Should the Film Industry implement the ‘Rooney Rule’?

The Creative industry continues to have a problem when it comes to hiring minorities and women  for top tier positions. “Now is the time for action” [i] is the rallying cry from a lead author of the report, “Inclusion in the Director’s Chair?” [ii] What this action should be, however, is harder to define. Perhaps the best solution could come from a different industry, namely the NFL’s ‘Rooney Rule’.

The National Football League’s ‘Rooney Rule’, named after former chairman of the league’s diversity committee, Dan Rooney, is the policy that requires league teams to interview minority candidates for heading coaching roles. It was implemented in 2003, after the controversial firing of two black coaches. The policy was used to make sure minority coaches, who may not have been considered before, were given a chance in a high coaching role. Many have cited its success, pointing to the fact that between 1992 to 2002, less than 10% of coaches were minorities, but in its first decade this figure has risen to about 20%” [iii]. Since then, other companies have begun to implement the rule as a means of combating diversity issues. The Football Association confirmed “that it will enforce the ‘Rooney Rule’ when selecting future coaching roles within the England set-up” [iv] Outside sport, companies like Facebook, Patreon and Pinterest have highlighted the ‘Rooney Rule’ as influencing their hiring policy. “It’s been very well received, and there are strong lead indicators of its effectiveness” [v], Maxine Williams, Facebook’s global head of diversity said, adding that the rule has slowed down the hiring rate, but that “it builds the habit of looking longer, looking harder”.

Perhaps the film industry could benefit from implementing the policy when hiring directors and writers? The ‘Rooney Rule’ was originally created for a job role that only hires men, but the idea could be changed to implement women into the policy. Aaron Mendelsohn, secretary-treasurer of the Writers Guild of America West has suggested just that “It should be mandatory that at least one female writer and one writer of colour be interviewed for open writing assignments….. In sports it’s called the ‘Rooney Rule.’ In screenwriting it’s called ‘smart hiring” [vi].  Figures show that in “1989, 25% of the writers on television series were women”, yet in 2016 it was “29%, rising just four points”.[vi] Diversity needs to be more than just ‘filling a quota’, as Francesca Butler, WGAW board candidate added We need to do away with the idea that diversity is hiring one woman or non-white writer and calling it a day”.The Great Diversity Experiment” [vii] , which uses practical social experiments in an effort to prove that diversity leads to better results, highlighted the ‘Rooney Rule’ as one of five steps the creative industries can take to change the industry.

“Look harder, further and accept that often a round peg in a square hole is a good thing.. – the ‘Rooney Rule.'” [viii]  The ‘Rooney Rule’ can make it so that writing rooms are open to hiring more than one woman or minority. Rather than fulfilling a quota and moving on, the ‘Rooney Rule’ means that diverse candidates are being looked at constantly and hiring rates will improve.

There have been multiple cases of now big-name women and minority film directors who have struggled for years to gain funding and jobs. In 2017, Patty Jenkins directed Wonder Woman (2017), which released to worldwide acclaim and broke the record for the “highest-grossing film directed by a woman” [ix]. Her last film before this was also her debut, Monster (2003). Despite Monster earning $60 million from a $8 million budget, winning Academy Awards, and being hailed as the ‘best film of the year’ by various critics, Patty Jenkins struggled to make another picture. Jenkins “met with Warner Brothers right after making Monster wanting to make Wonder Woman”, but instead spent the decade “working on films that never came to fruition” [x], before moving on to TV. Some directors are never able to get going again, such as Julie Dash after her 1991 independent film, Daughters of the Dust (1991). The film was critically acclaimed across the board, but Dash was unable to get another film financed. “I pitched to every existing studio out there and every mini-major from A to Z,” [xi], recalled Dash. She was even unable to get an agent following the film’s release. The ‘Rooney Rule’ could go some way towards solving the problem of talented filmmakers feeling left behind. Sometimes a successful film isn’t enough, you need connections, and the policy could serve as a bridge between studios and minority and female directors.

The ‘Rooney Rule’ has, however, come under wide criticism, with the success of the rule being heavily debated. After the English Football Association’s introduction of the rule, there were complaints from black coaches, saying they “didn’t want to be interviewed to fill a quota” [xii]. There was also a case in 2003, when the Detroit Lions “hired a white coach without fulfilling the ‘Rooney Rule’” [xiii] , but they fought this, saying that they only interviewed, and wanted one man in the first place. If implemented into the film industry, there are sure to be similar problems. Adam Moore, Associate Affirmative Action and Diversity Director for the Screen Actors Guild was sceptical of the rule being introduced into the film industry. When asked whether the ‘Rooney Rule’ being used at an executive level could encourage the major studios to hire more women and people of colour, he replied, “I don’t know how much stock I put into the familiarity leading to actual jobs argument,”, adding that the ‘Rooney Rule’ applies to high-ranking NFL jobs, not to the players themselves[xiv].

The idea does seem however to have some merit to it and could potentially go some way to solving diversity issues, especially for writers, directors and executives. Perhaps it would serve best as a guideline, or a recommendation, rather than a binding rule that studios have to legally follow. There may be only be one director the studio may want to hire, like Disney with JJ Abrams and The Force Awakens (2015), so they should not have to interview just to fulfil a rule. But if Disney are planning a new film without any director or writer attached, the ‘Rooney Rule’ could be implemented, and may even introduce them to a talented minority or female director. It makes the studios realise that the talent is there, and even if they do not hire them straight away, it puts the under represented filmmakers into a conversation they previously weren’t a part of. The ‘Rooney Rule’ isn’t meant to create replacements for existing options, but instead to show that there are other ones available. It may make the process of hiring more demanding, but the results can be beneficial for the industry at all levels.

[i] Jagannathan M. The pool of Hollywood film directors is still alarmingly white and male [Internet].. 2018 [cited 2018 Jan 22]. Available from:

[ii] [No title] [Internet]. [cited 2018 Jan 22]. Available from:

[iii] Zarya V. Why is the “Rooney Rule” suddenly tech’s answer to hiring more women? [Internet]. Fortune. [cited 2018 Jan 19]. Available from:

[iv] Staff S. What is the Rooney Rule and how will it affect English football? [Internet]. The Independent. 2018 [cited 2018 Jan 19]. Available from:

[v] Feloni R. Facebook is using the same approach the NFL took to increase diversity in the league [Internet]. Business Insider. 2016 [cited 2018 Jan 19]. Available from:

[vi] Robb D. WGA West Election: “Rooney Rule” Proposed As Diversity Takes Center Stage [Internet]. Deadline. 2017 [cited 2018 Jan 19]. Available from:

[vii] [No title] [Internet]. [cited 2018 Jan 22]. Available from:

[viii] [No title] [Internet]. [cited 2018 Jan 22]. Available from:

[ix] Stefansky E. Wonder Woman Is the Highest-Grossing Live-Action Female-Directed Film in the World [Internet]. HWD. Vanity Fair; 2017 [cited 2018 Jan 19]. Available from:

[x] Patty Jenkins as T to RF. “Wonder Woman” Director Patty Jenkins: How to Make a Female Heroine “Vulnerable,” But Not “Lesser in Any Way” [Internet]. The Hollywood Reporter. 2016 [cited 2018 Jan 19]. Available from:

[xi] Buckley C. Julie Dash Made a Movie. Then Hollywood Shut Her Out. NY Times [Internet]. 2016 Nov 18 [cited 2018 Jan 19]; Available from:

[xii] Edwards L. Ipswich Town coaches Kieron Dyer and Titus Bramble slam “Rooney Rule” [Internet]. 2014 [cited 2018 Jan 19]. Available from:

[xiii] Sichel J. NFL Investigates Oakland Raiders: May Have Hired White Head Coach Before Interviewing Black One [Internet]. Daily Wire. The Daily Wire; 2018 [cited 2018 Jan 19]. Available from:

[xiv] Rosenberg BA. How Hollywood stays white and male [Internet]. Washington Post. The Washington Post; 2015 [cited 2018 Jan 19]. Available from:

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