This Film Director is Leading the Fight To Get Directors Better Parental Leave

Supermajority Education Fund

January 28, 2020

Taking parental leave after the birth of a child can lead to a critical loss of income and the possibility of losing health insurance coverage altogether for far too many American workers. This is true even for many film and television directors in the multibillion-dollar entertainment industry. Award-winning director and photojournalist Jessica Dimmock is leading the movement to change the Directors Guild of America (or DGA)’s current parental benefits policies.

Although Dimmock worked on set until her child’s birth in 2017, she still did not meet the annual minimum earning specifications necessary to keep her healthcare benefits and lost those benefits a few months after beginning her leave. DGA members are required to make at least $35,875 annually from Guild directing jobs to retain their benefits.

In an open letter to the DGA, Dimmock notes that in addition to this problematic minimum earning requirement, the DGA offers “no form of leave for women in the lead-up and following childbirth.” Dimmock adds that “women, being underrepresented in this field, are already at a disadvantage towards reaching these minimums.” A recent USC Annenberg’s Inclusion Initiative study confirms this, finding that women directed only 4.8% of top films made between 2007 and 2019. Given this reality, “the stigma of applying for directing jobs while visibly pregnant” puts women at an even bigger disadvantage to meet the earning minimum.

“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,” Dimmock wrote in the letter. “Since then, I’ve spoken to other members of the DGA who have had similar experiences.”

Dimmock’s letter makes a relatively simple request: That the DGA allow new mothers additional time to make their yearly minimum in the year that they give birth. The letter has been signed by several Hollywood stars, including Ava DuVernay, Amy Schumer, Amy Poehler, and Olivia Wilde. 

Paid family leave advocates say Dimmock’s work to change the DGA’s policies could positively impact expectant parents who traditionally have not have access to company benefit. “Campaigns like Jessica’s address the systemic hurdles that keep women underpaid at work and underrepresented in positions of leadership and power,” Annie Sartor, Director of Advocacy at Paid Leave for the United States and one of the advocates working with Dimmock to organize her campaign, told Supermajority News. Sartor stressed that addressing paid family leave in Hollywood is critical if the entertainment industry is serious about gender parity.

The Directors Guild has an opportunity with this campaign to create a policy that not only better meets the needs of its members, but also addresses inequality and lack of representation by women in film,” she said.