'Women belong here. Women of colour belong here': An illustrated diary of TIFF's Share Her Journey rally

Saturday's event was more than a reporting assignment for artist and former film student Salini Perera. See her sketches from the scene.

Why the event was more than a reporting assignment for artist and former film student Salini Perera

Filmmakers Geena Davis and Nandita Das appear on stage at TIFF's Share Her Journey rally. (Salini Perera)

If you're looking for a crowd, head to King Street on the first weekend of the TIFF. But this past Saturday, more than 200 of the people gathering at the corner of King and John were there for a political rally — organized by the festival itself.

A year since #MeToo, the way people talk about inequality in the film industry — in all industries — has evolved to the point that holding a demonstration across the street from a red carpet isn't just OK, it's standard. Just look at what happened in Cannes this May, or the women's march at Sundance.

Saturday's event was a gentler affair than either of those examples (more of a speaker series than a protest), and the gathering was tied to Share Her Journey, a campaign that TIFF launched in 2017 to address the enormous gender disparity in the movie biz. As part of their commitment to the cause, Share Her Journey backs programs supporting women in film — including the TIFF Producer Accelerator and the Micki Moore Residency, a new opportunity for Canadian screenwriters.

We are in it together and we are not alone.- Michèle Maheux, Executive Director of TIFF

Starting at 10 a.m., guests including Geena Davis, Mia Kirshner and Dr. Stacy L. Smith spoke about their experience with the issues. As TIFF executive director Michèle Maheux put it in her opening remarks: "Women have been the central part of the conversation in the news and we've made much needed noise. [...] It's not been without pain, but the sisterhood that has emerged as a result reminds us all that we are in it together and we are not alone."

You can read the CBC News recap of the event here — but CBC Arts sent illustrator Salini Perera to capture her perspective on the scene, and the rally was more than just a reporting gig for this Toronto-based artist.

Perera studied film at Ryerson University before launching a career as an illustrator, and growing up in Scarborough, she didn't imagine she would be one of the only women of colour in the classroom, or on set.

Along with her sketches from the event, Perera tells CBC Arts why attending Share Her Journey felt like "closure" after leaving film behind.

(Salini Perera)

The girl with the glasses? That's Anna.

Film school was an experience that we shared, and we shared traumas as well. Neither of us actually works in film anymore, so it was a really interesting full circle moment for us.

We went to Ryerson. The first two years were great, but midway through fourth year, I realized it wasn't for me. It was weird. I was working with friends and classmates, and still, it was so toxic on set. And the more experience we had with the real thing — we worked on a couple of sets outside of school — I was like, "I can't do this." I did not like it.

This was 2008, 10 years ago. Nobody was talking about this stuff back then. In my film program there were only 14 women out of 60 students, and six people of colour. And only two of us were women of colour out of 60. Heh. So you can imagine. It was a microcosm for the greater industry.​

There were incidents. People would make casual remarks or jokes about other friends of mine. Women were relegated to certain roles on set. There was this sort of fraternity of people who did camera work and a lot of women weren't really included in that. There was the assumption that you wouldn't be any good. Or at editing. There was a complete lack of diverse voices in the writing classes and stuff.

(Salini Perera)

We got to the Bell Lightbox at 8:30 a.m. It was surprisingly busy. There were people already lining up for tickets. We went up to the sixth floor (which is the rooftop floor) to get [press passes] and they were having a meet-and-greet-y kind of thing prior to the rally itself.

The people there went to the rally. A couple of them are filmmakers from this year. On the far right there's a woman who has a film at the festival called Rafiki. The one in the "Feminist" jacket is actually one of the correspondents on Full Frontal with Samantha Bee. Actresses, photographers, that sort of thing. Executives.​

(Salini Perera)

At the rally, the mood of the crowd — it was hopeful, energetic. There were a lot of people laughing. That was great, and everyone was really excited. That was the feeling I got.

One of the things I gave up when I gave up film is I started to steer clear of the film festival most of the time, so I'm really glad I got to go to this, actually.

It was great and it was so different, and it was comforting to hear other people talk.

(Salini Perera)

Geena Davis was the first speaker.

I was pleasantly surprised that she mentioned intersectionality right off the top.

(Salini Perera)

The panel of speakers was diverse, which is great. And the emphasis on not only needing [gender parity in the industry], but that it needs to be intersectional, was wonderful. I was relieved. So often it's women of colour who are forgotten in that sentiment. Every single speaker [mentioned] it. Intersectionality is important.

(Salini Perera)

Amma Asante — I LOVE her. She is so important to me. I grew up loving period pieces like Pride and Prejudice, all that stuff, and I never really got to see lovely costume dramas starring women of colour until Amma Asante came along.

And [her movies] are great and true and a great rebuttal to people saying: "There weren't people of colour back then." What a dumb thing to say!

She gave a great speech about what it's like being a Black woman filmmaker and how difficult it was to even get people to CONSIDER letting her make her movie that she brought to TIFF this year, Where Hands Touch. She wanted to make that her second feature and she had to work so hard and ultimately had to do it fourth, because people were like, "Oh, can you handle a war film? I don't know if you're ready for that." That's really frustrating — to hear about that kind of struggle.

(Salini Perera)

People were really excited. In this one shot there are all these faces, all of these different expressions: joyful, contemplative.

It really did feel like [the speakers were] talking to an informed crowd. They were mostly industry people, or friends of industry people. But to the people there, it did matter to all of us, because we are in this industry, or we have been, or we know somebody who is.

(Salini Perera)

I feel like there's a comfort in knowing that people see and hear you. And that they feel the same way, see the same things.

I'm pleased with the path I chose, one that I hadn't considered when I was 17. But at least now I'm more confident seeing younger people go into this industry. 

Going into this event, Anna and I were talking about our experiences and why we left film and she said to me, "Any set after school, even in school — I never felt like I belonged." And I thought, "Oh gosh. That's exactly the feeling that I felt."

In the speeches, [Dr. Stacy L. Smith] said that we need to know that we belong here. And I was like, "Yes!!! That's it! I've never felt that way before."

Women belong here. Women of colour belong here. Oh my god! Thank you!


Leah Collins

Senior Writer

Since 2015, Leah Collins has been senior writer at CBC Arts, covering Canadian visual art and digital culture in addition to producing CBC Arts’ weekly newsletter (Hi, Art!), which was nominated for a Digital Publishing Award in 2021. A graduate of Toronto Metropolitan University's journalism school (formerly Ryerson), Leah covered music and celebrity for Postmedia before arriving at CBC.