I knew that that’s what I would face, and I don’t want to point fingers because Fox has been amazing.
Fox has been not only supportive but really excited about the fact that we have a truly diverse roster of directors and writers on the show.
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I don’t know enough about how the programs work and whether they could be bigger or whether that would dilute the effectiveness of the program. For example, John Singleton had never directed an episode of television before he directed “Empire” last year.
But I certainly wish that there were more of them and that there were a bigger pool. I think it was an episode that Lee was going to direct and then he had to step away because he had other commitments, and he said “Ilene, I want John Singleton to replace me.”The initial response was the kind of the automatic response, which is, “We can’t, he’s never done it before.
When you start with the premise that 30 percent is the leftovers — the leftover [diversity] slots — that’s not a good place to start. It’s always the case that the really good directors that we want for our shows are very busy, and certainly since there are fewer black directors and fewer women directors [since many shows] have a wish to diversify, those directors do get booked very, very quickly.
So it’s the initial response particularly of the production folks to say, “I’m not comfortable with it. It’s costly to them when they approve someone who turns out not to be qualified and able to manage the rigors of directing an episode.
I actually have worked with her as a writer on “The L Word.” She went on to become a really good filmmaker but she had never directed an episode of television.
She wouldn’t have been approvable, except that she got into the Fox diversity program and Fox was really excited about staffing a director from their program and giving her her first episode of television. We’ve brought filmmakers who weren’t television directors but who were really in some cases revered and experienced filmmakers.
As a point of reference, according to the DGA, 82 percent of the directors hired for “Empire’s” first season were men and women of color, placing it on the Guild’s annual “Best of TV” list in terms of diversity (the guild’s site has links to reports and “Best of” and “Worst of” lists for 2014, 2013, 20).
First it starts with the premise and the will to do it, because it’s not a given. [The director roster began from] my worldview and my approach to staffing anything that I’ve done, but also [co-creator] Lee Daniels made it very clear how important it was for him that most of the episodic directors on “Empire” are African-American. “We need to find the best black directors who do episodic television and staff this show primarily with those directors.”As we were mounting the show in the first season, [co-creator] Danny Strong said to me, it’s really, really important to him that we staff as many women directors as we can. So clearly there are fewer black directors and fewer women directors than there are white guys, but they certainly are out there.