(Photograph owned by Rachel Feldman. Photograph of Feldman and cinematographer Nancy Schreiber shot by Erin Brown.)
By Special Guest Writer Rachel Feldman
I have grey hair, no longer menstruate, and am a Hollywood director. For 35 years I endured employment discrimination and exclusion in my industry. Luckier than most, I managed to carve out a decent career, with some great jobs albeit in fits and starts, unlike many of my male counterparts who enjoyed a steady stream of work.
I heard all the things: You’re too young, you’re too pretty, the crew won’t like you, the actors won’t respect you, you don’t have enough experience, you have too much experience, we had a woman who wasn’t good, we’ve never had a woman… and other inanities. There were a lot of us experiencing the same thing but our collective voices weren’t being heard no matter the tactic. We were told that there must be something wrong with us if our careers weren’t turning out well. But we knew it wasn’t us. We knew it was them.
A dogged type who doesn’t give up easily, frustration fueled my activism. I turned personal challenges into clarifying political messages for my community. When I did nab a job directing or writing, I would share my skills with other directors, as I led the DGA Women’s Steering Committee. I wrote articles, spoke on panels, taught courses, and formed and joined organizations with like-minded goals. I became a “go-to” source for information about the discrimination of women directors and have been interviewed in countless articles and documentaries.
“They were finally listening. Or at least they were afraid of being on the wrong side of history.”
Despite decades of maddening, stressful activism trying to inspire studios and network to have greater accountability for inclusion, these initiatives never made much impact. But the arrest of Harvey Weinstein was a dramatic turning point and with the subsequent responses of #MeToo and #TimesUp, the number of women directing particularly in television, jumped astronomically! They were finally listening. Or at least they were afraid of being on the wrong side of history.
The past three years, pre-COVID, were a steady stream of excellent work for me and for many of my female filmmaker friends, many of whom previously had swiss cheese careers like mine, or none beyond their own micro-budget, indie films. But suddenly companies were seeking out women directors, especially experienced women directors. Agents wanted to represent us and producers couldn’t find enough of us. Our careers were thrumming in the ways we had long dreamed of. We were doing great work, respected by our peers, and earning a great living – when the virus shut everything down.
Then the violent murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor galvanized the #BlackLivesMatter movement, illuminating injustices in both our society and our industry, exposing gross exclusions and discriminations that have prevented creatives of color to thrive. I want to be hopeful that these reckonings will have lasting impact, that we will emerge from this period of time with genuine progress in film and television employment, but there is also the fear that when production begins anew, that hiring practices will default to the old ways, with those in the position to hire defaulting once again to the people they know best rather than opening their minds to women, people of color, and to all of us with silver strands.
“It’s been a long, hard road for mature filmmakers who’ve been struggling to get both feet in the door and now that we finally made it, please don’t shut the door.”
Grey hair is universal. No matter the sex, race, or gender orientation, this transformation will happen to every kind of human. We must continue progressive hiring practices of creative women, and People of Color, but let’s also make sure not to forget those who have tenaciously persevered through challenging years and are finally getting their shot.
Of course, it’s too soon to know anything. We need better testing, we need a vaccine, and we need a science-based, coordinated government to lead the way into a healthy future, but election day and good medicine are in our horizons. I’m grateful to the studios, networks, and producers who have entrusted me with their stories and their budgets in the past and urge them, and all those who hire, to build upon making progressive change in our industry. It’s been a long, hard road for mature filmmakers who’ve been struggling to get both feet in the door and now that we finally made it, please don’t shut the door.
Rachel Feldman is an accomplished director and screenwriter in development to direct her script LILLY, a feature film based on the life of Fair Pay activist Lilly Ledbetter. You can follow her on Twitter @WomenCallAction or learn more about her at http://www.rachelfeldman.com