With the Directors Guild prepping for Saturday’s DGA Awards, more than 50 female helmers and actors including Ava DuVernay, Greta Gerwig, Olivia Wilde, Reed Morano, Brie Larson, Jill Soloway, Kerry Washington and Reese Witherspoon have signed a letter calling for a change to guild rules so parents can take more time to be with their children and receive extra time to meet their required income minimums.
The letter is spearheaded by DGA member Jessica Dimmock, who in 2017 gave birth to her daughter while filming the Netflix docuseries Flint Town. In the time she took off to recover and bond with her baby, she was dropped from her insurance and medical benefits. Current DGA rules require an income minimum earned over the past 12 months to maintain benefits.
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The push in response to the letter has been notable online, with the hashtag #DGAParenthoodPenalty on Twitter.
It’s time to get rid of the #DGAParenthoodPenalty which unfairly impacts women directors in Hollywood!
— PL+US (@PaidLeaveUS) January 23, 2020
“I’m excited to stand with @jessicadimmock & my fellow directors. It’s time for us to look at practices that were established by men, for men, and make changes that will allow women directors to be part of the equation.”
🙏 @FREETHEWORK https://t.co/n0UKRlRedJ
— Alma Har'el🌪 (@Almaharel) January 22, 2020
Proud to sign this as a 35 y.o. active @directorsguild member. I don’t have kids & it’s hard to plan for pregnancy in my career as an indie filmmaker who relies on DGA insurance. I love that this is being brought forward and hope for change. Thx @jessicadimmock @FREETHEWORK
— Alison Klayman (@aliklay) January 22, 2020
You shouldn’t lose your health insurance because you take a break to give birth. This is just one way women are discouraged from directing and it needs to stop. https://t.co/qJNdZNDo3v
— olivia wilde (@oliviawilde) January 23, 2020
“Women, being underrepresented in this field, are already at a disadvantage towards reaching these minimums,” wrote Dimmock in the letter, which was co-signed by Har’el, who founded the nonprofit Free the Work; PL+US, a nonprofit to win paid family and medical leave; and Lilly Burns and Brooke Posch of JAX Media, whose credits include Russian Doll and Broad City.
“To state the obvious, directing is a rigorous, intensive endeavor, often taking place away from home. Pregnant women are not allowed to travel until their final trimester, putting them at a disadvantage from the start. Add to this the stigma of applying for directing jobs while visibly pregnant. Subsequently, women are penalized for having children in a way that their male counterparts are not. Failure to meet yearly minimums introduces economic and health care insecurity when it could be argued that it is needed most.” (Read the full letter below.)
Dimmock presented the letter to the DGA in December at the guild’s New York board meeting, urging it to realign its equal paid family leave policies for moms, dads, and adoptive parents. With the drive for inclusion, pay equity and representation at the fore this year more than ever, the DGA Awards looming Saturday and the next meeting Sunday, the group has pushed forward with a public-facing campaign.
The move comes amid the discussion around the dearth of female directing nominees at this year’s Oscars, in a year that included high-profile critical hits like Gerwig’s Best Picture nominee Little Women and Wilde’s debut feature Booksmart. Only five women have ever been nominated for the Best Director Oscar and only one – Kathryn Bigelow in 2019 for The Hurt Locker.
The DGA also features an all-male list for its marquee Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Theatrical Feature Film for 2019 category. The guild did nominate three women in the First-Time Feature Film Director race: Mati Diop for Atlantics, Har’el for Honey Boy and Melina Matsoukas for Queen & Slim.
Here’s the letter:
To the Board of the DGA,
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.
As it stands, the DGA offers no form of leave for women in the lead-up and following child birth. In order to retain benefits, all members must reach a yearly minimum. Women, being underrepresented in this field, are already at a disadvantage towards reaching these minimums. To state the obvious, directing is a rigorous, intensive endeavor, often taking place away from home. Pregnant women are not allowed to travel until their final trimester, putting them at a disadvantage from the start. Add to this the stigma of applying for directing jobs while visibly pregnant. Subsequently, women are penalized for having children in a way that their male counterparts are not. Failure to meet yearly minimums introduces economic and health care insecurity when it could be argued that it is needed most. And, importantly, a lack of maternity leave will continue to be an obstacle in achieving parity in the field of directing unless corrected. It is imperative that in this moment of such positive gains that we work to clear this obstacle.
Over the past several years major strides towards inclusivity have been made. The DGA diversity report released in November shows that women directing episodic television rose to a record of 31%, more than doubling the last five years. 2020 is forecasted to continue in this positive direction and it is both encouraging and timely that these changes are happening.
The right to maternity leave is part of an important national discussion and ranks as the most important benefit to workers. Implementing forms of maternity leave will increasingly become the norm, and this gives the DGA an opportunity to put their efforts behind their stated goals of gender equality and will provide a reputation boosting moment when implemented.
Here is our ask. New mothers should be afforded additional time to make their yearly minimum in the year that they give birth. This provides new parents the opportunity to take the time they need to physically care for their child as well as recover and recuperate. Women will return to their work better equipped to handle the challenges of balancing parenting and work and better equipped to delve into their future projects. This should apply for adoptive parents as well.
At its core, we know that this isn’t just about numbers. Numbers matter. They show us how great the gap has been. But ultimately, this is about spaces for stories that stretch beyond a single perspective.
Thank you for your attention to this matter.
Jessica Dimmock, Director
Alma Har’el, Director and founder of Free the Work
Brooke Posch, Partner at Jax Media
Lilly Burns, Director and co-founder of Jax Media
Abbi Jacobson, Director
Amber Tamblyn, Director
America Ferrera, Director
Amy Poehler, Director
Amy Schumer, Director
Anna Boden, Director
Autumn DeWilde, Director
Ava DuVernay, Director
Brie Larson, Director
Christy Turlington, Director and founder of Every Mother Counts
Crystal Moselle, Director
Elizabeth Banks, Director
Eva Longoria, Director
Floria Sigismondi, Director
Greta Gerwig, Director
Haifaa Al-Mansour, Director
Jenni Konner, Director
Jennifer Fox, Director
Jennifer Kent, Director
Jill Solloway, Director
Josephine Decker, Director
Julie Delpy, Director
Kasi Lemmons, Director
Kat Coiro, Director
Kerry Washington, Director
Laura Prepon, Director
Lena Dunham, Director
Lena Waithe, Director
Leslye Headland, Director
Lorene Scafaria, Director
Lucia Aniello, Director
Marielle Heller, Director
Melina Matsoukas, Director
Miranda July, Director
Nanfu Wang, Director
Natalia Anderson, Director
Natalie Portman, Director
Natasha Lyonne, Director
Nisha Ganatra, Director
Olivia Wilde, Director
Rachel Morrison, Director
Rashida Jones, Director
Reed Morano, Director
Reese Witherspoon, Actor
Ryan Case, Director
Sam Taylor Johnson, Director
Shari Springer Berman, Director
Sian Heder, Director
Tracee Ellis Ross, Director
Trudie Styler, Director
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