Fed Up With Hollywood Sexism, a Filmmaker Created Her Own Database of Women Directors

With more than 850 names, the website smashes the myth that female filmmakers don’t exist.
Destri Martino. (Photo: Courtesy Destri Martino)
May 28, 2015· 2 MIN READ
Jennifer Swann is TakePart’s culture and lifestyle reporter.

Some people collect stamps or spoons or autographs. Destri Martino collects film credits. Her new website, The Director List, is an extensive database of more than 850 directors who have worked in movies, television, and every screen in between, all over the world. They share one thing in common: They’re all women.

Martino hopes employers will consider using The Director List as an alternative resource for hiring for their next filmmaker. The database organizes each director by country, medium—documentary, feature, television, etc.—and genre, ranging from action and sci-fi to comedy and biography. Yes, there is a robust rom-com category that includes well-known auteur Nancy Meyers, but Martino wants to show that there are women working in nearly every other genre, too, including horror (see Kimberly Peirce, who directed the 2013 Carrie remake).

“I just think seeing these numbers makes it really clear: You can actually search a database for the people that have qualifications. There’s no way you can say there’s no women directors who are qualified,” Martino says of the “myth in the industry that refuses to die.”

The myth that women directors simply don’t exist is perpetuated by dismal statistics from the mainstream box office. Just 7 percent of directors on the 250 top-grossing films last year were women, according to researchers at San Diego State University. But that number jumps to 28 percent—quadrupling—for independent films that screened in 2014 at high-profile festivals such as Sundance. That suggests, of course, that women directors aren’t quite so rare—they’re just not being chosen to work on top-grossing studio features.

Martino, a filmmaker herself who recently left a day job in corporate video production to pursue her own projects, says the disparity often comes down to director’s lists—or sheets compiling filmmakers under various genres—that are sometimes distributed to studios during the hiring stages of a film. She remembers leafing through the packets while working at a production company years ago.

“I wanted to try to figure out why there weren’t more women working on films,” she says. “I talked to women directors here in L.A. and talked to producers and managers, and that’s where I found that nobody was talking about the hiring process and how they used director’s lists to bring together their choices for who should be considered for these directing gigs.”

It eventually became the basis of her master’s dissertation at the London School of Economics a decade ago, when Hollywood hiring practices received few mentions in the media. Today the issue is driving newspaper headlines, and the ACLU has even taken it up as a cause. Earlier this month, the ACLU filed letters demanding that state and federal authorities launch an investigation—for the second time since the 1960s—into whether studios are committing gender-based employment discrimination.

“Women have been talking about this for years, women directors and other women in Hollywood, but there’s a strong feeling that concrete action is needed, and that’s why we think calling on the civil rights agencies again is needed,” Ariela Migdal, a senior staff attorney with ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project, said at the time of the ACLU’s announcement in early May.

RELATED: More Women Worked Behind the Scenes on Movies in 1998 Than Do Today

The Directors Guild of America has since denied the ACLU’s claim that it uses secretive shortlists to recommend directors for particular projects, although the union does provide contact information from its membership database to employers looking to hire a director with specific qualifications, a DGA spokesperson confirmed to Deadline last week.

In the meantime, Martino hasn’t stopped searching through film credits adding more women directors to her list. “I’ve just been collecting them over the years,” she says, starting with an Excel sheet that morphed into a Pinterest page and, thanks to a $1,000 grant from the Awesome Foundation, became a full-fledged digital database unveiled this week. “I’m doing this as a filmmaker and also as a fan,” she says. “I really love the work [women filmmakers] are doing, and that’s why I keep doing it.”