‘Share Her Journey’ is a five-year TIFF initiative, which aims at reversing the current situation of underrepresentation of women in the film industry through a mix of concerted advocacy and fundraising efforts to achieve gender parity in film both on screen and behind the camera.
Last year’s data show that of the top 250 films, only 18 percent employed women directors, writers, producers and editors. In the same year, of the top 250 films 30 percent employed women in technical jobs behind the scenes.
Yesterday, I attended the ‘Share Her Journey’ rally where a few thousand people gathered on King Street to hear a panel of well-respected women in film speak in the name of all the women in the industry to advocate for gender parity and diversity. According to one of the speakers on the panel, Geena Davis, who looked out from the stage, the crowd was full of men, which is significant evidence that change is actually happening. Men are listening and perhaps rethinking behaviours that may not have not violated basic rules of consent, decency, and respect, but were still a reflection of gender inequality.
Geena Davis delivered a very inspiring speech which can be summarized by her statement “no more missed opportunities.” Since 2009, Geena has devoted herself advocating for more gender equality on screen through the Geena Davis Institute for Gender in Media. She said that in order to move forward and in the right direction, the leaders in the industry need to shift from an “unconscious gender bias” to a more “conscious gender bias”. The gender imbalance issue can be solved very quickly almost instantly by changing male first names into female first names in scripts, turning male characters into female characters, “If a script says ‘a crowd gathered’, add comma, ‘half of which is female’.”
Dr. Stacy L. Smith, Founder and Director of the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, took the stage later “to depress” the crowd with some more stats that confirm a lack of inclusion and diversity in the entertainment industry. Stacey describes the steps that she feels need to be taken in order to move forward. The first step is accountability: “Companies need to set inclusion goals, and the public needs to hold those companies accountable.”; second is community: She has worked with the Geena Davis Institute for a number of years and she knows that connection is empowering. The third step is tenacity: in other words, never give up. “We must feel that our voices and our stories matter” Stacey said.
Other speakers on the panel included director Nandita Das who shared her experience as a “female director”. She explains that after years of taking offense about being addressed as a female director, she started to own it.
Mia Kirshner, Canadian actor and co-founder of the #AfterMeToo movement, talked about the lack of resources available to survivors of sexual harassment.
Amma Asante relays her experience as a director of colour being told that her project to make a film about World War I was too big for her.
Actress Amanda Brugel brought in the perspective of a mother and the necessity to teach young boys the proper way to behave so that they will not have to unlearn later on in life. She calls herself a “male mobilizer” as opposed to a “male sympathizer”. She urged everyone to call out inappropriate behavior, not to support the work of people who have been found guilty with sexually-related charges, and to support the work of women.
Finally, another accomplished woman took to stage, Cathy Schulman, film producer and winner of an Academy Award for Crash in 2004. Cathy urged artists to create art that makes a difference and executives running companies, to hire people who reflect diversity.
Sharing ideas and stories with others on social media has helped to create powerful movements such as #MeToo and #TimesUp which have forced everyone to rethink, refocus, regroup, reframe, and relearn. In other words, let’s keep talking about it, let’s make some noise and let’s share the journey.