TIFF 2018: Share Her Journey rally calls for the end of sexual harassment in film

Oscar winner Geena Davis, director Amma Asante, #AfterMeToo cofounder Mia Kirshner spoke about combatting gender inequality in the movie industry


Two days after TIFF’s opening night, hundreds assembled near John and King for the Share Her Journey rally, the festival’s five-year commitment to strengthen opportunities for women in the film industry.

“Over the past 12 months, women have been a central part of the conversation in the news and we’ve made much needed noise,” said TIFF executive director Michèle Maheux in her opening remarks. “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 that we’re not alone.”

The event featured a line-up of nine speakers including Oscar winner Geena Davis, director Amma Asante and the #AfterMeToo co-founder and Canadian actor Mia Kirshner. Each speaker talked about their own experiences of gender inequality working in film, which touched on issues like representation on screen and the lack of support for sexual assault survivors.

The first speaker was Geena Davis, who spoke about founding her research institute more than a decade ago after realizing that so many of the TV shows her young daughter watched featured very few female characters. Davis is also at TIFF for the documentary This Changes Everything, in which she’s an executive producer, that explores systemic sexism in Hollywood. She noted that balancing on-screen representation is something that can be easily fixed by writers and producers.

“If you’re involved in any way in a production of a movie or a TV show, you have the chance to change it and make it gender balanced. Don’t cast or shoot until someone asks, ‘Who here could become female?’” said Davis.

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Dr. Stacy L. Smith

Stacy L. Smith, who first proposed the idea for inclusion riders in a Hollywood Reporter op-ed in 2014, provided some sobering statistics about the disparity in on-screen representation. She noted that out of the top 100 films of 2017, there were only four leading or co-leading characters who were women of colour, while 40 per cent of the population in the United States comes from underrepresented racial or ethnic groups. She also said that of the last 1,100 most popular films made in the U.S. over the past 11 years, only four per cent had female directors.

“Companies need to set targeted inclusion goals and we need the public to hold those companies accountable,” said Smith. 

In her speech, Asante spoke about how those bleak statistics have affected her experience as a Black female director. She explained how it took her 10 years to make her film Where Hands Touch (which premieres tomorrow at TIFF), because the Hollywood gatekeepers questioned her ability to create a movie set in Germany during World War II, a genre that’s long been the domain of white, male directors.“Being told that the film was ‘too big’ for me because it was set in World War II, is a form of restriction many women directors will recognize. But it wasn’t lost on me that I was a Black woman trying to tell a story in a genre set in a time and a place where that has usually been the reserve of white male directors. Boxing me in then to ensure that I deliver the only type of films that are expected of me as Black woman has definitely made a difference to my journey [as a filmmaker].”

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Amma Asante

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Mia Kirshner

Kirshner, the co-founder of #AfterMeToo and who last year spoke out about her own experience with Harvey Weinstein, stressed the lack of resources available to survivors of sexual harassment.

“We have heard many leaders say over the course of the year, ‘We stand by you’ and ‘We have zero tolerance’, but what do you mean?” said Kirshner. “My question is, when you stand by me, are you going to pay my legal fees because I can’t afford them? Are you going to offer trauma and mental health support? When you say you have zero tolerance, does this mean you’re going to going to guarantee third party, independent investigations for each case? This must become mandatory.”

Kirshner shared her idea for a digital platform called Rosa that would simplify the process for survivors to report sexual violence in the workplace and also a hotline providing legal and mental support.

Along with Share Her Journey, TIFF has launched new initiatives to create a safer, more diverse festival, including a hotline (1-833-265-9835) where festival-goers can anonymously report unethical conduct, and increasing the diversity of its accredited press by 20 per cent by accrediting journalists from marginalized backgrounds.

Check out more photos from the rally below:

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Molly Johnson

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Shakura S’Aida

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Keri Putnam

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Amanda Brugel

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Zavia Forrest

samanthae@nowtoronto.com | @SamEdwardsTO

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