‘If Hollywood Wants To Make Money, It Needs To Hire More Diverse Talent,’ Says Women In Media’s Tema Staig

Tema Staig got tired of hearing that Hollywood couldn’t hire women.

Statements such as ‘there are no good women camera operators’ or ‘women don’t have enough experience’ were getting old, especially that she knew they weren’t true. 

“I realized people just didn’t know how good women really were,” Staig said. “And I decided to change that.” 

It began with a simple Excel spreadsheet that participants of her Women In Media events filled out with their names, crew positions, contact information, and anything that would show the quality of their work, such as social media handles and professional website addresses. 

But that spreadsheet was very local. 

After receiving multiple inquiries from around the country and world from people looking to hire women and from women who wanted to work, Staig decided to take the list global by turning it into a cloud-based Google document. 

It quickly filled up with 2,000 names in 26 departments.

When it became too much for the Google doc to handle, Staig created the Crew List, an online directory of names, where employers could find female talent “above-the-line,” for jobs such as director, writer, and producer, and “below-the-line,” assistant directors, camera operators, or sound engineers.    

“We made it impossible to say things such as ‘there are no women in particular departments,’” said Staig. “We also started working on changing attitudes.” 

When someone said ‘oh, I hired a woman once, and it didn’t work out, so I’m not going to hire another woman,’ Staig and her team would respond with ‘well, you’ve hired men before who didn’t work out and that didn’t stop you from hiring other men.’

Staig grew up with parents, who told her she could be or do anything she puts her mind to. For a while, it meant being on the honor roll and an early college admission. Then, as the late 80s and early 90s rolled in, it was securing her dream DJ job at a nightclub. 

But she quickly realized that people around her didn’t believe she could spin turntables because “women just didn’t do it.” It was thanks to one male DJ, who took unusually long bathroom breaks, that she could finally show how good she really was. Soon, she was packing 700 people four nights a week. 

While DJ-ing, she noticed that everyone around her hated Madonna. 

“People would say she had no talent, yet they played her songs to get everyone back to the dance floor,” Staig said, recalling hearing opinions how Madonna couldn’t possibly be the author of her own success. “People couldn’t stand that she was ambitious.” 

Staig quit DJ-ing when her manager decided to take away her record allowance and cut her pay. 

The nightclub closed six months later.  

“My lesson was that they would rather live in their misogyny than pay me as much as they paid the guys, and make money,” Staig said. 

Staig faced similar situations when she started working as a production designer and art director in Hollywood after getting her master’s from the NYU Tisch School of the Arts in Design for Stage and Film in 1999. 

Once, a male producer didn’t like her answer as to how many scissor lifts she needed to put up decorations on a set, so he went to a male assistant working under her, and elicited the answer he wanted. “I was furious,” Staig said. “And I told him, ‘hey, this is not our first rodeo, yours nor mine, you don’t get to undermine me in my own department.’” 

At some point, however, she realized she could only advance professionally so far. 

“When people saw me doing a job and doing it really well, they still couldn’t believe that a woman was competent,” Staig said. “And I wanted to show that women are capable of knocking it out of the park.” 

In 2010, she founded a non-profit Women In Media to promote gender balance in the film and entertainment industry by organizing classes, events, and mentorships. But for the first three years, Staig worked for free as an Executive Director. 

“I said, ‘we’re all about getting women hired,’” Staig recalled reasoning with her board to give her a salary. “‘It’s embarrassing if I’m not hired by our organization.’” 

The idea of creating the Google doc with female crew names came around 2016. 

In 2019, 85 percent of Netflix’s Old Guard post-production team was made up of women. 

“Four years ago, people told me I was crazy, but now a lot of companies are getting on board,” Staig said. “We really pushed the issue, and we’re really proud of the work we’ve done.”

Staig would like to see parity on movie sets in five years, and gives another ten to 15 years “to make it a habit.” 

And just like no one says a ‘lady lawyer’ or a ‘lady doctor’ anymore, she wants people to stop saying a ‘lady director’ or a ‘lady camera operator.’ 

But it’s not only about hiring women, Staig said. It’s also about hiring people of color, various ethnicities, and gender identities. 

“If the industry wants to make money, it needs to hire more diverse talent in all parts of production” Staig said. “That will attract a wider audience. Just look at the success of ‘Black Panther.’”

— to www.forbes.com

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