When people ask me if I want to follow my parents into showbiz, I imagine the moment I came home to find my mom in tears over her job. It was upsetting that the women who birthed me was so downtrodden by an industry that takes her skill, her backbone, her strength for granted. But that’s almost a norm for Black female directors in Hollywood. When I point out the small things to my mom—the backhanded comment, the smirk, the complaints—she says she barely even remembers if they happened. It’s not the little things, the microaggressions that get to my mom, it's the big ones. It’s a bid she’s sure she’s got but then it doesn’t go through, it’s the words “no” because she’s “not qualified enough,” it’s the movie she has spent fifteen years working on only to have it meet roadblock after roadblock. Being a Black female director in Hollywood is to fight in a system that doesn’t want to give you anything.
But Hollywood didn’t start like this. According to LA Weekly, which ran two articles about women and minorities in Hollywood, film wasn’t considered a desirable job in the early 1900’s, so it was left open for people who were considered to be outside of the establishment. This meant many women and marginalized groups were able to become powerful and prominent figures in the early years of Hollywood. This changed in the 1930s when the Great Depression hit and Hollywood executives were forced to go to Wall Street to gather money for films, which lead to the sidelining of women because financiers wouldn’t back them. The industry also became ethnically monolithic, as minorities were seen as something to make fun of rather than portray accurately. It wasn’t until the early eighties, when six female directors sued, that this problem got any attention. In the previous thirty years, women had directed only fourteen out of the 7,332 films that were produced during those years. After the lawsuits, in the eighties and nineties, female directors peaked at sixteen percent, the highest that statistic has ever gotten. This was the same time my mother began her career as a director. She says that jobs were much easier to get back then. Now, thirty years later, it seems as though as we are going back to the seventies.
But why is Hollywood so adverse to diversity? The problem lies in the executives and the CEOs of the major film producers. According to LA Weekly, in the top U.S. film schools, both men and women are represented equally; but from the time women graduate to the time their male peers start appearing in credits, most of those women disappear into obscurity. Women whose films get screened at top film festivals such as Sundance also fail to find work, even with an award-winning movie under their belt. Meanwhile, their male competitors are often being asked to work for Disney, Universal, Warner Bros. and so on. My mom was one of the lucky ones who did receive offers after screening her short film, but none of them went through, with offers either being transferred to other people or the project falling apart all together. And this is the problem: the executives at the top are not doing enough for women and people of color. For an industry that functions on gambling, Hollywood and its most powerful seem to hate to gamble. Executives would rather stick to their formulas and pool their resources around safe films made by people like them than try something that is different.
This means that women, especially women of color like my mom, have to fight for resources. They are seen as a risky gamble rather than a smart bet. For women there is no club, no inherent support. They are expected to audition, to constantly prove themselves, while a white man can take the back door and network his way to the top. And on top of all this, a woman cannot fail. A man can make bust after bust but if a woman makes a movie and it flops, her career is over. My mom hasn’t yet made her movie, but with thirty years in the business and a myriad of awards to her name, she is still asked to show her credentials, still called a “first-time director.”
It’s for these reasons that when people ask me, do I want to follow my parents in the showbiz, I can only answer, “No.”