New Film 'Fair Play' Shines the Spotlight on Undervalued Care Work in Families and Communities

The film, directed by Jennifer Siebel Newsom, shows why the fight over who is going to clean the family's dirty dishes is about much more than just those dishes.

Fair Play Film
Photo: Courtesy of Fair Play

When director Jennifer Siebel Newsom set out to make The Great American Lie, she was knee-deep in research about the care economy. Then, Donald Trump won the 2016 election, and she switched to a documentary about how social and economic immobility can be viewed through a gendered lens.

So when Eve Rodsky approached her about making a film inspired by her bestselling book Fair Play: A Game-Changing Solution for When You Have Too Much to Do (And More Life to Live), she jumped at the second chance to make the film she wanted.

The two started discussions in February 2020. Then, the pandemic happened. The production had to pivot based on COVID restrictions, such as moving meetings and interviews to Zoom, but the storyline did not. Instead, the way society undervalues care work became even more apparent.

A Kaiser Family Foundation report showed that women took on more family caregiving responsibilities because of the pandemic, and nearly half had to take unpaid sick leave to care for a child whose school or daycare closed (and the numbers were greater among low-income mothers and those working part-time jobs). But as offices closed, men also got a first-hand look at what full-time caregiving looks like, even if women were bearing the brunt.

"I knew it was seeping into care work and seeping into the subconscious of these fathers in new ways," says Newson. "Maybe they had been the primary breadwinner and left the house and weren't privy to care work. I knew I had that opportunity to create new empathy and compassion."

The result is Fair Play, a new documentary produced by Hello Sunshine in association with The Representation Project, out on July 8. It follows four families with children as they attempt to balance care work at home and features interviews with Melinda Gates and U.S. Rep. Katie Porter. Newsom hopes it builds off her previous films like Miss Representation (2011) and The Mask You Live In (2015).

"This film continues that conversation on how limiting gender stereotypes and norms are harmful to society at large," Newsom says.

Newsom, who shares four children with California Governor Gavin Newsom, navigated production while going through similar stressors as the families she followed.

"It was crazy making this film in the middle of having that load as a working mom," Newsom says. "It increased my empathy."

Empathy for the Latinx farmworker who has to leave her children home alone for 10 to 12 hours per day so she can keep food on the table and a roof over their heads. There are heavy stories like that one, but there are also lighter moments. Rodsky tells a story of how her husband noticed a beer can and jacket on the family's front lawn. When she returned from work, where she also pumped breast milk for their child, the jacket and beer can were still there.

"The film, in a lighthearted way, is inviting to all couples," Newsom says. "We try to show how valuable all this invisible care work is to society. It is what holds families together. It is what anchors communities. The invisible labor that women historically, especially women of color, is the backbone of our economy."

And yet, that work remains largely unpaid and unsupported. There's no paid family leave at the federal level.

Despite the strides women have made—Kamala Harris is the Vice President, after all—they are still stereotyped as the family's natural caregivers.

"We're still in this position because of the patriarchy and values that have been institutionalized because we don't have at the federal level a recognition of care," Newsom says. "Part of that is because there aren't enough women in leadership and mothers in leadership advocating and shining a light in all things that have been devalued in our society, and there aren't enough men of consciousness who do care work themselves."

Newsom hopes Fair Play helps change that. It's a particularly urgent topic, as the overturning of Roe vs. Wade could force more women into caregiving situations they did not want to be in.

"My hope is that this documentary inspires more men to step into care at home and model care for their sons," Newsom says. "And that these fathers, if they are also in the workforce, bring these values into leadership and places of employment and parent out loud at work."

Fair Play is available in select theaters and on demand everywhere.

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