Winnipeg filmmakers are coming together Tuesday to talk about women in film as the upcoming Oscars gain criticism for lack of diversity.
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Sonya Ballantyne, an emerging filmmaker is one of four panelists at Beyond Bechdel: Where are the Women in Film, at The Park Theatre.
She spoke to CBC's Marcy Markusa on Information Radio about her struggle growing up looking for heroes she identified with.
Marcy Markusa: What's the Bechdel Test?
Sonya Ballantyne: It's a test that to see if a movie has two women who are named and who speak about something other than a man. Very few movies pass it.
Why are issues of representation in movies important to you today?
My biggest hero when I was a kid was Batman and he does not look like me — he's a white guy, a rich man. I grew up on a reserve and I'm native. It was kind of hard to find people who looked like me. That was one of the big reasons I got inspired to create my own films.
I used to love Trini from the Power Rangers, the original Yellow Ranger. The actress is Vietnamese and I just latched on to her because I loved her — she was smart, she was tough, she could beat up people but she would never do it without intention. She was like Batman but a lot sweeter and more zen-like so she was my favourite person.
Do we underestimate how powerful it can be to have those people in movies?
Totally. I looked for heroes wherever I could find them. One of my favourite shows as a kid was Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, which is about a black family brought out of poverty into a mansion. I really loved it because they were dealing with the same issues that I was dealing with — racism and in their case, what is a real black person. What is a real native person was always something I dealt with.
How important is it to have women represented behind screens?
It's very important. A lot of movies have been improved by the presence of women. Mad Max: Fury Road had a lot of feminine influences. It was edited partly by a woman. It was one of the first movies I saw with a nude woman who appears on screen that isn't sexualized. I remember I saw that scene and I was blown away that they didn't zoom in on anything naughty.
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There's #OscarsSoWhite but other people push back and say that the roles haven't been there so how can you blame the movies and the Oscars. What do you make of that argument?
There's very few roles for native women. I imagine it's the same condition for women of colour. I tried to hire as many people of colour as I could, if the situation called for it, which it often did. In my first film, Crash Site, every girl that appears on screen is indigenous and every person that appears on screen is a person of colour. This is the world I see and it's full of people of colour. I try to keep that in mind whenever I'm casting.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.