“You can’t promote gender equality without thinking about motherhood and childcare.”
-Matilde Dratwa, Founder of Moms-in-Film
Imagine a room of 100 people all working in the film industry. They are writers, directors, actors, art directors, set dressers, costume designers, makeup artists, grips, electricians, cinematographers, and editors. How many would be mothers? Only 2 – or to be more precise, an average of 2.3% – would be mothers.
A year ago, filmmaker Mathilde Dratwa wrote an article sharing her thoughts about becoming a parent in the face of these daunting statistics. The positive response spurred her to write other articles and to start hosting meet-up groups in New York where women could talk about their experiences as mothers working in film and television.
Before she knew it, she had given birth to Moms-in-Film, a non-profit dedicated to energizing the careers of parents in the film and television industries. Christy Lamb started hosting meet-ups in Los Angeles and joined Dratwa as the Director of Strategy and Development for Moms-in- Film. In a short period of time, they have gathered helpful resources, done innovative advocacy work, and proposed practical solutions for women and men in film and television who are parents or thinking about becoming parents.
Helpful Resources: Events, Blogs, and Podcasts
Recognizing that many mothers in film and television feel isolated, they have created events, curated articles, and produced podcasts where parents can learn from each other and find kindred spirits and role models. Their events have included panel discussions at prestigious film festivals like SXSW, as well as informal monthly meet-ups and question and answer sessions with successful mom-filmmakers. They have made audio recordings of many of these events which you can find on their website and on Itunes. To celebrate their first anniversary in April 2017, they held a ceremony to give their first Moms-in-Film Award to Marielle Heller, the writer-director of “Diary of a Teenage Girl” and a rising star in the field. The award was a sculpture by Barbara Lubliner titled Mother and Child.
Advocacy: The #MakeThemMoms Campaign
When Dratwa and Lamb speak on panels, they often ask the audience members how many films they can name that feature working moms – i.e. films where the women have children but childrearing is not their main occupation. Usually the conversation stops after someone calls out Erin Brockovich, which features a single mom as an environmental activist.
To highlight this lack of representation, Moms-in-Film has prepared their own versions of posters for popular films, adding children to the images and the hashtag #MakeThemMoms. They posted the images on Buzzfeed with the question – “What if there were more movies about moms?”
You can see their versions of the posters for popular films such as Legally Blonde, FlashDance, and Catwoman on Buzzfeed>>
A Practical Solution: Mobile Childcare Units
One reason there are so few mothers in film is that men outnumber women in the film industry by a ratio of five to one. But why do only 14% of women working in film have children (one in seven), compared to an average of 74% women with children in other fields (over 5 out of 7)?
Clearly there are challenges intrinsic to film and television careers: long and irregular hours, freelance or project-based work, and healthcare which is often tied to the number of weeks worked per year (which is particularly problematic for pregnant women, or mothers of young children).
But childcare is arguably the biggest hurdle – especially for parents working on location. To address this problem, Moms-in-Film has proposed the idea of “Wee Wagons” – specialized trailers designed to provide attractive on-site childcare centers wherever they are needed.
Each trailer will have a pumping/nursing station, folding cribs, and a changing table. Moms in Film is working with designers, architects and early childhood specialists to come up with a prototype that will engage children at various developmental stages.
They have been raising funds to build the Wee Wagons under the fiscal sponsorship of Fractured Atlas. Thanks to a $10,000 2017 SXSW Community Grant, they were able to set up their first Wee Wagon at SXSW and provide free on-site childcare to parent-filmmakers at the festival.
The response from the parents at the festival was phenomenal. The availability of childcare made it possible for mom-filmmakers to participate in the festival much more fully, and it was especially helpful to moms who needed to take a break for breast-feeding. Chris Shellen, the director of Spettacolo, said that “free, mobile childcare at festivals and on sets is a game-changer in the fight for gender equality.”
Part of a Movement
Moms-in-Film is not alone in calling for more childcare options for artists. Sarah Ruhl, recipient of the 2016 Steinberg Distinguished Playwright Award, is partnering with the Lily Awards and New Dramatists to establish a fund for childcare for parents in the theater community. Zoe Saldana has denounced Hollywood’s failings when it comes to providing childcare, and Sarah Solemani brought her “budget the baby” protest to a red carpet premiere.
It is exciting to see that instead of hiding their children, as second-wave feminists had to, female artists are now asking the powers-that-be to acknowledge their role as mothers. Sarah Hiatt’s photo essay, “The Kid Stays in the Scene,” documents the work-life balance of working theatre artists. In the UK, Raising Films commissioned research which shows that much of the film industry’s gender imbalance is in fact a giant mom-shaped gap.
Mathilde Dratwa points out that childcare is also a political issue that is closely linked to reproductive rights and other women’s issues. In the United States, even though there’s not enough childcare for all the families that need it, and despite the fact that childcare costs are often high for families, childcare workers get paid very little. And when a parent stays at home to care for the child, western society does not make that parent feel valued – even though replacing a stay-at-home mom would cost a three-figure yearly salary (replacing a stay-at-home dad would be cheaper, because they don’t do as much around the house).
Moms-in-Film promotes the idea that as a society, we need to value care-takers and we need to provide affordable options for working families. The United States needs to invest in childcare, and as voters, we need to push our legislators to address childcare issues more effectively. On the campaign trail President Trump promised to reduce the costs of childcare, but so far his plans are not helping the working families who need it the most, and his proposed arts funding cuts are likely to make life even harder for parent-artists (or artist-parents).
Although there is a long road ahead, the movement for better access to childcare for women in the arts is clearly growing. By advocating for shorter hours, on-site childcare and parent-friendly practices, moms in the U.S. and elsewhere are fighting for a more diverse workforce and by extension, a much richer social and cultural life for all of us.
Learn more about Moms-in-Film on their website: www.MomsinFilm.org
Join the the Moms-in-Film community on Facebook.
Watch the video of the Moms in Film Panel discussion at SXSW: https://vimeo.com/211128332
About Mathilde Dratwa
Mathilde Dratwa is the founder of Moms-in-Film, a non-profit that aims to energize the careers of mothers working in Film and Television. As a filmmaker, Mathilde has been a Sundance Channel Shorts Contest finalist, a co-leader of the FilmShop collective and a member of the Independent Film School’s writer-director lab. Her latest short film PETA PAN stars Independent Spirit Award nominee Nisreen Faour.
She co-created Almost Anonymous, a web series about a support group for celebrity lookalikes (Best Original Concept, NYC Web Fest 2016). Mathilde also produces animation videos; she has received two Pulitzer Center grants and has had her work featured in a number of publications, including French newspaper Le Monde. When the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists received thousands of leaked documents about Luxembourg’s complicated deals with corporations, her tax haven explainer was translated into seven languages and featured on the websites of ICIJ’s media partners around the world. Mathilde works as a Teaching Artist for the New Victory Theatre and Roundabout Theatre Company. She lives in NYC with her husband and son. For more information, please visit: Mathildedratwa.com and MomsinFilm.org.