May 15, 2021 / by 


Illiberal Hollywood: Kicked in its Pants by a Panther

[Graphic: Black Panther (2018) theatrical release poster, Walt Disney Studios distributor, Marvel Studios producer]

Though conservatives love to disparage the American entertainment industry as liberal, Hollywood’s business practices have been anything but. I’ve written before about its misogyny and sexism; it has only recently received the scrutiny it deserves, thanks to open protests by women actors and directors, and sadly the cascading revelations about sexual harassment and abuse.

Hollywood has likewise been racist; though minorities make up nearly 40 percent of the U.S.’ population, minorities are poorly represented in front and behind the camera. As of 2013-14, only scripted broadcast television had seen any gains in diversity. Their numbers were stable or falling in nearly all other areas. In film alone, minorities were underrepresented by:

  • Nearly 3 to 1 among film leads
  • Nearly 3 to 1 among film directors
  • Nearly 5 to 1 among film writers

(source: UCLA Bunche Center’s 2016 Hollywood Diversity Report (pdf))

Which is why this week’s release of Disney/Marvel Studios’ live action superhero film, Black Panther, has received so much attention. The director (Ryan Coogler), screen writer (Joe Robert Cole), and leads (Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o) are all African American. This is a first for a film belonging to a major franchise (Marvel Studios), produced by a major studio, with a blockbuster-sized budget of $200 million. While there are a few roles played by white actors, they are small parts which exist to support the story — a complete inversion of racial representation typical across the majority of American films.

The film’s reception even before this week’s release was overwhelmingly ecstatic; many theaters sold out once online ticket sales were available. Reaction from viewers at advance press screenings were joyful, which sold even more tickets. Box office sales this weekend are expected to surpass the film’s budget.

Eager audience response offers a solid swat in the butt of Hollywood’s bigotry, which for too long has rejected scripts or denied minority-led/directed/written films adequate funding, saying, These films aren’t what audiences want. We’ve heard the same excuses about women-led/directed/written films, too, yet they often blow away expectations. Like Wonder Woman (female director and lead), which was the third highest grossing film last year at $412M; it would have placed higher except for the release of Star Wars: The Last Jedi (female lead) and long-awaited live action reboot of Beauty and the Beast (female lead).

Another refrain too often heard after a minority-led/directed/written film releases: This film exceeded expectations. Hollywood never sees this as a signal not that the film outperformed their forecasts but that audience demand is greater than films supplied. In other words, institutional racism thwarts normal free market response.

Black Panther has garnered some racist reactions, predictably from those who haven’t even seen the movie. DailyCaller’s EIC Ben Shapiro had one of the stupidest as well as most racist takes:

“‘Blade’ was not enough,” Shapiro quipped, referencing the 1998 film and subsequent two sequels that starred Wesley Snipes.

His rant lumped in Halle Berry’s appearance in Catwoman (2004) and Will Smith as lead in the Men in Black trilogy (1997, 2002, 2012), implying that African Americans should be content with what they have in film representation since they’ve been free for more than 200 years and assured their civil rights more than 50 years ago.

Never mind that his first example, Blade, though it featured Wesley Snipes as its lead was made in 1998 with a white director and writer and predominantly white cast. Ditto for the following two entries in the series, released in 2002 and 2004. Apparently black Americans shouldn’t expect to see a black lead in an action film more than once every couple of years — maybe once a year if they’re lucky.

If you’re white — and let’s face it, most of this site’s readers are — imagine a lifetime of rarely seeing anyone who looks like you in film, let alone TV. The idea that minorities, who make up such a large percentage of our population, should be satisfied with rarely ever seeing themselves in all manner of stories is repugnant. It’s both an economic and cultural apartheid. Or worse; it’s not a walling off but erasure of human beings.

It’s a pretty grotesque and deeply unaware stance coming from a guy with the family name Shapiro. It’s an insult to the writers who created Black Panther as a comic book character for Marvel — Jack Kirby and Stan Lee.

There are better criticisms of the film, and they come from those who are much better informed. WaPo’s Karen Attiah interviews Kenyan journalist and broadcaster Larry Madowo on the subject of Black Panther’s fictional fantasy representation of African culture and the ‘messed up’ relationship between Africans and African Americans. Critic Leslie Lee III takes issue with Black Panther’s politics. Warning: Both critiques are spoilery, with Lee’s feedback much more so. However, these critiques are educational for a white audience unfamiliar with African culture let alone African American culture.

Based on casual feedback from creative community and fandom members alike, Black Panther may be the top grossing film this year — and in spite of its release in February, typically the slowest time in the release calendar. It may crack the all-time top 20 films for box office ticket sales.

But will this finally be enough to get through to Hollywood’s other major and minor studios that their expectations need to be reset, that minority-led/directed/written films are successful and deserve a more proportional share of the film market?

In case you’re thinking of seeing Black Panther soon, here’s a decent primer. about its place in the Marvel Studios’ Avengers mythology. I’m not going this week; I’m going a couple weeks from now to an early Monday matinee when I might have 50 percent of the theater to myself so I can take notes. I don’t expect the theater to be less than half full before then.

International Women’s Day 2017: #DayWithoutAWoman

It’s been 108 years since the first National Women’s Day was declared in the U.S.; in 1911 it became International Women’s Day.

It would be another nine years before American women’s right to vote was enshrined in the 19th Amendment, and another 68 years after IWD 1911 before women’s suffrage was deemed a fundamental human right by the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.

In spite of women’s enfranchisement, they are under-represented in elected office; they have not realized parity in employment or pay across most industries. Their work is devalued more often and more deeply if they are engaged in emotional labor. They are far more likely to be under paid if they are women of color.

And now they fight to change this continuing inequity in spite of a world leader whose words and actions further denigrate their innate value.

The International Women’s Day 2017 theme is Be Bold for Change — but after a couple lifetimes, more than slogans are called for. The Women’s March movement, bolstered by its January 21st event and in concert with the International Women’s Strike organization, called for A Day Without A Woman to emphasize the role of women in the economy as part of their

As part of A Day Without A Woman, women are on strike when they can afford to do so. If you see a woman on the job, consider how challenging it is to support a family making wages which have not only stalled over the last two decades, but are on average 20% less than men make in the same jobs. Depending on whose study one reads, it will take 60 to 170 years for women to reach parity. This is absolutely unacceptable.

Today, women are wearing red to show their solidarity with their striking sisters. If you see women not wearing red, consider how their individual right to free speech has been degraded by corporatism in spite of their enfranchisement.

Today, women are avoiding purchases. If you see women buying goods or services, consider how difficult it is for some women to buy what they need in advance because of pay inequity in spite of the Equal Pay Act of 1963 and the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Families are deeply impacted by economic precarity based in gender pay inequity.

Today, consider how women’s freedom to make decisions about their reproductive health; will they be forced to quit their job because of unexpected pregnancy or inability to obtain adequate health insurance?

Today, consider the importance of women — regardless of their race, ethnicity, religion, cis-/trans-/straight-gay-bi-sexuality — to a healthy economy and a thriving country.

Illiberal Hollywood: It’s 1984 — Or Is It 1964? Can’t Tell from EEOC’s Inaction

If you haven’t watched this Bloomberg-produced video yet, you should. The women directors interviewed are highly skilled and have been fighting Hollywood’s not-at-all-liberal misogyny for decades.

And yes, decades — nothing substantive has happened since 1983 when Reagan-appointee Judge Pamela Rymer ruled for two major studio defendants in the Directors Guild of America‘s lawsuits against them for their discriminatory hiring practices. There was an uptick for about one decade after the suit; by 1995, roughly 16% of movies were directed by women.

But since then the numbers have fallen, and neither the DGA nor the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) have done anything about it.

We could cut some slack on the first decade, between 1995 and 2005, right? Congress was full of right-wing zealots chasing the president over a blowjob, and the president who followed him was hyper-focused on going to war, pushed by Dick Cheney’s hand up his backside. Their administrations drifted along with them, shaped by their leaders’ attentions.

But a second decade now — over thirty years in all since 1983 — and the EEOC gave the matter no attention at all? It’s not as if the film and television industries aren’t right under the noses of people charged with paying attention. Who can work in government and say they haven’t watched any television or film in thirty years? Hello, West Wing?

Or is that an answer in itself, that the film and television industries are merely acting with government sanction, that it is U.S. government policy to discriminate in entertainment media because it serves national interests?

We know that the Pentagon actively works with the film industry to ensure that the military is portrayed in a positive light. Just how far does this reach go, though?

How can we not ask this, given President Obama’s own response to the Sony Pictures’ hack, when he implied by seeking additional cybersecurity measures that Sony — a Japanese-owned corporation — is part of critical U.S. infrastructure?

The DGA’s negligence for thirty years on gender equity only assures the dust surrounding the government’s relationship with Hollywood effectively obscures whatever the truth may be.

It’s hard to tell, too, whether the DGA saw Judge Rymer’s rulings as marching orders. Why didn’t DGA ever appeal? Or address Rymer’s problems with the suit and re-tackle the problem? Or did the DGA simply not want to buck the implied policy established at a remove by the only president with Hollywood background?, even though Judger Rymer felt DGA was “partially responsible for the small amount of women and minority film and television directors hired“? (pdf)

It’s 2015 — the entertainment industry is nothing at all like it was in 1983. Yet the EEOC and DGA are frozen in time. The EEOC has continued to ignore a fundamental problem with leaving enforcement of federal employment law in the hands of a labor organization led by men, and the DGA’s leadership refuses to represent ALL of its members effectively, as other unions do.*

If the government and the DGA were ever worried another Leni Riefenstahl might rise from the ranks of women directors, they need not have worried. They’ve done a fine job manipulating public opinion to promote the government, while suppressing women’s rights all on their own. Message read, loud and clear.

* Examples (source:

UAW International v. Johnson Controls (1991) – “…The Court rules that the employer’s restriction against fertile women performing “dangerous jobs” constitutes sex discrimination under Title VII. …” DGA could still represent women in class action suits, as it did in 1983, and as other unions like the UAW have.
United Steel Workers of America v. Weber (1979) – “…the Supreme Court holds that private sector employers and unions may lawfully implement voluntary affirmative action plans to remedy past discrimination. The Court holds that an employer and union do not violate a collectively bargained plan by reserving 50 percent of the slots in a training program in a traditionally segregated industry for black employees. The program is lawful because it does not “unnecessarily trammel the interests of white employees,” does not “create an absolute bar to the advancement of white employees,” and is “a temporary measure . . . not intended to maintain racial balance, but simply to eliminate a manifest racial imbalance.”” Further, the DGA could sue for remedies as well as compliance with employment law on behalf of women.

Illiberal Hollywood: What’s the Point of a Union if It Doesn’t Represent Members?

BrokenHollywoodThis year continues to be a big one for women in film. Films featuring women as leads and/or directed by women made beaucoup at the box office. Mad Max: Fury Road, Pitch Perfect 2, Insurgent, and Fifty Shades of Grey are among the top ten films out of more than 284 released so far this year. Two of these films were directed by women; all four featured female leads. And two of these films put to lie once again the bullshit claim that ‘women can’t lead action films.’

The immense popularity of these movies — especially with women — demonstrates how much Hollywood underserves the female audience, in spite of repeated studies revealing how much women contribute to box office results. Women want women’s stories, told by women, and they’ve gotten them too rarely.

You’d think that Hollywood would actively court the single largest demographic by catering to its desires — but no. The film production pipeline remains solidly weighted toward men, still chasing the increasingly distracted 18-25 year-old male demographic.

It’s not as if women aren’t available as actors or directors. The Directors Guild of America (DGA) — the labor organization representing directors — counts among its ranks roughly 1200 female directors, reflecting the parity of female students who’ve been through film school or learned on the job in other production roles.

Which makes one wonder why actor/director/producer George Clooney said in a recent interview, “…there’s something like 15 female directors in a town of directors …

If a household name like Clooney doesn’t know more female directors, what exactly is it the DGA is doing for its female membership? It’s clearly not representing them within their own organization, let alone to studios and the public.

The ACLU‘s May 12th letter to the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) spelled out DGA’s complicity with Hollywood’s exclusion of female directors, when it asked the EEOC to investigate discriminatory practices. DGA has denied the use of short lists, but apart from preparing regular reports on diversity in hiring, it’s not clear at all what the DGA does to further the hiring of women directors.

During the course of its history, DGA hasn’t been entirely useless to its female members:

1939 — Screen Directors Guild (SDG) recognized as bargaining agent by major studios
(SDG evolves into Directors Guild of America (DGA) over time and mergers with other entertainment industry labor groups).

MAR 1969 — U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) sponsors a one-day hearing in Hollywood to discuss “patterns or practice of discrimination in violating Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.”

1978 — California Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights publishes a report of its study on employment opportunities for women and minorities in film industry in southern California.

1979 — DGA’s Women’s Steering Committee (WSC) formed to examine gender discrimination in employment by major studios.

1980 — DGA-WSC entered discussions with executives from film studios, TV networks, and production companies, introducing affirmative action quota recommendations.

JAN 1983 — President Ronald Reagan appoints conservative judge Pamela Rymer to U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.

1983 — Employers ‘unilaterally withdrew’ from the voluntary quota program; Columbia claimed DGA’s contract limited ability to hire women and minorities.

JUL 1983 — DGA files lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the Central District of California against major studio Warner Bros under 1964 Civil Rights Act, Title VII.

DEC 1983 — DGA files lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the Central District of California against major studio Columbia Pictures under 1964 Civil Rights Act, Title VII.

1985 — Judge Rymer sides with major studios against DGA, indicating DGA is in part responsible for inequity as directors’ control over subordinate production employees limits ability of studios to effect quotas.

1985-? — After Rymer’s decisions, DGA establishes The Freelance Live and Tape Television Agreement (FLTTA), Article 19, to affirm with TV producers compliance with anti-discrimination laws; a provision includes appointment of DGA officers to monitor diversity in hiring.

1985-2015 — Profit! Just kidding — not for female directors. Major studios’ employment of female directors crawls up from 0.5% to 16% at its highest level over three decades.

AUG 2011 — Former DGA lawyer Jill Killion sues DGA for discrimination due to inequitable pay. Status TBD.

MAR 2015 — DGA presented a proposal to count women directors employed by studios in addition to the existing measure of minority directors employed, tracking increase/decrease in employment numbers.

APR 2015 — DGA-WSC rejects proposal to count women directors employed by studios in addition to the existing measure of minority directors employed.

MAY 2015 — ACLU submits letter to the EEOC asking for federal investigation of gender inequality among directors hired by major studios

Though the DGA exerted itself in the late 1960s and 1970s on behalf of its female constituents, its work was ineffectual. Flaws in film production hiring process outlined by the failed 1983 lawsuits were never remedied. Efforts on behalf of women in television were somewhat more muscular with FLTTA’s establishment, but recent gains do not appear to have anything to do with DGA role in representation.

All the women of DGA have to show for their membership dues is lip service — a handful of diversity reports affirming what they already know, and the knowledge that DGA’s male leaders have pulled down millions in compensation for some nebulous representation.

Nebulous, meaning any meetings with studios in which gender equity is discussed are not shared with the membership. Do they actually have any such meetings, or is this just happy talk?

Nebulous, meaning any effort to enforce agreements with Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) or compliance with Title VII remain undisclosed, challenging the concept of “acting in good faith.” Are female members supposed to pay their rent with “good faith”?

The DGA does not appear to have used the opportunity presented by leaked information from the Sony Pictures’ hack. Female actors like Jennifer Lawrence and Charlize Theron have benefited from evidence that they have been discriminated against in compensation compared to their male cohort. But there’s no evidence of similar improvements to gender equity in director hiring.

For the amount that women directors pay in dues for DGA’s lack of progress, one has to wonder if they wouldn’t be better served by a different labor organization — perhaps one that actually does effective work on behalf of its female members, like Service Employees International Union (SEIU). The EEOC, having erred in the 1970s by leaving hiring diversity enforcement to the DGA, could rectify this by demanding other, more effective alternatives in representation.

(For that matter, what does the DGA do for ANY of its members? Have you seen any major disputes between an aggregate of male directors and studios on compensation or employment? Is it just a boys’ club with a secret handshake and a knowing wink between DGA leaders and the studios?)

. . . . .

So what does this mean to you, the general public, when women are excluded from filmmaking? It’s not just a loss of women’s stories told by women, potentially making money for shareholders.

The public develops a highly skewed perception of the world. Ask yourself how much our acceptance of violence has been shaped by films normalizing it as it targets a demographic consisting of boys and young men. Or hypersexualization of girls along with society’s marginalization of women — how much can be attributed to films produced by and for the male gaze?

Women as leaders in all industries and academia are not the norm, in part because the images the public, industry, and academia have seen do not depict women in these roles in percentages weighted to their portion of the population. This persists, though women have made up more than 50% of graduates in many fields for at least two decades.

Our children acquire unhealthy perceptions of women based on tropes too often used in male-centric films — women are wallpaper, arm candy, victims stuffed in refrigerators, and not active agents with autonomy.

The challenges we face require different solutions, not more of the same. If the last 40-50 years of film excluding women behind the camera have resulted in the world we live in today, do we dare continue with the status quo?

Can we really afford that risk?

[Graphic: mash-up, Matt Olson and Ryan Gilchrist via Flickr]

Hollywood Illiberal: The Entertainment Industry’s Misogyny and Society’s Broken Mirror

BrokenHollywoodIn a recent heated discussion I was told, “Hollywood is liberal.” That’s bullshit, I said.

“But the themes they use in their stories—they’re liberal,” they rebutted. Again, bullshit.

The proof is in the numbers. Hollywood is a backward institution, the leadership and ownership of which are overwhelmingly white and male.

Entertainment looks as bad if not worse than most other industries in the U.S., when diversity measurements are compared. The entertainment industry in no way resembles the public to which it sells its wares, whether in front or behind the camera.

For women, a majority of the population at 51%, the numbers are grim:

  • Males outnumber females 3 to 1 in family films. In contrast, females comprise just over 50% of the population in the United States. Even more staggering is the fact that this ratio, as seen in family films, is the same as it was in 1946.
  • Females are almost four times as likely as males to be shown in sexy attire. Further, females are nearly twice as likely as males to be shown with a diminutive waistline. Generally unrealistic figures are more likely to be seen on females than males.
  • Females are also underrepresented behind the camera. Across 1,565 content creators, only 7% of directors, 13% of writers, and 20% of producers are female. This translates to 4.8 males working behind-the-scenes to every one female.
  • From 2006 to 2009, not one female character was depicted in G-rated family films in the field of medical science, as a business leader, in law, or politics. In these films, 80.5% of all working characters are male and 19.5% are female, which is a contrast to real world statistics, where women comprise 50% of the workforce.

[Source: Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media]

Boldface above is mine; the numbers are beyond absurd when it comes to female directors. The Directors’ Guild of America has a folder (binder, if you’d rather) with the names of 1200 female directors. The Director’s List has collected the names of 1800 female directors, even larger than the DGA’s binder full of women.

But the number of women contracted by the major studios to make films is in the single digits?

That’s far from liberal by any stretch of the imagination.

The lack of women behind the camera distorts what the public sees before it:

  • Only 15% of all clearly identifiable protagonists were female (up 4 percentage points from 2011, down one percentage point from 2002), 71% are male, and 14% are male/female ensembles (see Figure 1).
  • Females comprised 29% of major characters, down 4 percentage points from 2011, but up 2 percentage points from 2002.
  • Females accounted for 30% of all speaking characters (includes major and minor characters) in 2013, down 3 percentage points from 2011, but up 2 percentage points from 2002.

[Source: It’s a Man’s (Celluloid) World: On-Screen Representations of Female Characters in the Top 100 Films of 2013, Martha M. Lauzen, PhD, Center of the Study of women in Television and Film, San Diego State University (White paper, PDF)]

Nor does it appear to matter whether film or television, when looking at the composition of directors. White men hold nearly identical percentages of directors’ slots in either media.— roughly 70%.

What does a crowd with realistic, or even equitable representation of women look like? We can’t rely on Hollywood to show us, based on this data. Our societal mirror is broken, at the expense of our mothers, daughters, sisters, ourselves.

What’s particularly egregious is that even the women in Hollywood have a problem; they suffer from internalized oppression, unwilling to change the system for fear of rocking the boat and reaping even worse results.

Granted, there’s anecdotal evidence Hollywood has suppressed women who have the chutzpah to ask for better, even to the point of walking away from an enormously profitable franchise opportunity in order to avoid giving in — and even when a woman asking carefully couched her approach.

In spite of repeated studies showing little-to-no progress, and in some cases regression of gender diversity, not enough brave souls demand improvement from the system.

Take for example the DGA’s meeting this past Saturday, where female members had an opportunity to ask its leadership to measure gender equity in addition to minority representation, versus the current practice of lumping together both racial/ethnic measurements with gender diversity.

The DGA voted it down, including many voting female members. A Storify of the meeting and the proposal, live-tweeted by director Lexi Alexander, can be found at this link.

Incredibly, sources say some of the women, who asked the DGA to measure gender equity in addition to minority diversity, have now been accused of racism. This makes no sense whatsoever, given data from studies which show that minority directors are far more often represented than female directors. (See page 6, Sec. 5, 2014 Hollywood Diversity Report  [PDF], Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies at UCLA)

How does this continued misogyny hurt us, the media viewing public, you might ask?

  • It’s difficult to envision a different outcome for yourself if you’re a girl. Stereotypes of computer programmers and systems engineers offered in front of the camera become fact over time, as employment data shows — yet women constituted the earliest programmers, and were then written out of history for a time. How often do young women see realistic models of themselves in a wide range of careers, including those in STEM? How often do they see role models on the other side of the lens, too?
  • Women have been told to shut up for thousands of years, their concerns negated, their persons marginalized, as classicist academic Mary Beard shares from her research. The entertainment industry continues this systematic squelching of women in public by pointedly avoiding them in front and behind the camera.  Is this why the voices of female whistleblowers like Bunny Greenhouse, Lt. Col. Karen Kwiatkowski (ret), FBI agent Coleen Rowley, former Enron VP Sherron Watkins and so many others have not received adequate early attention? Or why female dissenters are so often pooh-poohed and marginalized, rather than treated as legitimate alternative voices, whose speech could save us in so many ways? Are they simply ignored because society hasn’t seen them portrayed or employed in visual media as anything but highly unusual exceptions to an unvoiced rule?
  • And when women do appear, they are treated with kid gloves like rare objects. It is difficult to criticize them without appearing misogynistic. Hence director of Zero Dark Thirty Kathryn Bigelow as an exception in Hollywood does not receive pushback from her peers in the industry about her role in the “accidental” normalization of a war crime, having been used by the intelligence community to sanitized their torture by placing it beyond criticism. It’s just entertainment with a liberal theme, and she can’t be criticized because misogyny!
  • It’s also important to ask whether political leadership and policy outcomes are not also impacted, when we are not offered images consistently of women holding equity in representation. How much of the recent hyperbolic nonsensical criticism of Hillary Clinton can be laid at Hollywood’s door, for failing to show women in leadership more often in front and behind the camera, or for offering overwhelmingly white male images and leadership in the industry? It’s not as if white male leadership did us any favors in the run up to the Iraq War, or the financial crash of 2008, but that’s the devil we’ve known.

How much of the same over-the-top criticism Hillary Clinton during her husband’s administration — beginning decades before she was ever elected as Senator, or appointed to Department of State — was due to white male Hollywood’s failure to offer more diverse and complex images of motherhood and working women?

You can stop right there if you’re going to point to Sony Pictures’ Amy Pascal as an exception. She’s another rare object, AND she’s an example of conflicted internalized oppression. The leaked Sony emails offer concrete examples of her frequent inability to champion women filmmakers, as well as her role in suppressing women’s compensation. But she’s a woman! Sure — and who hired her, and who rewarded her oppressing other women? Sony’s male management, of course, which failed to hold her and themselves to account when it comes to gender equity. Pascal would have continued to short women on compensation if Sony’s emails had not been hacked and leaked.

What caps off this entire mess is the appearance of suppression by the DGA’s leadership. There’s been little to no obvious effort made to improve gender equity by its national executive director, Jay D. Roth, who has held this role since 1995. Paris Barclay, elected to DGA’s presidency in 2013, appears to lead diversity efforts in name only. There’s been no real change since either man took on their current roles in DGA; the annual diversity reports look to be but a feint DGA makes at changing the status quo.

Worse, Roth is one of the highest paid labor leaders in the U.S. — yet the 1200 women in DGA’s binder can’t claim real representation for the dues they pay. (See 2005, 2012; for recent, see US Dept of Labor.)

Who are these men leading the DAG working for? The membership NOT in that binder? The white male-led studios?

They certainly have zero accountability to the movie-viewing public, of which a majority are women, and of which the fastest growing market segment is minority women.

What can we do, in the mean time, to increase pressure on Hollywood studios and the DGA alike, to increase the number of women in front of and behind the camera?

  • Watch more films and television programs in which women are leads, and skip those in which women are just wallpaper, or used like disposable plot devices (ex: woman-in-the-fridge trope). Look for films passing the low-threshold Bechdel test.
  • Watch more movies directed by women.
  • Ask your streaming media provider like Netflix for more female-led and -directed content. (Ex: 3-season mystery series The Killing, by showrunner Veena Sud and female co-lead Mireille Enos.)
  • Invest more carefully; skip or sell stocks of media companies and funds containing these stocks, if the media companies are not making and reporting measurable increases in diversity in front of and behind the camera. And yes, being gender diverse makes money; think Disney’s female-led and -directed Frozen, or female-directed Selma which made 255% of its budget, or female-led and -directed Twilight, of which the first film in saga made 516% of its budget. If these companies aren’t seeking diversity, they’re not doing their best by your investment dollars.  Current major film studios: NYSE:TWX, NYSE:DIS, NASDAQ:CMCSA, NYSE:SNE, NASDAQ:VIA

Do take a look at Disney’s stock in particular. Select the 5-year view of stock performance, and note carefully what happened after November 2013 — that’s when Frozen, directed and written by Jennifer Lee and led by Kristin Bell, based on a storyline about sisterly love, released and began to rack up a billion in revenues.

Yeah. That.

[Graphic: mash-up, Matt Olson and Ryan Gilchrist via Flickr]

The Carnage In Isla Vista, Hashtag Justice and Echidne

Screen Shot 2014-05-26 at 11.41.50 AMI have not been there in a while, but I have been there quite a bit before, and the Isla Vista/Goleta area surrounding UCSB is everything good and bad that surrounds any major university. It is a melting pot teeming with brilliant young minds, eager to expand and ready to experiment and socialize. It is also cliquish and too easy to separate the in from the out crowd and, sometimes, rich from poor. Above all else, at least from my visits there when I was younger, IV was one wild party that could be anywhere along a couple of key streets, if not indeed out in the streets themselves. It was one hell of a good time.

But not this Memorial Day weekend. Something different and jolting happened, leaving seven souls dead, seven more injured and yet another community, and national audience, grieving and reaching for answers.

I don’t know what the answers are, and to a great extent, I do not think the pathology of this incident is yet ripe enough to draw them with any real definition. That has not, of course, stopped the light speed social justice court of Twitter and the internet.

The reaction on Twitter has run the spectrum from sober to hysterical. If you are on Twitter, you have seen it, if you are not, it is not hard to imagine if you are internet savvy enough to be reading the instant post. Speaking only for myself, however, I have been a little disturbed by the alacrity with which valuable social justice movements, and their participants, have glommed on to a tragic spree crime as the defining vehicle for their arguments, whether it be women’s rights, gun control or otherwise.

It strikes me, while certainly all of these things figure into the Rodger situation to some extent, hitching up to a spree murder by a mentally disturbed individual is not exactly a great vehicle for your social justice movement. It is more complex than that, and it is too easy in haste to mistake manifestations for root causes. Post hoc, ergo propter hoc if you will.

And, while I know the intent was good, I have found the “hashtag advocacy” via such tags as #YesAllWomen, and the reflexively responsive #NotAllMen, to not necessarily do all that much to further the well meaning intention of their adopters. While some of those tweets have seemed germane and helpful, a great many seem

counterproductive. It is unlikely the battle over misogyny will be won by pitting intelligent men and women against each other, even rhetorically. That’s just my thought, and I may be wrong in how I am seeing this. But there you have it. I’d rather see this discussion had under more sober terms and not hitched to a psychotic spree homicide.

Which leaves us to the last item in the title to this post. For all the, in too many instances, emotional, aggressive and wrongheaded discussion in the Rodger aftermath, one article has struck me as pretty remarkable for its reflection and view. It is by Echidne and, in discussing how different people read different things into the Rodger scenario, she says:

These are of the expected type and often reflect the writer’s position on the political map. That Rodger had access to semi-automatic weapons made him a very efficient killing machine. That he suffered from clear mental problems was also pointed out. That he was a misogynist of rather extreme nature is given at least a nod in most places (though at least one writer disagrees on that as the cause for the massacre). Whether he indeed was “a madman,” in the sense of an isolated, impossible-to-prevent-but-horrific event or whether something could have been done to prevent the massacre also seems to depend on one’s general slant about such things.
This has been a difficult post to write, a difficult post to write in the correct tone, a difficult post even to think about. And I have failed in finding the correct tone, failed in the distance I should have had, perhaps failed on the side of cold and hard anger myself. The victims of the massacre deserve my focus, not its perpetrator, and even though I justify my writing about the perpetrator as a search for greater understanding I’m not sure that I achieved that.

Yes, Rodger was a troubled individual with severe problems. Yes, he managed to slip through the police net, yes, he was able to buy three semi-automatic guns, apparently with no questions asked.

Perhaps all that is the framework, the flow-chart of what happened.

I think the above quotes are spot on, but are merely a taste of the fantastic discussion and analysis in Echidne’s piece. It is required reading in full, and it contains a superb background and synopsis of Rodger’s manifesto. It properly and fully draws in the the glaring issue of misogyny and degradation of women without making it a means unto itself without a nod to the underlying issues that may trigger it.

Rodger’s psychoses look like they go far deeper than just misogyny, though there is obviously an abundance of that. And it strikes me, very much, the real complexity behind this is being lost in the screaming hashtag rush to peg it as the vehicle for discussion of all things misogyny and mistreatment of women. Such is a huge component to be sure, and ought be discussed, but there seems to be a lot more going on too. Echidne lays a lot of that out quite well, and her struggle in doing so displays why this is such a tough situation to peg in such simplistic terms as I have been witnessing, on twitter and the net, for the last two days.

The Maneuvers to Get Ahead of the NSA Review Group Recommendations

Here’s a quick summary of all the events happening in response to the NSA Review Group report:

Tuesday, January 7: James Clapper “and other Intelligence Community Leaders” meet with Geoffrey Stone, Cass Sunstein, and Peter Swire; SSCI holds closed briefing with Review Group

Wednesday, January 8: Obama meets with Intelligence Community leaders; Obama meets with PCLOB; NatSec Aides and Congressional staffers meet in Situation Room

Thursday, January 9: Obama meets with (reportedly invited) Dianne Feinstein, Saxby Chambliss, Mike Rogers, Dutch Ruppersberger, Pat Leahy, Chuck Grassley, Bob Goodlatte, John Conyers, Ron Wyden, Mark Udall, and Jim Sensenbrenner

Tuesday, January 14: Review Group testifies publicly before Senate Judiciary Committee

PCLOB, which I believe has a better understanding of the dragnet than several members of the Review Group, was supposed to present its own recommendations sometime this month, and the White House claims to be conducting its own internal review which is finishing up work.

I raise this schedule to point to the several times when Obama will meet with advocates for reform in a venue where some horse-trading can go on. Not only will he meet with PCLOB before their recommendations come out (as he met with the Review Group), but he will have the sponsors of legislation that would reform NSA and FBI’s counterterrorism programs, as well as Wyden and Udall, in a room with a larger number of opponents of reform.

Jay Carney said today Obama will introduce his own “reforms” before the State of the Union on January 28. But I wouldn’t be surprised if Obama moved to pre-empt these other discussions even earlier than that, as he did with the Review Group suggestion that the Director of the NSA position be split from the Cybercommand position.

Will he try to get an agreement from the legislative critics to withdraw their legislation if he makes some changes as executive prerogative?

GM’s New CEO: This Model Has Titanium Features

Mary Barra, CEO-General MotorsThe woman in the photo at the right has big titanium ovaries — not malleable brass or rusting iron. Do I know Mary Barra personally to attest to this fact? No. But I have a pretty damned good idea where GM’s new CEO has been, and it takes a pretty tough set of specifications to survive the road she’s traveled.

Like her I grew up in the I-75 corridor in Michigan, where much of the automotive industry’s OEM facilities and Tiers 1 through 3 suppliers could be found. Like her father, my father worked in the automotive business; if her household was like mine, there were copies of Car and Driver, Road & Track, machinist, tool-and-die, and metalforming magazines cluttering coffee tables or in dad’s man-cave. The smell of machine oil and the grit of metal chips are familiar, as are an ever-present collection of safety glasses, hearing protection, and greasy jumpsuits. Picture a garage like that in Clint Eastwood’s movie Gran Torino; I’ll lay good money her dad probably spent a lot of his free time between shifts in a home shop like that, and where she might have been found as well if he needed a hand or she needed a tool to fix something.

It was in her blood, I’m sure; I’ll bet she could taste it. I’m pretty certain this is why she went into engineering, and likely why she went to that particular private engineering school.

After working for a couple years as a high school engineering co-op student I had been accepted at the same school, but I went a different road, preferring business and then-nascent computing technology over engineering. My daughter, though, is at that school now. She could taste it, too; we have pictures of her at age nine, wearing safety glasses, proudly holding her first aluminum machined part. She’s the first person her dad asks for help when working on the cars at home.

I wish now I’d taken pictures of her the time she was so damned mad at her brother and his friend for accidentally breaking the sibling-shared PlayStation 2 console. She ripped it down, diagnosed it using internet research, fixed and reassembled it on her own in an afternoon.

Driven to identify and solve the problem — that’s what it takes to choose engineering as a career, particularly if you are a woman.

Sure, men too must be driven to pursue the same field, but they don’t face the hurdles that women faced then or even now, 30 years after General Motors’ new CEO first started college at the former General Motors Institute. Nobody ever questions a boy’s right to pursue engineering, or a man’s right to practice that discipline. Nobody ever questions the gender of a man with an engineering degree when he makes it to the pinnacle of the corporate ladder.

My daughter still faces a rash of crap; she’s had to put up with it all through K-12 education, and it continues into college. Some of the gender bias crap is probably unconscious stupidity. The dean of one engineering discipline said, “The girls probably aren’t interested in this,” when leading a tour group of prospective students through an automotive design lab — for the second time that day, mind you, with students studying non-automotive related engineering. That male dean was probably clueless about his comment’s impact, let alone that ALL of the students regardless of gender had enough of that particular lab and wanted to see something more of the school. When asked, his senior-year student assistant brushed off the situation by saying that “girls want to go into electrical engineering anyhow, that’s where most of them are.” Another idiot; what a way to promote this school to female students, or persuade them to seek his own preferred field, mechanical engineering. This kind of stupidity didn’t end once school started, either. It was much, much worse when Barra was in school.

What both my daughter and Barra have had in common, though, was an awareness of what was happening in manufacturing that comes with being raised in and around it, and growing up in it as students. There are things adults do in front of engineering students that they don’t do in front of each other providing additional education. Smart students see these things and take note of future opportunities revealed. (I know I saw a LOT of waste as a co-op student doing scut work — great places for cost reduction.) There was a lot of room for learning and for improvement coming up through the ranks, provided one could survive the persistent sexist bullshit. Having grown up in households hearing shoptalk, then immersed in on-the-job training through co-operative education, Barra and my daughter have been better prepared than most young women going into science and technology fields, and they’re already rare as it is.

When media outlets say Mary Barra is a “retro choice” because she is an inside hire, I can tell you that’s bullshit. It’s damned hard to be a run-of-the-mill insider when one is a rare specimen. When Barra first went to engineering school she was one-in-eight (or greater) females-to-males in engineering curriculum; not all of those females who graduated went on to work at General Motors, either. The odds haven’t improved much in 30 years; my daughter is part of the one-in-five ratio of female-to-male students. Today even fewer women at what is now Kettering University go on to work at General Motors. It’s simply not a retro choice at all to hire a woman to lead a Fortune 500 company, let alone one with an engineering degree.

For a woman to survive, succeed, and become a leader in overwhelmingly male-centric disciplines and workplaces, it takes the ability to hold one’s own and then some. They don’t teach this in engineering school, or business school for that matter. Young women either find understanding mentors, have a rich background in their field before entry, possess stupendous amounts of moxie to gut it out, or some combination of these to make it.

And a woman has to want it badly enough to put up with decades of crap beginning the first time a boy or an adult barricades a girl inside society’s pink ghetto, saying, “Girls don’t play with tools,” or years of “Get out of here, only boys can play this game,” or “Girls suck at math and science,” and “Boys don’t like brainiac girls,” only to face bullshit marginalization like “She’s a retro choice.”

A woman has to have some titanium ovaries.

And a titanium spine, too.

Future Forecast: Ignoring Half the Picture Yields Surprisingly Poor Results

[adapted: Magic 8-Ball by Andres Rueda via Flickr]

[Adapted: Magic 8-Ball by Andres Rueda via Flickr]

It’s that time of year when we not only take a look backward, but a look forward to the future. Unfortunately in doing so, we rely heavily on so-called experts, whose vision suffers from two fundamental limitations:

  • They’re overwhelmingly male; their viewpoints are published more frequently than those of women;
  • They depend frequently on male-dominated science and technology in constructing their forecasts, rather than looking at shifts in human conditions.

Once a upon a time in my career, I rubbed shoulders with futurists, both in corporate visioning and in business intelligence. They made a few eye-opening predictions that I pooh-poohed at the time. In 1999 one futurist told me that fuel cell technology wouldn’t be commercialized for more than 10 or 15 years. Another report circa 2000 predicted the U.S. would become a rogue nation because of its hegemonic power.

I laughed off both of those forecasts at the time. You’ll note, however, none of our government’s unilaterally killing drones use fuel cells as power sources.

In spite of the occasional spot-on prediction, many of the forecasts I’ve read or seen made as part of scenario planning have not come to pass. They remain years and decades away if they haven’t already become impossible or irrelevant. Why are future outcomes so notoriously nebulous?

During the dozen-plus years since I first worked with futurists and participated in scenario planning sessions, I’ve wised up and learned a few things, key to understanding the lameness of most futurists’ forecasts.

1) It’s really difficult for most organizations to see outside their own self-constructed silos built on the expertise of their products and services. They hire and promote subject-matter experts and look to them for forecasts. Because of internal feedback loops, organizations become blind to barriers so that their members really can’t see with specificity beyond 2-5 years. Asking folks in formal organizations to make forecasts about their own work, even with well-trained facilitators, is extremely difficult. Barriers within their own organizations may be invisible to them as well, ex. internal politics, or other activities deliberately hidden from view.

2) Organizations are often blind to their own social capital. If members within groups are uniformly unchallenged by barriers within and without their business lives, they may not see bumps in the road that thwart everybody else outside their group.

3) Outsiders who speculate on future activities of organizations while relying on publicly available information from within these groups may suffer from the same siloed and blinkered vision.

4) Predictions tend to follow the quantifiable, where the money as well as expectation exist—in science and technology. Unfortunately, scientists are loathe to make guarantees; they give percentages and odds, but not absolute assurances. Forecasts are only as good as the current understanding of science and technology, within some margin of error. Futurists often round up, encouraging excessive optimism.

These factors may explain why futurists’ predictions may ignore realities that grip nearly half of the humans on earth, while rendering so many of their forecasts inert.

Even factoring in the biases that shape forecasts, the future imagined can be far too tidy, . The gritty truths of the human condition and all its volatility are too neatly removed, parceled off outside the field of speculation.

As I type this, the passing of a female Indian gang rape victim is mourned and her country’s “woman problem” is noted. This is not a little thing; we’re talking about a lynchpin event affecting the political opinions within and without of the second most populous countries on earth—a country with 3.84 times the population of the U.S. In fact, at approximately 581,000,000 women, the total number of female residents of India outnumbers the entire population of the U.S. regardless of gender.

The “woman problem” India experiences isn’t limited to that country. Women are treated consistently and persistently as second-class citizens in a majority of countries, including the U.S., their rights to equity in education, health care, autonomy routinely undermined, and their representation inadequate. See the U.N. report, The World’s Women 2010: Trends and Statistics[PDF] for specifics; here are a few:

  • 74% of the world’s illiterates are women; 54% of the 72 million primary school-aged children not in school are girls;
  • A gender pay gap persists globally, to the detriment of women;
  • On average, women hold only 17 percent of seats in national parliaments as well as 17 percent of government minister positions. Of 150 elected heads of state, only seven are women; of 192 heads of government, only 11 are women. Only 13 of the 500 largest corporations in the world have a female chief executive officer;
  • Violence against women is still deeply embedded as a norm in many cultures; in some parts of the world, women as well as men may yet believe being beaten by male family members is acceptable.

There are 3.51 women of 7.06 billion total humans on this planet, most of whom are  ignored or denied in far too many forecasts of a future that cannot exist without them.

If this is the reality from which our common future starts—a reality in which nearly half of humanity is denied in so many ways—how can any prediction made by predominantly male futurists be accurate?

If we were to ask a substantive number of representatives from within that 3.51 billion humans, what would they forecast about our collective human future?

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