Words by Jade Anouka
The entertainment industry likes to think it is inclusive, championing diversity and representation. We talk about the strides that have been taken, we celebrate how as an industry it is at the forefront. We jump to reject those who are homophobic, racist, ableist, sexist and as a queer black women I know all too well how far we still have to go. However, there is a blatant prejuduce infesting this industry that is kept in the shadows, one that is a legally protected characteristic: Pregnancy.
I was recently offered a TV job. It was a role unlike any I’d been given the opportunity to play before and one I just knew I could do well. I was thrilled with the news. As a pregnant woman, I was aware that the character would pose no challenges for the production as she spends most of the story sat down with only one other actor in the room. The setting for the story meant clothing could cover my bump or the character could indeed be pregnant herself, especially as all the action took place over a matter of days. It was the perfect gig to get before baby arrives. The offer came with an email detailing the specifics including the fee - a welcome boost knowing that soon a newborn would render me unable to work for a while and all the extra costs a little one brings. I was delighted. My agent said we should inform them that I’m pregnant which I was nervous about but we agreed that it would be the right thing to do.
The next day we recieved an email from production with lines quoted from their insurers saying that the premium for a pregnant artist would be so high that the production company would not cover it and therefore they are dropping me from the job. I was, of course, upset at this response. Upset and angry. I could do this part well and their insurance company were the ones stopping me. They never took into consideration the role, the risk factor (or lack therof) of the part, or me: a healthy person, with a ‘low-risk’ pregnancy who had been Covid jabbed. For the insurance company to just quote an extortionate amount and for production to say ‘we can’t afford it, so bye’, is ridiculous. It’s too easy to just dismiss pregnant people as useless. That’s what it felt like. Without people birthing people society doesn’t survive and yet we discard pregnant people so easily.
I’m not having a go at the production company, I get that their hands are tied when there are all these rules in place set by insurers but a little kindness and understanding goes a long way. I’ve been in this business 14yrs, I know how often actors are made to feel insignificant, replacable, just one in a long production line. I’ve grown a thick skin because of it, you have to to survive mentally. But being shut up and kicked out before having a chance to speak, fight, come to some sort of compromise or simply be treated as an individual human being and not just a pregnant problem they can’t be bothered to deal with, hurts. I’ve felt strong, healthy and capable all through my pregnany but yet those gatekeepers act as if all pregnant people are weak, incapable and instantly dismissable.
I went to Equity, with the support of my amazing agent, to see where I stood on this. But the response was that the production company did everything right (legally) and so there’s nothing, really, I can do. I could pursue it but the likelihood is nothing would be gained. Except a bad taste in the production company’s mouth with my name on it.
The problem lies with the insurance companies who are basically taking control of casting. How is that allowed? Why are casting directors, producers, directors accepting this? A recent article also highlights the ongoing problem.
So why write this? Well I couldn’t do nothing and the alternative was to pursue a claim of discrimination against a production company I do hope to work with in the future, a case that could take months, maybe even years (a recent case took 18months), and a case that I was advised would probably not come to any sort of fruition. And anyway what sort of fruition did I want to achieve? It wasn’t really a payout. Although the fee from that job would have been very helpful, particularly after a difficult year, I am lucky, I didn’t need money from this to survive. So what do I want?
Change, that’s obvious. Things needs to change. But also awareness of what many actors (and others) are going through while pregnant. Since this happened to me I have heard of multiple cases where actors have been discriminated against, lost work, lost money, treated as worthless because they were pregnant. Pregnant actors are vulnerable when it comes to work and the last thing you want to do is fight a legal case for the first year and a half of your baby’s life and make enemies of production companies while doing it. You want to be able to work again but we all know how easy it is to be (and I hate this term) blacklisted, especially if you are a woman and especially if you are black.
So we stay quiet, the gatekeepers keep pushing pregnant people out and if we don’t do something about it our industry will keep losing people to parenthood. Talent bruised, battered and sometimes lost forever because those at the top won’t even consider letting someone who is pregnant do their job.