Given how politically correct Hollywood tries to be, the breakdown of male and female directors is a staggeringly man-heavy 12:1. Angela Robinson talks about what it's like to be a female director and what can be done to make that ratio a little more even.
Alex: We told you about a new study from U.C.L.A. that looked at diversity and the lack of it in Hollywood. The report found that as lead actors in films, minorities were underrepresented by a factor of more than three to one. Those numbers are very similar for minority film directors and it’s even worse if you’re a woman.
Female directors are underrepresented by a factor of 12 to 1. So what is it like to be an African American woman trying to carve out a career as a director? For more on this we turn to Angela Robinson. She’s worked at a director and producer in film and television on shows such as “The L Word,” and “True Blood.” Angela, welcome.
Angela Robinson: Hey, thank you so much for having me.
Alex: When you hear the numbers, does it sound accurate based on your experience. Is there really a lack of female and minority directors in Hollywood right now?
Angela: Oh, yeah. It’s crazy. It’s actually weird. I mean it’s sometimes actually shocking because I feel like I live in a fairly PC universe and kind of how I crafted my life, but the sexism is kind of intense in that there are [inaudible]. Like I go days and days without seeing a black person and years and years without encountering another woman director.
Alex: Why do you think this is? This situation we find ourself in with this lack of women in this, this lack of minorities behind the scenes.
Angela: I thought about this a lot, actually, over the years because it always seems so baffling to me. I feel like it is kind of a perfect storm of money and power and that the culture of Hollywood is kind of an “our kind of people” type of place, I guess, for lack of a better word, in that what has historically… people have historically been in power and then whenever you do a TV show or you do a feature film, or something, there’s so much money on the line.
It’s one of the rare professions where you give somebody a million dollars, $5 million, $10 million, $50, $100 million to go make something. So, it’s kind of a terrifying endeavor for everybody to begin with and so there’s kind of a culture of fear around relinquishing any sort of power around that. And, so, and I feel like people are scared to kind of go even an inch outside of their comfort zone at all, literally, for class, race, gender, sexuality, like anything.
And then you’ll find things, I mean, it’s really bizarre. Like you’ll be on set and somebody will say, “Oh, we don’t hire women directors.”
Alex: They’ll just say that outright?
Angela: Yeah, just outright. Like it [inaudible] be and it’s not even, even frowned upon. It’s just a fact. Like in 2014, they’ll be like, “Oh, yeah, we don’t hire women directors,” or they’ll say, “We tried that once,” and the interesting thing is I think in Hollywood in general it’s a very liberal PC place, but everybody knows that you’re not supposed to be racist and everybody knows you’re actually not supposed to be homophobic, but weirdly, sexism is still pretty institutionalized.
Alex: And, Angela, since you brought up sexuality, it’s not something that was looked at at this U.C.L.A. report, but you’ve worked on a number of projects, such as your film, “D.E.B.S.” and also “The L Word” that have to do with those views. You are yourself a lesbian. What’s your experience there? Do you see many gays and lesbians in the director’s chair?
Angela: Actually, yes. In a strange paradox I see all that. You know, in many respects actually being gay has helped me in Hollywood. I was once talking to a woman director and we were actually having this conversation because she was saying that sometimes she felt at a disadvantage of being a straight woman because there was always sex on the table. I mean if like 98% of who you’re dealing with or more is men and that she would find herself being put into “I’m your wife or I’m your mom” kind of. And like or your girlfriend. Do you know what I mean?
Angela: Kind of slotted into these relationships. She didn’t necessarily want to be in. It’s just kind of how she was being related to by the men she was working with. And, actually, when sex is kind of off the table, when you’re gay, then, strangely, I feel like it’s easier to communicate or weirdly the men you’re working with kind of ascribe a kind of masculinity to what you’re doing, which they view kind of in sync with the role of director.
Alex: So back for a moment to this notion of there not being a whole lot of women in the director’s chair, or people of color in the director’s chair. How do we fix this? How do we make this a better situation? Yes, I’m putting this on you. At least for some suggestions, Angela.
Angela: Right. I actually think this is a conundrum, which I do a lot of mentoring, especially, of women directors. This is kind of my bag. And, I mean, the main thing, I think, is that women have to hire other women whenever they get into power.
And the difficult thing, I feel like quite technically, is that often women will get a shot, but they won’t get a second shot. Do you know what I mean? Whereas, men often will. So the strange thing about directing is it’s … there’s not a lot of ways to practice without spending a lot of money. You know?
So, you basically get kind of times at bat, but the only way to get better at it is to do it a lot and men often get more chances to like “fail” than women do.
Alex: Angela, one of the other arguments that’s made here is that you need to have people of color and women in the director’s chair because they bring a perspective that you might not otherwise find. Can you maybe look back at your work, I know there’s a lot of it, and maybe think of an example where something in your identity really brought something to it that maybe another director might not have?
Angela: This is … a specific example happened on “True Blood” last year where it was an episode I was writing and there was a character who was being created, a white guy, who was really eccentric and I guess went back and I wrote it as a black woman. I just changed the character because there was no reason …
Alex: Because you can.
Angela: … it had to be a white guy. I was just like why not just make this a black woman and I tried to do that whenever I can, just change it.
Alex: Angela Robinson is the Executive Producer of the show “True Blood.” Angela, thank you so much.
Angela: Thanks, Alex.
(This transcript may have small errors.)