Ryan Murphy has built a television empire, creating some of the most popular and most-watched television of the Peak Age, and now that he’s got some clout, he’s using it to put his money where his mouth is and deliver on a promise to hire more women behind the camera. Murphy started a foundation called Half earlier this year, and the goal is to support and promote diverse talent behind the camera on his array of shows. Women, minority, and LGBTQ filmmakers are mentored through Half and given opportunities to direct one of Murphy’s shows. And Murphy hasn’t wasted any time—in less than a year, he’s surpassed his 50% target and 60% of his episodes are helmed by diverse directors.
Compare this to Kathleen Kennedy, one of the most powerful women in entertainment, who can’t decide if it’s the right time to commit to a female director or not. Murphy apparently realized at an industry event in 2015 that, as a power producer, he’s in a position to affect change and create opportunities for inclusion behind the camera, and he hasn’t wasted any time in changing up the hiring practices of his shows to better reflect a diverse and multicultural repertoire of directors, and he’s encouraging the department heads on his shows to do the same (which means more diverse camera operators, sound designers, editors, electricians, builders, et cetera).
There are other mentorship programs at other production companies and studios, but a lot of them hit the wall when the participants aren’t then given follow-up opportunities to prove themselves. One of the Half participants, Maggie Kiley, points this out, saying that the difference is Murphy and his willingness to actually give people a shot in the director’s chair. Mentoring is important, but it has to be paired with real opportunities at the end of the training period, or else all you’re doing is a dog and pony show.
Those were the questions I had for Kathleen Kennedy after her remarks about “grooming” female talent to direct Star Wars movies. What does that mean? How does she envision “grooming” a woman to direct, say, Episode X? Does that mean shadowing a more senior director on another Star Wars movie, or working as an assistant director, or what, exactly? And how long is this “grooming” period? And, most importantly, what opportunities are created at the end of it?
The way Kennedy talks about increasing diversity behind the camera is like it’s some far-off dream she has no idea how to make real. Ryan Murphy, on the other hand, is already on his way. And his next step is a scholarship, which he’s starting with his own money. All it takes is one person committing to inclusion to see real change within the industry. Imagine if other producers, and studio execs, followed the example set by Murphy. Imagine how quickly we could see real change.