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Women Directors and The Fight for Parental Benefits in Hollywood

There can be no equality without maternity leave and parental benefits.

Laurie Metcalf, Greta Gerwig and Saoirse Ronan, lady bird, female directors, female characters study women in film

It’s 2020, and we’re wrapping up the final weeks of another frustrating awards season that sees no women nominated for best director in either the Golden Globes or the Oscars or the Directors Guild of America (three women are nominated for First-Time Feature Film but none in the main category). The problem is not the women: 2019 was a banner year for female directors like Greta Gerwig, Lulu Wang, Alma Har’el, and Mati Diop, to name a few.

An obvious culprit is the lack of diversity in these voting bodies: guilds dominated by older white men will invariably favor other white men. But women directors (and any directors who aren’t straight white men for that matter) struggle with a myriad of issues: systemic racism and sexism, an industry that doesn’t value diversity in storytelling, a mass exodus from film to television.

But there’s another issue that frequently gets ignored: the lack of maternity leave and parental benefits in the film and television industry. Director Jessica Dimmock is shining a light on this issue in her new petition, #DGAParenthoodPenalty.

Members of the Directors Guild of America (DGA) must earn a set amount of money each year via guild work to qualify for healthcare coverage (currently $35,875). The Writers Guild of America (WGA) operates the same way. Meeting these yearly minimums is difficult enough on its own, but doing so while pregnant and/or caring for a baby is so much harder.

In fact, given the rigorous schedules and demands of film and television, most expectant parents are unable to work and therefore cannot meet those minimums. But there is zero contingent plan in place for them. Dimmock stated as much in her petition, writing:

“I joined the DGA in 2017 while co-directing the Netflix series Flint Town with my partner. I was pregnant at the time and worked until the day I gave birth. However, after the birth of my daughter it was necessary that I take some time to care for her and recover physically. My partner was not faced with quite the same physical pressures. That first year, while my partner retained his yearly minimum, I did not. I needed to switch to Cobra with enormous monthly fees while he retained his healthcare. Because my directing partner is also our child’s father, I was able to see in such a clear way the ways that having a child impacted me and not him, even though we were similarly situated. Since then, I’ve spoken to other members of the DGA who have had similar experiences.”

The petition has been signed by dozens of women in Hollywood, including Alma Har’el, Amy Poehler, Amy Schumer, Ava DuVernay, Brie Larson, Elizabeth Banks, Greta Gerwig, Keery Washington, Lulu Wang, Reese Witherspoon and more. The United States is one of the only industrialized nations without paid maternity and family leave, which makes having a family a major obstacle for women in the workplace, preventing them from rising in the ranks and assuming leaderships roles within their companies. It is especially daunting for women who are independent contractors and freelancers, as there is often nothing in place to support them.

Hopefully this campaign will not only lead to coverage for women directors, but will add to the national conversation around paid family leave. We simply can’t achieve equity without it.

(via New York Times, image: FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images)

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Chelsea was born and raised in New Orleans, which explains her affinity for cheesy grits and Britney Spears. She currently lives in sunny Los Angeles, with her husband and two poorly behaved rescue dogs. She is a former roller derby girl and a black belt in Judo, so she is not to be trifled with. She loves the word “Jewess” and wishes more people used it to describe her.