Misogyny prominent in Alberta film industry, Edmonton screenwriter says

A campaign which has flooded social media feeds with stories of personal assault should serve as a wake-up call for the Alberta film industry, says Edmonton screenwriter and actress Lindsey McNeill.

'Let's not be blind to what is happening in our own backyard'

Edmonton writer, actress and producer Lindsey McNeill says the Alberta film industry is not immune to misogyny and sexual violence. (Facebook)

A campaign that has flooded social media feeds with stories of sexual violence should serve as a wake-up call for the Alberta film industry, says Edmonton screenwriter and actress Lindsey McNeill.

"I had the misperception that this community is somewhat safer than Hollywood," McNeill said in an interview with CBC Edmonton's Radio Active. 

"Absolutely, I have had [these experiences] and I think most women this city have.

"To be honest, there are probably too many to recount, and not just from being in the industry, but just from being woman."

Two simple words — Me Too — have become a both confessional and a rallying cry for thousands of women who have been targets of sexual assault or harassment.

Social media feeds have been flooded in recent days by messages, mainly from women, acknowledging that they too have been catcalled, groped, raped or abused.

The #MeToo campaign was born out of the recent scandal surrounding Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, who has been accused of sexual abuse by scores of young women.

On Sunday, actress Alyssa Milano tweeted a note that read: "If all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote "Me too" as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem.

"If you've been sexually harassed or assaulted write 'me too' as a reply to this tweet," she wrote.

The call to action quickly trended, with notable names such as Lady Gaga, Monica Lewinsky and Rosario Dawson among a massive wave of women — and men — identifying themselves as victims.

'The backroom whispers are not enough'

The campaign has demonstrated that Alberta is not immune to these crimes, said McNeill.

"Have I been safe here in Edmonton, Alberta? Have I been spared from sexism, harassment and a disgusting abuse of power and influence? No, I have not " she wrote in a recent blog post. "None of us have. In fact, perhaps it is worse. Perhaps people get away with more.

"It's not just statistics, it's people that we know and we love," said McNeill.  "We need to stop being silent about it." 

The Weinstein scandal has created a firestorm of backlash and raised questions about misogyny and abuse of power, not only in Hollywood circles but around the world.

It's also made McNeill question her own place in the film industry.

McNeill, who met Weinstein at Cannes Film Festival in 2015, said the film industry idolizes mediocre men and has been "a playground for perversion and coercion" for too long.

Being in the same room as Weinstein was once "a badge of honour," she said, but in light of the troubling allegations the experience now leaves her feeling unsettled.

"Let's not be blind to what is happening in our own backyard," she wrote.

"I've had to promote a director through a previous job that I know sexually abuses women. How do I resolve that? The backroom whispers are not enough to keep women safe. Everyone knows it."

'Really powerful'

Between 2007 and 2016, there have been 7,449 sexual assaults reported in Edmonton, 1,982 of which resulted in charges, according to numbers released from the Edmonton Police Service in a Freedom of Information request.

For years, McNiell said she has felt a sense of denial about her experiences with sexual assault, but there is strength in words. The #MeToo campaign has empowered victims and survivors to speak out about their experiences, often for the first time, she said.

"I think that's what's been really powerful. We now have language and words to categorize or mould the experiences that we've had.

"My experiences, I always referred to them as incidents. I didn't know, or want, to call it a sexual assault because when I say that, it makes it more real and then there emotions attached to that I have to feel.

"I think that's what's really important for people to understand. We don't talk about it because we don't want it to be true."

Listen to Radio Active with host Portia Clark, weekday afternoons at CBC Radio One, 93.9 FM in Edmonton. Follow the morning crew on Twitter @CBCRadioActive