The US has begun an official investigation into gender discrimination in Hollywood.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has contacted 50 female directors asking them whether they have been mistreated.

It could be the first step in a class action lawsuit against major Hollywood studios.

The EEOC, which has federal powers to enforce discrimination laws, acted after A-list stars' accusations of sexism in the male-dominated industry - and following a formal complaint from the American Civil Liberties Union in May.

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The ACLU urged the regulator to look into the "systemic failure to hire women directors" in Hollywood. Studies have shown women made up only 1.9 per cent of those who directed the 100 highest-grossing films of 2013 and 2014.

The EEOC letter asks the women to tell investigators about "gender-related issues which you are facing in both the film and television industries".

Catherine Hardwicke, director of forthcoming romantic comedy Miss You Already, said: "I'm so glad we're finally attacking this."

- Daily Mail