Robinson is a writer, director and producer
Every year, I go and speak to the American Film Institute’s Women Director’s Workshop and I start with the same sentence: “They don’t want you here.” Sometimes this is met with confusion or blank stares, but often, it’s nods of recognition. What I’m articulating is what these women—many of them women of color—know to be true.
“They don’t want you here.”
This simple truth has probably rarely—if ever—been spoken out-loud on their long journey to Hollywood, especially by someone within the industry. I give the requisite caveats—I’m not talking all white men or even individual white men, I’m talking about They with a capital “T.” I go on to say that although Hollywood is a sexist and racist place, that is not why they don’t want you here. There are two reasons. The first reason is economic. There are a finite amount of jobs. And if you—a woman—get a job directing a movie it means that some white dude doesn’t. It’s a reasonable reaction: I don’t care how much I like you or want to do the right thing. If you say, “Hey, I want your job,” I’m going to say, “Hell no.” (Usually the women laugh here.) I go on to tell these talented women that they cannot be lulled into a false sense of security by the well-intentioned folks who run diversity programs because those people are, unfortunately, not the people doing the hiring.
The second reason is deeper. It has to do with cis white male fantasy and wanting to see the world through a lens where they’re the heroes and always get the girl. What’s even harder than taking somebody’s job is asking him to give up that lens on the world. I tell the women at AFI this because they need to know what they are up against. This has been my gospel, year in and year out.
But last April, when I spoke to these same women at their graduation ceremony, something was different. I had just finished directing a feature; I felt the landscape shifting beneath my feet. I was like a scientist in a disaster movie, like Anne Heche in Volcano, watching the Richter scale and birds flying in unusual patterns—and, to continue the disaster metaphor, I felt that the collective rage women were feeling over Trump’s election was simmering. And like in every disaster movie, before the tsunami hits, the water slips way, way, way back, exposing all the beach for a mile out to sea, gathering, gathering, gathering power—and then the tsunami comes crashing down. Which is what happened, and which is still happening.
I gave my speech back before #metoo and before #Time’s Up, before Wonder Woman and Black Panther. But at the end of my speech, I said this: “They might not want you here but I have a feeling that sometime soon, they may need you here.” That time is now.