Toronto·TIFF 2018

'Share Her Journey' rally at TIFF draws attention to inequality of women in film

TIFF has made a five-year commitment to increasing participation, skills, and opportunities for women behind and in front of the camera.

Actors, directors, filmmakers say progress slow in increasing opportunities for women

Actress Geena Davis addresses the crowd at the Share Her Journey Rally for Women in Film during the Toronto Film Festival on Saturday in Toronto. (Chris Pizzello/Invision/Associated Press)

A lot more needs to be done to ensure the movie business is a safe and empowering place for women, more than 200 people heard at a rally organized by the Toronto International Film Festival on Saturday.

The rally on John Street, just south of the main festival area in downtown Toronto, was part of a TIFF initiative called Share Her Journey, which aims to increase opportunities for women who work in entertainment.

Amid the glitz and glamour of TIFF, a series of speakers talked about gender equality in film and demanded change.

Canadian actor Mia Kirshner told the crowd that progress has been extremely slow one year after the #MeToo movement began. She is co-founder of #AfterMeToo, a movement aimed at improving culture, legislation and policies surrounding sexual misconduct in the workplace.  

Canadian actor Mia Kirshner told the crowd: 'We can do better and we will.' (Chris Pizzello/Invision/THE ASSOCIATED PRESS)

"When I peel back the layers over the course of the year and I look at specific change to the mechanisms around investigating sexual violence, workplace sexual violence in terms of what exists for survivors and bystanders, there is no change," she said.

"That's not good enough. We can do better and we will."

Leaders in the movie industry have pledged their support to women in the last year, but she said it's not clear what exactly that means in terms of preventing sexual violence, investigating cases, providing support and supporting survivors, she said.

"My question is, when you stand by me, does that mean you're going to pay my legal fees because I can't afford them? When you say you stand by me, does that mean you are going to offer trauma supports, mental health supports, because it's not available and not affordable?

"When you stand by me, when you say you have zero tolerance, does this mean you're going to guarantee third-party, independent, arms-length investigations for each case?"

Audience members cheer during the Share Her Journey Rally in Toronto on Saturday. Share Her Journey is a campaign organized by the Toronto International Film Festival to empower women in film. (Marta Iwanek/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Other speakers at the rally included actress and activist Geena Davis, who said change for women in entertainment could happen "overnight" if filmmakers and TV producers looked at the number of female characters on screen and made adjustments. She noted the rally included many men supporting the cause, "which I think is fantastic."

Davis, founder of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, said she has been looking at the data involving female characters in movies and shows for children for about 12 years. She said her motto is "no more missed opportunities" when it comes to making a movie or TV show gender-balanced.

"If you're involved in any way in any production of a movie or a TV show, you have a chance to change it and make it gender balanced. Do a gender pass. Don't let it get cast or shot until somebody looks at it and you go through it and you say: 'Who here can become female?' " she said.

"Change a bunch of first names. If it says a crowd gathers, write in the script, comma, 'which is half female.' This is easy, it's fun, it's inspiring and creative to do."

Stacy Smith, founder and director of the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, says: 'We all must feel as if our voices and our stories matter.' (Chris Pizzello/Invision/THE ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Dr. Stacy L. Smith, founder and director of the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, a think tank that studies issues of inequality in entertainment, said the numbers show that women are not represented in the industry on a number of different fronts:

  • Of the last 1,100 most popular films made in the U.S. the last 11 years, only four per cent have female directors.
  • Out of 1,223 directors in those 11 years, only eight were women of colour; four were black women, two were Asian women, only one was Latin American.
  • Out of the top 100 films of 2017, there were only four leading or co-leading characters who were women of colour, all four were mixed race, yet 40 per cent of the U.S. population comes from underrepresented racial or ethnic groups.
  • Of 59,715 film reviews, less than four per cent are written by women of colour, according to a study released by the think tank she directs.

"This needs to change now," she said.

Smith said accountability, a sense of community and tenacity are needed to make change.

Actress Somkele Iyamah-Idhalama, left, and Nancy Puetz, vice president of Women in Film & Television International, react to stage remarks during the Share Her Journey Rally. (Chris Pizzello/Invision/THE ASSOCIATED PRESS)

"We need to never give up because our North star is not diversity, it is not inclusion, but it is belonging. We all must feel as if our voices and our stories matter," Smith said.


Last year, #AfterMeToo released a list of recommendations for next steps. They include establishing an independent national organization to fight sexual violence in the entertainment industry, but Kirshner said change has been very slow. 

"There are good people in this industry who are trying," she said. "There are three working groups that have formed. Some people are trying very hard. Unfortunately, this is not their only file they're dealing with." 

In response, #AfterMeToo is planning on launching a digital platform, dubbed "Rosa," which is supposed to help survivors with a host of resources. These include helping women to find low-cost mental health support, and providing legal support.

Kirshner said it won't just be for people in the entertainment industry. The plan is to translate the resource into five languages so it's as accessible as possible. 

"This is a response to what survivors have asked for. We see a critical gap in service," she said. "We're trying to reduce trauma, save time and make it easier to access justice." 

With files from Lisa Xing, Muriel Draaisma, the Canadian Press