Female directors unite at Comic-Con to push for gender equality in Hollywood

"Jessica Jones" director Rosemary Rodriguez, pictured here in November, appeared on a Saturday Comic-Con panel about female directors.
(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

Director Patricia Riggen spent years struggling to make the transition from film to television. Her first year directing TV, however, wasn’t easy.

“Getting hired doesn’t end the fact that we have to prove ourselves every single day, every single minute that we’re on the set,” she said Saturday to a packed room at a Comic-Con panel on female directors.

In an off-the-cuff moment, she recalled being questioned and doubted by a male colleague.

“He’s like, ‘You’re here because you’re a woman.’”

“’We’re being forced to hire women — you know why, because they’re not good.’”

In the age of #MeToo and #TimesUp — two movements calling attention to sexual harassment in Hollywood — several Comic-Con panels this year addressed female representation in film and TV.


Two such panels, Friday’s “The Future of Film is Female” and Saturday’s “Women Rocking Hollywood,” featured directors including Rosemary Rodriguez, (“Jessica Jones” and “The Walking Dead”), Kat Candler (“Queen Sugar”), Susanna Fogel (“The Spy Who Dumped Me”), and Jennifer Yuh Nelson (“The Darkest Minds”).

Both panels began by laying out sobering statistics on the percentages of female-led and -driven content in Hollywood.

“There’s a huge conversation around this issue, a lot of social media, press, but the statistics haven’t really changed,” said Kirsten Schaffer, executive director of Women in Film.

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Schaffer pointed to a study by the University of Southern California’s Annenberg Inclusion Initiative. It found that over the last 11 years, 4% of the top grossing movies were directed by women. Only seven of those films were by women of color. The TV landscape is marginally better. A study by the Directors Guild of America looking at the 2016-17 season found that 21% of TV episodes were directed by women.

Moderator and author Alicia Malone noted that out of nearly 50 movies released this summer by major studios, only two were directed by women. One of those directors was Fogel.


“I’m happy to pave the way … but to be in such a small group is pretty depressing and can also hamper the storytelling because every female-directed movie carries so much weight to be everything to all women,” Fogel said. “It becomes a lot of pressure and sometimes you feel like you can’t be free and creative.”

Schaffer encouraged Comic-Con attendees to support work by female filmmakers in order to help push for gender parity in Hollywood.

“What you watch matters,” Schaffer said. “If you watch shows that don’t hire women or don’t have representation that’s diverse, stop watching those shows.”

“We cannot let this movement be a fashion of the year, because it might go away,” Riggen said. “We’ve got to keep the finger pointing.”

Fortunately, another TV directing experience — for the forthcoming midseason Fox drama “Proven Innocent” — left Riggen more optimistic.

“I was very lucky that I was hired by a guy that did not fear me and actually respected me and gave me my space to be creative and supported me,” she said. “It gave me hope that it’s possible to be a director and be happy for the first time.”