I worked for a production company that made it a mission to hire more female writers and directors. Prior to my start, the company had already made databases of studio-ready female writers and directors (with numbers in the hundreds for both). It was at my recommendation that we also create a database to track female agents at major agencies (WME/IMG, CAA, UTA, Gersh, ICM, Paradigm). While the producers I worked for had contacts at these agencies, I figured it couldn’t hurt to try and build more relationships. And so the talent agent database was born.
The theory behind the creation of the database was that women might be more likely to represent other women – or at least care about gender representation in the industry. As I began my exhaustive three months of research into agents and their client base, the opposite proved to be true. There was no statistical correlation between male and female representation by gender of the agent. Most “super agents,” those who represent the top talent in the business were still overwhelmingly male at all agencies. The top female talent also had male agents, and many big talents had several agents listed as representatives which included both male and female reps.
Sadly, the results didn’t shock us. To understand why women are no more likely to support and shepard other women, it is important to understand the way the agency business operates. The agents are promoted to agent status only after a grueling period of assisting other agents, and rotating desks – often while making poverty wages for long hours. During that time, they develop relationships with existing talent and attempt to scout new talent primarily through their mentors contacts. Depending on their success, they are either promoted or remain at a desk.
This may seem like a good opportunity for women to seek out female talent, until you understand the prevailing philosophy in the agency business: women don’t bring in the money. Whether male or female, young agents by the time they reach the level of agent are jaded. They are taught that certain genres make more money, and those genres are geared toward men and male audiences. Never mind that women might also like, write and direct those films — the fact remains that there is an implicit bias when it comes to seeking top dollar talent. After you’ve been working for starvation wages for years, taking a risk seems foolish. The result? Stick to the same formula and dated assumptions.
The solution to this problem is complex simply because nobody sees themselves as part of the problem. During a Star Wars panel, female super-producer Kathleen Kennedy stated, “We want to make sure that when we bring a female director in to do ‘Star Wars,’ they’re set up for success…they’re gigantic films, and you can’t come into them with essentially no experience.” Kennedy was roasted for this statement, since what she was repeating was the same excuse the industry always uses when scouting and pushing talent: women have no experience. This simply isn’t true. Not only that, but Rogue One director Gareth Edwards was given an opportunity with Godzilla after a single indie. So too was Josh Trank — once attached to a Star Wars film himself.
Until women are scouted and pushed the same way as men, we cannot say that Hollywood is meritocratic. Until young agents are pursuing the many women that make and write great independent action and thriller films the way they pursued Edwards and Trank, we won’t be any closer to gender-equity. Back to the database at the start of this post; I know for a fact there are numerous women ready for the next step (based on festivals, box office and other critical metrics). Unfortunately, the agency database seems to almost directly contradict that given its lack of focus on female directors except for three or four names. It’s time to stop making excuses, stop promoting dated assumptions and implicit bias. Most of all it’s time to stop being lazy and do your due diligence when scouting talent. All it takes is some research. Unfortunately, too many are not willing to do it.