Day 6

#AfterMeToo confronts sexual misconduct in the Canadian entertainment industry

It's not just an American problem. Post-Harvey Weinstein, Canadian filmmaker Aisling Chin-Yee says Canada's entertainment industry needs an overhaul too.
#AfterMeToo logo (#AfterMeToo)

As allegations and complaints against powerful men in the entertainment industry keep multiplying, so do calls for a total overhaul of Hollywood.

But what is the state of Canada's entertainment industry when it comes to sexual misconduct?

Canadian film director, writer and producer Aisling Chin-Yee is one of the people behind the #AfterMeToo movement.

She tells Day 6 host Brent Bambury that a major cultural shift in Canada's entertainment industry is long overdue.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Brent Bambury: Calls for a total overhaul of Hollywood are growing. Is that what is needed in the Canadian entertainment industry as well?

Aisling Chin-Yee: I think that it really needs to happen. What we've been looking at is basically a cultural shift.

We're finally listening to survivors; we're believing them — hopefully we're believing them. And we saw with the #MeToo campaign that people are willing to come together and speak out.

And this will, hopefully, change the culture for not putting up or not tolerating these types of abuses — or perpetuating this culture of silence. These issues and this misconduct happens in all industries, so what can we do to change the culture, to change the systems in place, to actually protect the survivor?

BB: Let's talk about the industry in Canada and the kinds of problems that exist within it. You're a woman in Canada's entertainment industry. What can you tell me about what you've experienced?

AC-Y: As a woman, a female producer, a female director, [and as a] non-white female producer and director, I've had my share of harassment ... Not to get into too many details on it, but I've been belittled in boardrooms. I have had inappropriate groping.

And I'm often the one who's signing cheques. So sometimes it's happening from people that I've hired, or people that feel like they shouldn't be working for a visible minority female, or have an issue with that and want to prove some kind of entitlement.

I've been lucky that I have not been assaulted in any violent way. But the sexist culture, the harassment ...  is something that I believe most women in this industry have dealt with to some varying degree.

BB: And you know that because women talk about this. They discuss the things that have happened to them; they don't keep it secret.

There is definitely a boy's club ... and I've been told that it's just not that bad. 'Brush it off. He's like that with everybody. Take it as a compliment.'- Aisling Chin-Yee

AC-Y: There is, of course, an informal whisper network. And women talk to each other; women warn each other.

But it hasn't been out in the open because there's always been this fear that you're going to get labeled as 'difficult.' 

As a woman, you know, you don't want to be seen as too sensitive. There is definitely a 'boy's club.' You don't want to be seen as somebody that's upsetting the status quo.

So, a lot of times, we're told — and I've been told — that it's just not that bad. 'Brush it off. He's like that with everybody. Take it as a compliment.' 

All of these things that kind of sweep the issue under the carpet. That now, finally, we're actually talking about, and not accepting this type of behaviour.

BB: But when those rationalizations are made, then it must mean you automatically decide you're not going to report anything. That if you've been groped or if something happened that was scary but not violent — it sounds like you would say, 'No, I'm not going to take this to someone else, because it could affect my job.'

AC-Y: That is a big fear. And this is one of the questions that have to be answered.

One of the systems that needs to change is that there's not effective reporting that protects the survivor, that protects their privacy, that protects their job security. That doesn't put them on a quote-unquote blacklist [as a] 'difficult person to work with.'

Hundreds of people shared their experiences as survivors of sexual harassment and assault at Toronto's #MeToo march on Saturday. (Lorenda Reddekopp/CBC)

BB: Aisling, we had similar conversations in Canada after the Jian Ghomeshi scandal. Did anything change at that time?

AC-Y: I don't think that much has changed, to be quite honest with you, since Jian Ghomeshi. I think that there was a shock and awe, obviously, that happened in the culture that these types of violent assaults were happening at such a high level of celebrity.

But it does feel like there wasn't an adequate shift in culture or shift around protecting the survivor in these cases, potentially. I'm not a lawyer; I'm not well-versed in this, but ...

BB: No, but I'm thinking more about the culture. You know, this is the entertainment business, this is the broadcasting business. And these are powerful men in the business. And this week in the U.S., two very powerful performers, Matt Lauer and Garrison Keillor, they lost their jobs.

So do you think that now, three years after the Ghomeshi scandal, that there's a real change in the culture around these issues or is this just another moment — a moment that you need to seize?

Canadian filmmaker Aisling Chin-Yee (twitter)

AC-Y: I think that there is actually a real change. The public is not tolerating this type of behaviour.

They we were once able to turn a blind eye to a Ghomeshi or to, you know, a Louis C.K. or a Bill Cosby in a way that is not acceptable anymore. And we're actually seeing huge financial losses for the networks, the studios, the companies that have their names attached to such predators and perpetrators.

That is now coming to a head. You know, like you see what's happening with Netflix and Kevin Spacey. That show has been dismantled because of what's come out about their lead actors. And I think that this will continue on and flood other industries.

Obviously it's happening in politics. We'll start seeing this in the finance industry. We'll start seeing this all over the place.

Will this change be lasting? I hope so.

This is one of the reasons why, at this moment, we need to not just look at the stories and look at what has happened in the past — but how do we actually change something for the future?

That includes bringing change to legislation, change to the associations and the institutions — on how we work and how we work together. Or changes to the reporting, and a shift in culture so that we are not laying the blame and all the responsibility on the survivor or on the victim.

Those are the only ways we'll actually see any lasting change. So this is an opportunity we have to seize right now, to have an actual systemic overhaul.

To hear the full interview with Aisling Chin-Yee, download our podcast or click the 'Listen' button at the top of this page.

Click here for more information about the #AfterMeToo movement.