ACLU says it has proof of gender bias in Hollywood

The Hollywood sign near the top of Beachwood Canyon adjacent to Griffith Park in the Hollywood Hills of Los Angeles.

Reed Saxon, AP

The ACLU says longstanding gender inequalities in Hollywood have contributed to a lack of female directors, reports CBS Los Angeles' Kara Finnstrom.

Through interviews with some 50 women directors, the group alleges that women are routinely passed over for high profile film and TV projects, and often find themselves at a hiring disadvantage to men. Now they're calling for an investigation into the issue.

Patricia Arquette's Oscar acceptance speech this year was a rallying cry for gender equality.

"It's our time to have wage equality once and for all, and equal rights for women in the United States of America," she said.

But the issue of gender equality, while often front and center on screen, is now being questioned behind the lens.

"By some measures, there are less women working as directors today than there were decades ago," ACLU attorney Melissa Goodman said.

She says the gender disparities in the industry have nearly excluded women from directing roles.

Tuesday, the ACLU sent letters to state and federal agencies calling for them to investigate Hollywood hiring practices, but did not name any specific TV or film studios.

They accuse Hollywood of "use of discriminatory recruiting and screening practices that have the effect of shutting women out."

"Less than two percent of last year's top-grossing films were directed by women. Only twelve percent of television episodes were directed by women. There is a big gap and there is a problem there," Goodman said.

Jennifer Lee, a co-director of the Disney animated hit "Frozen", told CBS News last year that the industry suffers from a lack of diversity.

"We need more women in creative leadership, we just do," Lee said.

"Interstellar" producer Lynda Obst said that young female audiences are expanding.

"I don't think male directors are going to be able to please them forever. They're looking to their own gender, for their own stories," Obst said.

In a statement, the Director's Guild called the lack of action by the networks and studios to diversify its directors "deplorable" and said that the ACLU has made no effort to contact them about the issues.