AHS Creator Ryan Murphy Calls BS On Hollywood’s Excuses For Not Hiring More Female Directors

If you’ve been paying attention to any of the conversations about equality in Hollywood, you will most likely be familiar with the stats around female directors, or lack thereof. According to The Hollywood Reporter, women directed only 7% of the top 250 grossing films of 2016, which is reportedly a 2% decline from the previous year. In television, women directed on 17% of episodes, and ethnic minorities, both male and female, directed 19% of episodes. These numbers are across cable and broadcast TV.

For comparison, women make up roughly 20% of US Congress, and we KNOW women are far from equally represented in politics, especially in a country that is currently dominated by conservatives. So when a supposed liberal industry is faring worse for women and minorities than politics, change is no longer an option, but an imperative.

It has to take a concerted effort to not just change the gender balance in numbers, but also shift mindsets and attitudes about the need for equality. One prominent Hollywood name who is using his platform and privilege to do this is FX Network darling Ryan Murphy. The ‘American Horror Story’ and ‘Feud’ creator last year spoke at the Women in Entertainment breakfast where he was named the inaugural Equity in Entertainment Award honoree. He used his speech to apologize to women for his lack of oversight when it came to hiring women on his shows.

Having been in a position many times to decide who gets to work on the multiple shows he has produced, including ‘The People v. O.J. Simpson’ he said he had “failed” women. The episode titled “Marcia, Marcia, Marcia”, centered around Marcia Clarkson was slated to be directed by a woman who had to pull out due to a medical emergency, and instead of looking for another woman to take her place, Ryan just directed the episode himself.

“I have always had female directors on my shows, but why here didn’t I feel I had a roster of women around me who I could turn this important episode over to? Why weren’t these women on speed-dial? Why did I make the choice that was easier for me, but not for the material, or the world in general?” he said.

Because of this, he launched the Half Foundation in February of 2016 which was set up to employ women, people of color and members of the LGBTQ community as directors on at least 50% of all of his shows (‘American Horror Story’, ‘Scream Queens’, and ‘Feud’).

THR reported that after a mere 10 months, 60% of directing jobs on his shows were being occupied by women.

“What I have learned is if you have power and you want to bring positive change, everyone will conspire to help you do that. But you have to speak up,” he said at the time, urging other industry power-players present at the breakfast to make a change.

As The Wrap reports, the 60% of women hired isn’t the only success the Half Foundation has seen so far since its inception. 94% of directors overall were women, people of color, and LGBTQ+ individuals.

Because of his initiative and ability to see he was in a position to make change, FX network has also seen a massive increase in diversity behind the camera. The amount of female directors and directors of color increased from 12% in 2015 to 51% in 2016.

The Half Foundation also launched a Directing Mentorship Program to foster up-and-coming directing talent. In 2016, there were 30 people enrolled in this program, 3 of which went on to direct episodes on a Ryan Murphy show. He is proving not only that the diverse directing female talent exists, but they are ready and capable of taking on these jobs. It is similar to NBC’s Female Forward initiative, which will provide 10 female directors with the opportunity to shadow up to three episodes of an NBC series, followed by an in-season commitment to direct at least one episode of the series she shadows for the 2018-2019 season.

But it has to go beyond just initiatives, quotas and shadowing. Producer and director Ava DuVernay has proved that it is not hard to find good female talent to direct television. Her OWN show ‘Queen Sugar’ has been directed entirely by female directors as a deliberate attempt to increase the percentage of women in this coveted position, and to show the industry that there should be no excuse as to why a network or series doesn’t hire women.

In an interview with Vulture, Ryan Murphy talks more about his Half Foundation, saying entertainment should be reflecting women in the real world, even behind the camera, and should do a better job of looking for talent.

“Our country is now more than 50% women, and 57% of all entertainment is consumed is women. They are the majority on this front,” he told Stacey Wilson Hunt.

He was asked whether finding female talent was relatively easy, and he answered, “it was”.

“I called my boss, Dana Walden— who has two young daughters— and within 15 seconds she said, ‘Let’s do it. Let’s work harder so that all showrunners at Fox have a network of women they can draw from.’ I’d never had a mentor in Hollywood. Men have always been control of the business and they usually mentor people who are like them,” he said.

He also recognized the importance of supporting women who have families instead of stigmatizing them if they take time out to have children, an issue many professional women in America worry about given that it is the only developed nation in the world not to have any form of federally-mandated paid family leave.

“We also pay women two weeks’ worth of their salaries to trail us; we don’t expect them to work for free. We saw that a lot of the women who were applying were working mothers, so we made a room available for those who were breastfeeding. Just because you have a baby on your hip or one on the way, or two at home, doesn’t mean you can’t go after your dreams,” he said.

Ryan talked a bit about the real life “feud”-ing that can happen in a male-dominated industry, where women breaking through are often reluctant to help other women in fear of losing the coveted position they just secured.

“All of the women who want to be successful and economically viable are operating in a culture where they have to fight for that one position, and then comes the Betty versus Joan backstabbing. But if you walk into a business where 50% of the positions are held by women, I think that instinct goes away…But men have never had to do that — ever,” he admits.

His influence will go beyond just his FX home, as he plans to meet with multiple network heads during the upcoming pilot season and make sure they know about the female directors and directors of color he has worked with and can vouch for, in order for them not to rely on the excuses that become a barrier to entry for women in the industry.

“The other thing that’s bullshit is when you hear powerful people say, ‘We don’t know where to find the women — they’re all booked.’ That is an abject lie. Just admit that the system is broken; here’s how we can fix it, and boom — you have a hiring rule,” he said.

Again, if Ava DuVernay has no problem hiring 100% women to direct ‘Queen Sugar’, and if Ryan Murphy can boast 60% of his shows are directed by women and up to 94% by minorities in total, clearly the problem is not about the lack of talent. Here’s to more people in positions of power in Hollywood recognizing they have the ability to create change and make the industry a more diverse landscape.

“I love looking around my company and empowering inclusion in all departments. I recently led a production meeting and was proud to see that more than half of the people sitting at the table were women and minorities. That’s the way it should be,” said Ryan. We couldn’t agree more.




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