Brita McCollough and Brenda Ryan are twins who have been fighting against discrimination in Hollywood for 20 years—from behind the driver’s seat.
The Hollywood Reporter interviewed the twins, who have been embroiled in legal battles with their union Local 399 over the course of their careers as drivers on movie and TV sets. The union told THR that they do not keep a gender breakdown by job (they also represent animal handlers, casting directors and location managers), but of the union’s 4,500 members, 3,000 are drivers. Overall, the union is only 19 percent women.
There are 100 coordinators enrolled, people whose job it is to hire Teamsters on projects, and only three of those are women. McCollough and Ryan say that the job is rife with nepotism and men giving each other jobs on set, excluding women generally, but especially those that complain:
“It’s a boys club. The men look after one another and the women are an afterthought, second-class citizens,” Ryan tells The Hollywood Reporter. “We’ll get blacklisted if we complain to our union, the studios, our bosses. No one will listen.”
In addition to the difficulty of getting work as a woman driver, those that do persist are subject to harassment and aggressive behavior on set:
“It’s a degrading business for a woman,” says longtime driver Linda Draves. “They call me ‘Double-D’ because my breasts are large.” Colleague Lysa Darden says she has been sexually assaulted on the job. “I had my breast grabbed in front of three witnesses,” she notes. “I never filed a grievance, because there’s no redress.”
The Teamsters retain a culture of cronyism, say female members, and there’s a belief that, if gigs are scarce, men have a bread-winning imperative to be hired over women. “They’ll straight up ask you to your face: ‘Why are you taking a man’s job?’ “ says Rita Lundin, a driver for 37 years.
Both twins worked on the set of True Lies, where stunt coordinator Joel Kramer was accused of sexually assaulting 12-year-old star Eliza Dushku. Ryan claims that at one point her boss called both sisters over and, in front of 10 men drivers, had everyone guess which had birthed children based on their “thigh gap.” Ryan wanted to quit, but she needed the job for health insurance covering her sick child.
The twins claim that they were blacklisted from the union’s board for calling out instances of harassment and were eventually prosecuted by the International Brotherhood of Teamsters for “harassing union officials.” McCullough said the backlash they got for reporting harassment and discrimination was so scary she began carrying a gun. They believe other women have similar experiences, but are afraid of the consequences if they come forward. However, some women drivers seem to not want to rock the boat further:
“Some people think Brenda and Brita have made it harder on other women,” says one female driver. “Some men say the easiest way not to get accused of harassment is not to hire any women. There are few enough [of us] that no one bats an eye if you only hire guys.”
There are a lot of blocks to fighting cronyism or gender discrimination in the industry. Local 399 secretary-treasurer Steve Dayan told THR that he is aware of the issues within the union, but even barring someone from the group won’t necessarily stop them from working.
“I can expel someone from the local,” he says, “and all that means is I’ve lost control of that person.”
You can read the full report here.