. Understood it, deemed it silly, dismissed appropriately.


  15. YancySkancy says:

    Matt and Effie had a fairly simple difference of opinion that got blown up because each got defensive and their confrontation was emphasized in the editing because it made good TV. Matt clearly thought there was sufficient diversity in the process, leading to a fairly diverse group of contestants from which to choose a winner. He probably also assumed the series itself would have plenty of diversity because Effie would hire a diverse crew. But he thought the final winner should be chosen strictly on merit. There’s no reason to think he wouldn’t have chosen a black, Asian or female winner if he thought they met the challenges of the contest best. I don’t recall Effie arguing the merits of the other most likely candidates (an Asian man and white female who worked as a team, IIRC) on much of a basis other than diversity. Matt probably didn’t like the idea of telling Jason Mann “Hey, you should win this, but we’re gonna go with a diversity hire. Sorry.”

  16. leahnz says:

    the defence of damon in this bizarre post is actually perfect, and in a way encapsulates what is really the crux of the matter:
    damon said to brown point blank that striving for diversity in front of the camera is good, but not necessary behind the camera. these are his words.

    so lets boil down this mentality, because it’s quite telling and at the foundation of white male patriarchy (*straight white patriarchy, that is), and in regards to film-making specifically the laughable notion that mainstream film-making — teeming with extremely mediocre white dudes — is a meritocracy, which funnily enough only straight white dudes ever seem to argue with a straight face.

    white patriarchal establishment/status quo in general, but in this instance mainstream film-making specifically, depends on the very notion that white guys (at about 31% of the US pop for example, in the minority) understand and are as, (or let’s be honest) or more capable of telling compelling, diverse stories about everyone and from all points of view, so women or people with darker skin colour or diverse sexuality with differing points of view and lived experience needn’t worry their pretty little heads about making movies and telling stories, white daddy filmboss has it all under control, we know what we’re doing! we can make these decisions, we can tell your stories just as effectively as you can, we in our omnipotence and innate wisdom speak for EVERYBODY. now this is, of course, hogwash, for many reasons. but mainly what white guys have proven beyond a shadow of a doubt over quite a long span of time is that white dudes overwhelming tell stories about…other white dudes. historically, thematically, creatively – this is a fact.
    (* re project greenlight, look at final film, white dudes, funny that)
    so for damon and his apologists who in their ignorance don’t understand the fundamental issue, his assertion is perfectly valid if you believe that white guys are just inherently the best storytellers and film-makers who effectively represent all points of view for reasons that clearly involve low amounts of melanin in the skin and floppy external genitals giving them unique powers and skills over the MAJORITY of other humans. very logical.

    (and never, ever underestimate the comfort level of white dudes working with/around other white dudes, the perceived trustworthiness and ability of white dudes by other white dudes, the comfort of not having their POV challenged by the ‘other’, the subconscious bias that props up the status quo in the face of any and all evidence of perpetuation of mediocrity and exclusion to the contrary, and to the detriment of movies as a dynamic, important artform)

  17. JS Partisan says:

    Man, you constantly miss the point, so that’s why it’s still brought up.

    Leah, that’s the shit right there.

  18. MAGGA says:

    As someone who straddles the line between genX and Millennial generation-wise, all the complaining about baby boomers sounds ridiculous to me in terms of equality. Don’t people know that women were hardly working professionally at all until baby boomer women and men took action? Don’t people know that equality in general has gotten WORSE this century, with only diversity in front of cameras improving?

    Don’t Millennials see that our ENTIRE pop culture is status quo, repeating boomer ideas over and over? Do Millennials ever pay to see movies with an explicit progressive agenda? Do they consider diversity in directing when buying a ticket? Nope, it’s all some click-worthy stories repeating that things are bad, but if we did what conservatives did, which is to go out and buy me tickets when the progressive equivalent of Passion of the Christ or American Sniper (which was more than a conservative movie, but made much of it’s money from the support for it’s protagonist’s book), there would be more of those movies.

    Millennials have made exactly two major contributions to this issue. One is the election of the first black president, after which everyone went home and stopped paying attention to the process. The biggest one is on the issue of gay rights, and millennials can take pride in having made more progress on this hugely important issue than anyone thought possible.

    But a corporation will gladly take our shame if they can also take our money. And yes, I understand that dismissing white men as a big part of every argument about diversity is emotionally satisfying as a corrective, but it doesn’t help if you want the tent to be as big as possible on these issues. There are plenty of pro-gay, pro-women, pro-racial diversity white men who would like to fight for the same things, and we should be corrected when saying ignorant things, but if the consequence of speech is losing your job and dignity, which is often the stated goals of twitter take-downs, it’s an easy choice to not take part and just enjoy your privilege.

    EDIT: Having actually looked at the article in question it doesn’t seem relevant to the comments here at all. Interesting list of directors, some of whom I’ve never heard. Can’t get myself worked up over Elisabeth Banks directing another Charlie’s Angels reboot, but new ideas isn’t the point of this or almost any other movie discussion

  19. AdamL says:

    Green Street Hooligans is excellent and critically acclaimed? That’s certainly news to Metacritic (55) and rottentomatoes (47%.)

  20. YancySkancy says:

    You may have a point about the film industry in general, leah, but Project Greenlight is a little different. You mischaracterize what Damon said, and, IMO, misinterpret what he meant. He said that diversity is “what you do in the casting of the movie, not the casting of the show.” In other words, the winner of Project Greenlight (the “show”) should be determined on merit, not race, gender, etc. And the winner is determined solely by those voting. Jason Mann seemed to most of them to be the one with the most confident vision and technical chops. There is absolutely no reason to think anyone voted for him because he’s a white male. Effie’s initial objections had to do with the original script that had been chosen, a story that had only one black character of note, a prostitute. She voiced concern that a white male director might not handle that character with sensitivity (whereas I suppose an Asian man and a white woman would). Damon clarified that picking a winner on the basis of anything but merit would be “[changing] the rules of this competition at the 11th hour,” which “would undermine what the competition was supposed to be about, which is about giving somebody this job based entirely on merit and leaving all other factors out of it.”

    I’m not sure you can extrapolate this to a greater point about Hollywood, because Hollywood is not a structured competition with clear-cut rules. And the rules of Project Greenlight clearly didn’t exempt anyone on the basis of race or gender, or all the final candidates would’ve been white guys. But if you hold a contest under the proviso that the winner will be chosen on merit, then you have to stick with it. Obviously, whether Jason Mann was the best choice is purely subjective, and any choice would have involved a leap of faith. I can’t look in the hearts of the judges (most all of whom I presume are politically liberal), but I’d be truly shocked if any one of them chose Jason (or refused to choose other contestants)on the basis of race.

  21. movieman says:

    Love how a Millennial troll suffering from a severe case of arrested development pretends to be the voice of reason/authority.

    When all he really wants to do is watch an endless marathon of comic book movies and/or go trick or treating.

  22. captain_celluloid says:

    “Your point about shaming: but it obviously hasn’t led to jack or shit. Honestly it seems to be almost a parody of what Millennials think constitute tacking action: saying nasty things about someone on social media.”

    Great line, great insight

  23. captain_celluloid says:

    “Seriously, this generation isn’t taking the baby boomer shit anymore, and lack of diversity is pure and utter baby boomer shit.”

    We Boomers are far from perfect . . . however, please keep in perspective that, among other things, Boomers brought you The Civil Rights Movement, The Peace Movement, The Gay Rights Movement and dare I say Feminism.

    You’re welcome

  24. Stella's Boy says:

    Yes, yes, tremendous line, tremendous insight. Millennials are just the worst. I’ve never heard anyone say that before.

    Regarding shaming, my point was that 1) it isn’t entirely bad if it results in people paying attention to a legitimate issue (and everyone seems to agree that gender equality is a legitimate issue) and 2) that it isn’t fair or accurate to claim that the one and only strategy being deployed is shame. OK back to hating Millennials. I work with them everyday and yes sometimes they are irritating.

  25. leahnz says:

    i don’t understand what a millennial is at this point, i’m embarrassed to say

    yancy you have a fascinating way of saying, ‘you may have a point about the way things are’ and then demonstrate you don’t understand at all how bias works, and dismiss it

    “He said that diversity is “what you do in the casting of the movie, not the casting of the show. In other words, the winner of Project Greenlight (the “show”) should be determined on merit, not race, gender, etc. And the winner is determined solely by those voting. Jason Mann seemed to most of them to be the one with the most confident vision and technical chops. There is absolutely no reason to think anyone voted for him because he’s a white male”

    er, yeah no shit the purview is not to choose projects based on gender and race. so there’s absolutely no reason to think gender and race comes into play – because why, this is not the stated ideal?

    you can’t genuinely be this naïve. perceptions around gender and race – bias – play an intrinsic, often subconscious role in all such choices/judgements – there’s lots of evidentiary research confirming this if you care to educate yourself. do you expect someone to come out and articulate their bias? that’s what you require? not trying to go all hudson with a sharp stick on you but i guess i find this hard to believe, but ok.

    it’s complex and yet remarkably simple. white dudes tend to take a chance on white dudes. i think you can take any single instance or example and rationalise it away or dismiss/doubt it, but when looking at the wider picture, the sheer volume, the massive over-representation of white males in the industry, it’s only logical to then look at systemic issues of opportunity, funding and control. how resources are distributed. (clue: talent and experience are clearly NOT the reason for white male over-representation)

    re PG, so the white guy’s show choses (yet) another sort of competent white guy over the other sort of competent not-white-or-guys, and the chosen director – who directs a white guy – then turns out to be thoroughly average, and also a big whiny pretentious baby. who knew?

    sorry for having to edit, fucking tablet

  26. brack says:

    I can’t take an article seriously when it condemns a studio for hiring another unknown male for the upcoming The Flash movie, yet ignores that an established female director is doing Wonder Woman. But if the fight is really about more women getting to direct franchise movies, doesn’t that come off as very condescending to female directors who aren’t getting the work and want to create original stuff?

  27. palmtre says:

    I think the statistics game has to be taken in the context of a movement. Right now, the world of theatre is in a similar fight with the Dramatists Guild releasing what it calls “The Count” that also shows the enormous prevalence of white male playwrights getting produced over women and minorities. But in theatre it is even more necessary to look at the numbers, because the economics of non-profit theatre are in jeopardy for much of the country. And shows like Hamilton are paving the way for a more diverse kind of theatre that can bring in a bigger, more diverse audience.

    About Project Greenlight…defining “merit” as someone’s competence divorced entirely from their identity seems to be the heart of the issue. Sure, there are certain people who work harder or have more practical experience, but I’m assuming everyone who made it to the final round of the show has already shown they can work hard and that they do come from lots of practical experience. So really it comes down to who the producers want to take a chance on with a particular piece of material. And it’s hard for me to believe a person’s race doesn’t come into play there, at least subconsciously. There are studies showing that two identical resumes, one with a minority or female sounding name and one with a white male sounding name don’t get the same response. They are both sent out to prospective employers, and the results of who gets called in (and not called in) are pretty obvious. So “merit” is a nice word, but it has, in my view, a dog whistle quality.

    Finally, I agree with people about shaming being necessary but also played out. It is an old school tactic that still has its place, but taken too far, it can come across as crying wolf. I believe in positive tactics like touting successful artists like Ava DuVernay and others, so all in all, a list of people doesn’t have to be taken as shaming. I suppose it comes off as shaming if you have something to be defensive about. As someone else put it, “When you’re accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression.”

  28. leahnz says:

    there’s loads of research that shows unfounded gender bias. one study quite recently in fact that took identical resumes – the only difference similar but gendered first names as the applicant, james and jenifer, something like that – and when people were asked to rate the applicant the one with the male name was consistently rated across the board as more qualified, competent, better educated, harder working, exact same resume, clearly demonstrable socialised sexism based on a tissue of nothing. this is the norm.

    then there’s the always revealing blind orchestral auditions instituted because symphonies were excluding women, who complained of rife prejudice and sexism in the audition process (dismissed of course as a case of the irrational crazies by women with the vapours for a very long time), then voila, when blind auditions were instituted the result was a huge uptick in women chosen to play, because MERIT was judged properly and without bias, not on assumed male superiority. the simple fact is, women are considered inferior, completely unfounded and for no reason whatsoever – and assumed male superiority, on the opposite end of the unfounded spectrum, results in an inferior range of what ever is being produced

  29. MAGGA says:

    I propose a shaming campaign against people who don’t vote, particularly in off-year elections. Someone’s opinions mean nothing when there is evidently so little interest in getting off the couch to do something. Hell, post a selfie with ticket stubs to female directed movies if that’s the motivation needed to go spend the money. Point is that if you don’t spend money or vote in support of your own ideas, nobody listens. I’d sign a petition to get Michelle MacLaren a Bond movie in a second. We don’t need more franchise movies, but if she made it I’d be there in a second

  30. MAGGA says:

    Actually that’s a great way to get millennials to movies full-stop. Get personalized tickets. It has your name over the movie, you can collect them and show people how good your taste is, the same way people used to look through people’s record collections. Maybe even an app that can register every time you see a movie, so you can show the amount, the genres, the directors etc on some sort of social network for movies that maps out your habits and taste.

  31. Stella's Boy says:

    Gender bias is an everyday reality at the university where I work. There are about 40 of us teaching ENG 101, and it’s a pretty even split of men and women. A week or two ago we had a forum and people shared what was going on in our classrooms this semester. Over and over again the female instructors shared stories of being challenged and blatantly disrespected or insulted by white male students. One was asked if it’s hard to teach ENG 101 when English isn’t her first language (it actually is). Another was criticized for talking too much about “women’s issues.” Another was angrily shouted at because the course texts talk too much about female sexuality. Another got mad because they felt a text suggested white males are bad. Others reported less aggressive slights, but slights nonetheless. Not a single male instructor has had anything remotely similar happen, and we are teaching the exact same class. It’s insane and distressing how much gender bias still exists.

  32. brack says:

    And more people would favor the identical résumé with the name John over Jamal, at least in theory.

  33. MAGGA says:

    brack, not just in theory. It’s been tested. In Norway, where sexism isn’t as much of a problem, immigrants sometimes change their names in order to get more job interviews.

  34. YancySkancy says:

    Okay, so because various studies have proven the existence of gender bias, which I realize is absolutely a thing that exists, we must assume that any time a white male is chosen to win a competition it is for that reason? Theories and studies aside, what should a competition like Project Greenlight do to at least appear more fair? Accept only women and people of color as applicants? Allow people of all races and genders to apply, with the understanding that the final choice can only be a woman or person of color? Or maybe white males are acceptable if they don’t identify as straight? Look, either we have these competitions and trust the liberal-minded folks behind them to make an unbiased choice, or we eliminate them altogether, right? If that’s the answer, fine. But if it’s not, I’d really like to know how you’d make the show viable by your standards. I’m not naive, leah, but I admit my knee doesn’t automatically jerk in the direction of “Matt Damon voted for Jason Mann, even if only subconsciously, because he’s a white male.” Maybe he did, maybe he didn’t. Is our only “proof” that he got a bit defensive about it with a black woman?

  35. palmtree says:

    Easy answer: race, gender, identity is a factor. Just as it’s a factor when you choose someone in front of the camera, it’s also a factor (one of many potential factors) in choosing someone behind the camera. Who tells the story can be an important part of how the story gets told. Doesn’t mean it’s more important or less important, but one shouldn’t ignore it outright in favor of merit, which we know carries bias.

  36. leahnz says:

    obviously the solution to deeply ingrained sexism and racism prevalent in subconscious bias – and the very real barriers women and PoC face because of it on many levels – is not a simple ‘one size fits all’ issue. deeply rooted social conditioning re gender and race has to be tackled on many levels, from the grass roots on up. but the first step to solving any problem is awareness. awareness > acceptance that there’s a problem > change in attitudes > change in behaviour.
    probably the most troubling and telling aspect of damon’s comments is his stunning lack of awareness. he seems to believe that his (and the overwhelmingly white dudes who’ve served as judges on his show throughout) assessment of ‘merit’ is somehow objective and not inherently skewed re gender and race/influenced by social conditioning, the ever-present disconnect that so often shows how white guys in positions of power/privilege see themselves in and relate to other white guys, and then provide them opportunities, not because of actual ‘merit’ or talent though this is the narrative that comforts them. the thing is, people are often unaware of their bias.

    re PG of course one white guy chosen as the show’s winner doesn’t mean he clearly wasn’t deserving of it (though from what i saw it seemed everybody voiced reservations about the dude’s ability from dot, and yet he was still chosen by the white guys – funny that). like i said, one instance or example is not the issue. but the show is a white guys’ show with overwhelmingly white male judges and white male winners over the 4 seasons (a white women won once – the one time there was single white woman on the judging panel. hmmm) with white male protagonists. at some point you kind of have to gouge your eyes out not to see the bigger pattern. might be interesting to have blind submissions so that the work could be judge without bias, doubt that would ever happen. i have a good friend who works as part of a screenplay judging panel wherein all submissions are done without names attached to prevent sexism and racism from clouding the process. diverse winners. but once they get out into the real big bad it’s a whole ‘nother story for the non-white/non-boys.

  37. Triple Option says:

    There does seem to be some default association that the moment “Diversity” is brought up, merit or quality will no longer be in consideration. I thought Damon’s comments about the lack of necessity for diversity behind the camera showed bias in that he automatically assumed whoever they brought in would be better than a diverse candidate. To me it was like he was saying “this is where the heavy lifting takes place, diversity is window dressing.” I don’t think that’s him alone. I think there’s a bias that needs to be conquered or then diverse candidate has to be better than everyone and not good enough, which is often the marker for others.

  38. YancySkancy says:

    This is slippery stuff. The assumption that Damon (or any white male, I guess) is beholden to subconscious bias practically lets him off the hook. How can one rationally overcome a subconscious impulse? If his process, whether conscious or unconscious, led him to believe Jason Mann was the best choice, his only option for avoiding controversy would have been to vote on the basis of diversity, to avoid the appearance of bias. Sounds like the best option is simply not to have such contests.

  39. leahnz says:

    yeah, clearly the best option is to not do anything and just quit. status quo.

    or, for your show you could, you know, assemble a judging panel and team that doesn’t look like an advert for the ‘creative’ arm of the Aryan Brotherhood (except for effe this season) — and speaking of, maybe when the only person there who isn’t a white dude speaks up with their perspective on the perpetuation of racial/gender clichés for which white dudes so often show a glaring blind spot, open your earballs and LISTEN, instead of interjecting with an inane, thoughtless lecture on the ‘meritocracy’ – a concept white guys who are in charge of stuff use to justify the perpetuation of white patriarchy. (white guys in the industry look around at all the other white guys and think, gee look at all the guys like me, we must be the best!)

    triple option touches on it above, the insidious implication of damon’s commentary about diversity behind the camera is that diversity somehow means a lowering of standards, pandering to the ‘other’ without an iota of awareness of how pandering to white men in charge in this culture is so structurally perpetuated and internalised that it’s seen as ‘the norm’. and let’s be honest, in terms how gender is socialised, men are taught that ‘losing’ to a girl (even being compared to a girl) is the ultimate humiliation, so the thought that women can be just plain better than men at a whole range of stuff is a hard pill to swallow. i think racial prejudice re PoC intersects in different ways, but i know as a white person i feel very ill-suited to speak on the issue so it’s super fucking important to listen and learn from people who live that experience and impart their wisdom so that others may better understand, empathise and hopefully act from a more enlightened place.

  40. Bitplayer says:

    Everything Project Greenlight has produced has been total shit. If he’s basing his decisions on merit perhaps he should base them on something else. HBO doesn’t even like showing these shit movies.

  41. palmtree says:

    All Damon realistically had to say to avoid controversy was to say, “Yes, we should consider the race/gender of who is telling this story. Good idea.” The idea that he HAD to decide one thing or another is alarmist.

  42. YancySkancy says:

    leah: I wholeheartedly agree that more diversity in the makeup of the judges would be desirable. But it doesn’t get to the heart of my question, which is how would subconscious bias ever NOT be a part of the judging? I mean, it’s subconscious! Theoretically, white judges would never believe their vote for a white candidate was based on anything other than merit, because they wouldn’t see their own bias. Presumably, this would be true of all the other judges as well (unless your premise is that only white males suffer from subconscious bias – or conscious, for that matter).

    Judging anything will always be subjective, especially in a case like this where you’re also trying to determine if the winner will be suited to the demands of professional feature filmmaking, something none of the contestants has ever done before. I suspect a big reason that Jason Mann won was because he had the air of someone who knew what he wanted and would work hard to get it. Even though that attitude ruffled feathers, it’s a pretty common one among director types. If he had been pliant and compromised on everything without a fight, Effie would’ve liked him better, but he’d be a sorry excuse for a director, whose job it is to call the shots, regardless of experience or the circumstances of his hiring.

    Ironically, I think Damon was trying to be P.C. by arguing that merit should be the primary consideration. It’s the basic “content of [our] character” argument. Since his “true” motives are pure conjecture, there’s literally nothing he can say to “prove” his heart was in the right place or that he was giving fair consideration to all contestants, regardless of race or gender. And the only thing he could’ve DONE to prove a lack of bias would’ve been to vote for a non-white and/or non-male contestant, regardless of whether he felt they were most qualified. In other words, he’d have to acknowledge his bias and deliberately vote against it under the assumption that a bias-based choice would be “wrong” by definition, regardless of the comparative qualifications of the contestants. Whew! It’s exhausting to contemplate (and to read, I’m sure, so sorry everybody!).

  43. leahnz says:

    yancy, i get what you’re saying and agree subconscious bias re social conditioning is tricky stuff and how to ‘dismantle’ it, if you will, is something that’s urgent to address and probably slow to rectify, because it’s intrinsically part of the imbalance of power. but as always awareness is key, listening is key, both of which damon showed a sorry lack of. you’re doing some mental gymnastics there though, falling into some traps with assumptions and rationalising. this for example:

    “Judging anything will always be subjective, especially in a case like this where you’re also trying to determine if the winner will be suited to the demands of professional feature filmmaking, something none of the contestants has ever done before. I suspect a big reason that Jason Mann won was because he had the air of someone who knew what he wanted and would work hard to get it. Even though that attitude ruffled feathers, it’s a pretty common one among director types.”

    i’ll try to word this carefully so i should probably do it later haha, but i think this type of rationalising is instructive, you’re hitting on something but perhaps not the way you might think. so the consideration is “if the winner will be suited to the demands of professional feature film-making”, and mann likely won because “he had the air of someone who knew what he wanted and would work hard to get it”.
    i’m not sure if you realise you’re describing some false subconscious rationales and sexist/racist tropes commonly used to marginalise women/non-whites from positions of power – while also playing into notions that traditionally ‘masculine’ models for accomplishment and ‘style’ of behaviour are the only way to get results, produce good work.
    1) who, exactly, is ‘suited to the demands of film-making’. how does this work, and how does mann appear to posses this elusive trait over the others?
    and 2) he had the “air” of someone who would work hard? er, ok then. i think they all worked hard to get to that final point. how is mann perceived the harder worker exactly, who will carry on working harder?
    because what it sounds like you’re describing is the exact tired, silly trope of ‘the white man has what it takes to get stuff done and be the boss, work tirelessly because he knows what he wants’ applied to this PG scenario wherein the louder kind of asshole-y white guy who’s a bit of a knob (and turns out to be hella mediocre, as his work thus far pretty much suggested) gets the gig because he most embodies the model of “louder kind of asshole-y white guys are able to get stuff done and they don’t get tired and know what’s what!” nonsense that perpetuates a white male power structure of mediocrity. serves to make the point in a round-about way

  44. brack says:

    The old saying goes ” it’s not what you know, but who you know.” Still rings true today.

  45. YancySkancy says:

    leah: I wasn’t condoning anything, just pointing out the common perception, which I absolutely understand is based on the traditional Hollywood model of the director being a sort of “general” who commands “troops” – a model that is male-centric, to say the least. Hell, Mann was so uncompromising, albeit in a fairly soft-spoken way, that he honestly seemed uninterested in winning. This “hard-to-get” routine seemed to entice some of the judges even more. HBO seemed to think, “Wow, this guy is so uncompromising, he’ll undoubtedly make a movie more compatible with our ‘quality’ brand!”

    So yes, I get how this is unfair. But even if a studio was considering ONLY female directors for a project, they’d probably give the most serious consideration to the candidates who seem to possess those confident qualities. I agree it’s nonsense, because women prove every day that multi-tasking, people skills and efficiency are not the exclusive province of the male of the species.

  46. leahnz says:

    i know this is the internet and all, you strike me as an earnest, forthright type yancy. so this isn’t directed at you personally but just a general observation:
    something tends to happen, though, between the part when people pay lip-service to the notion that women as artists have powerful voices and stories to tell, as deserving as men’s, and actually putting your money where your mouth is.
    when it comes to handing over more than $32 to produce a vision, people suddenly feel a hell of a lot more comfortable handing over the purse-strings to people who can tie those strings around an external genital (this has to be the reason because it’s the only thing that makes a lick of logical sense about the fact that women film-makers are not to be trusted with money; that and the coin-vacuuming-vaginas phenom wherein money is lost into a black hole never to see the light of day again, so there’s that). and when it comes to handing over, say, a hundred mil to someone who’s never come remotely close to making a big-money movie before? forget it if you possess an innie rather than an outie – innies clearly prevent the brain from even being able to count that high, or secrete the ‘trustworthy’ juice necessary to handle a production, it really is perfectly sane

  47. YancySkancy says:

    I agree, leah. The money aspect is outrageous, since the studios don’t approach the issue rationally. There’s no rational precedent for hiring Colin Trevvorow for Jurassic World (to give a notable recent example) if the ability to handle a blockbuster budget is important. You could even say that his hiring was an unintentional admission by the studios that a director’s vision or talent or pliability is more important than his or her facility or experience with big budgets. After all, it’s not like the director is apportioning the money according to his own whims — there are budgets and approvals and contingencies, etc. There’s no objective reason to favor men for those gigs. In fact, since most directors are men, most films that have gone insanely over-budget were helmed by men. It’s almost like Elaine May’s budget woes on ISHTAR were so bad that the powers-that-be declared “Well, that’s what happens when you let a chick make a big studio film. Let’s not make that mistake again.” Meanwhile, they at least make sure a male director’s over-priced baby bombs at the b.o. before casting them out (if then).

  48. leahnz says:

    for realz, nice articulation of the double standard (and a bit of a laugh at ‘ishtar’ for some reason, haven’t thought about that in ages – an ill-advised fuck-up of pretty epic proportions but something endearing about just how stink it is, at least it’s kind of weird and outrageous in a way that the mainstream now is lacking – all the weird is sucked out of mainstream cinema now, at least we used to get big weird shitty stuff with some style, like ‘dune’, now it’s big pleasantly bland shitty stuff. is it this generation of directors i wonder, lots of kind of dorky white film school dude writers and directors who wear horned-rimmed glasses and seem just super…normal. it’s like, maybe go trip on shrooms in a field or something man, handle some adversity, take some intensive art composition and creative writing courses, get brain damaged for once, something, your movies are fucking boring)

  49. brack says:

    These white dudes really don’t have that much creative control. Just ask Joss Whedon about his experience with making his Avengers films. Or Edgar Wright, who left Ant-Man after being involved with the project for so long. Or Richard Donner about Superman I and II. The bottom line is that the guys with the money still have a lot more control than most directors ever will. They’re practically forced to make a “boring” movie or they don’t get to make one at all. Plus most of these big movies are being made for international box office in mind, so the more generic, the better.

  50. YancySkancy says:

    I quite liked ISHTAR, actually. Elaine May should theoretically be able to thrive in the era of digital filmmaking, where an insane amount of multiple takes wouldn’t necessarily break the bank. I hear she’s doing a documentary on her old partner Mike Nichols, which is great, but I’d love to see another Heartbreak Kid, A New Leaf, Mikey & Nicky — all great films.

    As for the boring white dudes of today, it’s sad that a system that used to hire hard-living mavericks like John Ford, John Huston and William Wellman, who wouldn’t necessarily roll over at the studios’ every whim, have now been replaced by guys who discovered Star Wars as toddlers and decided that’s what a real movie should be. And they know from the get-go that the studios are more interested in their ability to “play ball” than push the envelope artistically.

  51. leahnz says:

    clearly the studio situation with the cart now before the horse is dire (probably unlikely to change much, realistically, unless there’s some kind of creative revolution and the lunatics take back the asylum from the accountants, who don’t know shit from shinola but deign to dictate content), and while the struggle for creative control, like the inhabitants of the overlook, has always been, things are sadly different now.

    an odd assumption seems to be though that these guys getting the gigs now would – if not impeded by studio pie-finger-sticking – be the ones capable of and indeed producing fresh, unique mainstream cinema.
    they are getting the chance to do so, because every opportunity to write/direct a movie is a chance to do so, don’t anyone kid themselves. they actually have a lot of control, often write to some significant extent and direct the film, this by its very nature affords one a significant level of control over what’s in the movie and the parts to be assembled. poor writing and mediocre execution is not preordained; moves are invented. there’s always the potential for originality while there’s pressure to perform.
    this thing tends to happen when people who have genuinely special and unique artistic (and technical) talent for telling a compelling story in the visual medium: even operating within a certain purview, its possible to create a well-woven narrative with some nuance, unique vision, complex characters, artistic flair and a keen eye, see it through with force of conviction for your vision. good film-making from mediocre.
    there’s no excuse for bland, mediocre movies; in general mediocre film-makers produce middling work (even as good-to-great film-makers can produce a range including a stinker or two, or just some average shit). it comes down to who’s given the opportunity. often the early to mid career is the zenith so if you’re already making expensive, forgettable middling crap when you should be blazing a trail at the peak of your powers then you’re probably fucked, really, artistically. no excuse.

    my friend rants about ‘the granik effect’ (this title makes no sense but i happen to agree with the sentiment), recently set off after we saw ‘black mass’ a group of us. how is it that cooper comes off ‘out of the furnace’ – a fairly decent, one-note middling family crime drama dirge with some gloom and angst, a pretty good afflek perf but otherwise uninspired ‘poor working class white america crime downer’ (that makes no $), he then gets the chance to make ‘black mass’ with depp and meanwhile granik, who produces a brilliant little piece of americana with her highly-acclaimed and awarded ‘poor white america family crime downer’ Winter’s Bone, is STILL out in the cold. she’s the one no-one will take a chance on? really?
    for writing and filming a family crime drama with genuine depth and heart, that’s both brutal and delicate, hard-edged and tender, nuanced and complex, characters with complicated arcs and relationships, even supporting characters realised with nuance and realism that in lesser hands may seem insignificant (such as the small role of the bail bonds/bounty hunter guy, i love him, he could be just a stock on and off, one-note role to serve a purpose and yet his little moment of compassion for ree and her dire situation is done with such compelling subtly and realism, SPOILER that when he comes back to give her the money at the end, this little bit part with his quiet moments of humanity and decency add a layer of complexion to the contrasts of light and dark in humanity, sublime stuff) in other words, quality film-making.

    get a clue, people. hire the talent (not the genitalia), let them weave their magic, develop their range, hopefully produce something a cut above in whatever medium/genre. this is how it should be, anything less is bullshit.

    (for that matter how about a more mainstream dark psychological thriller for reichardt, her depiction of warped psychology and the underbelly sociopathy of eisenberg’s character in ‘night moves’ still gives me the creeps, ick, even after all this time)

    sorry i didn’t realise that’s super long

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon