More Than 50 Directors Petition DGA For Parental Leave Reform

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From left: Alma Har'el, Greta Gerwig, Jessica Dimmock, Haifaa Al-Mansour, Melina Matsoukas

After taking time off to care for her newborn, Jessica Dimmock lost her benefits as a result of failing to meet guild minimums.

2017 was a big year for Jessica Dimmock, both professionally and personally. As co-director of the Netflix docuseries Flint Town, she earned her membership in the Directors Guild of America — and she also became pregnant. She worked up until the day she gave birth to her daughter (not uncommon for women in the industry), after which she took time off to recover physically and also bond with her newborn.

As a result, Dimmock fell below the guild’s minimum 12-month earnings threshold to qualify for its health benefits and lost her insurance (ironically, at a time when medical care was most needed). She had to move to self-paid COBRA, paying higher monthly premiums, while her partner — her daughter’s father and also Flint Town co-director — did not experience the same consequences, since he did not go through childbirth.

“Because my directing partner is also our child’s father, I was able to see in a such a clear way the ways that having a child impacted me and not him, even though we were similarly situated,” Dimmock wrote in a letter to the DGA board, urging it to revise its policy in consideration of members who become new parents.

Dimmock asked her friend, Jax Media president of original programming Brooke Posch, for help finding an influential filmmaker to cosign the letter. Within a day, Posch found dozens, and to date more than 50 directors — including Ava DuVernay, Greta Gerwig, Alma Har’el, Brie Larson, Elizabeth Banks, Haifaa Al-Mansour, Jill Soloway, Kerry Washington, Marielle Heller, Melina Matsoukas, Natalie Portman and Olivia Wilde — have joined Dimmock’s petition to end what she has coined the #DGAParenthoodPenalty.

“I’ve read countless emails from people who have experienced something similar — women who lost their benefits for the first time in 10 years after having a child, or women who were brand-new to the DGA and this was among their first experiences,” Dimmock tells The Hollywood Reporter. “I’m also getting responses from people who are members of other guilds in the industry that seem to suffer from the same issue. The benefits are structured in a way that makes no accommodation for pregnancy or parenthood.”

The letter signers are asking the DGA not to lower its minimum earnings threshold, but rather to extend the 12-month earning window for directors who are new parents to better meet that goal. The board has been receptive — Dimmock says that the Eastern council board meeting agreed via unanimous vote to “explore what can be done,” but that it doesn’t seem to be in much hurry to do so.

“Every day they wait, another member of their guild loses their insurance,” Posch says. “I want them to take action and give us a timeline.”

As the DGA prepares to honor some of its highest-profile members on Sunday amid a never-greater visibility of accomplished female filmmakers and the barriers they continue to face in the industry, Dimmock wants to draw attention to this pragmatic, possibly prosaic policy change that nonetheless is highly germane to the gender gap in the guild.

“There has been great progress made in terms of making directing a more inclusive field, but inequality is still very real,” she says, citing the recent snubs among Golden Globe, Oscar and DGA Award nominees. “It’s a really important moment to look at policies that create obstacles and put women at a disadvantage.”

Read the full letter, below.

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

and

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 Soloway, 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