Hundreds of people are gathered at a stage in the middle of the Toronto Film Festival area. The day of the premiere of This Changes Everything, a film about gender imbalance in Hollywood, starts with a rally. Geena Davis, the founder of Geena Davis Institute of Gender in Media, is one of the first speakers at #ShareHerJourney. With big letters spelling “Time’s Up” behind her, she emphasizes that there should be no more missed opportunities for women within the film industry. The audience greets her with applauses and hoots. ”If she can see it she can be it,” she says about representation in kids’ movies - the genre where it all started for her. Watching TV and film with her toddler made her wonder where all the female characters were. Even all the animals were men.
“Why are we training them to have unconscious gender bias from the beginning when we know that it is so hard to get rid of?” she says.
With the difficulties of convincing film companies that something was wrong, she began realizing the importance of numbers and data. And today she sees the problem with representation in kids’ movies as the lowest hanging fruit. An easy thing to fix and also the most urgent to fix; To not keep on giving kids bias that we’ll have to work so hard to get rid of.
The numbers continue to show their strength when expert Dr. Stacy L. Smith takes the mic. She is the woman behind the concept “inclusion rider,” a term actress Frances McDormand drew worldwide attention to during her 2018 Oscar speech.
She notes the low number of women in the film industry and even more jaw-dropping low numbers of women of color in the industry. And intersectionality was something that really got the audience going - it served as a thread through almost all of the speeches.
Just as Davis expressed joy over seeing that half of the audience was men, actress Amanda Brugel talks about the importance of men in the battle to achieve equal gender representation in film. She assures us that she is not a male sympathizer but a male mobilizer. We need every gender if we are going to be able to fix this global problem, The Handmaid’s Tale actress reiterated. She also tackles a question that has been up for discussion after the #MeToo movement: Can we still enjoy art from men who have been found guilty of sexual assault? The answer is no. Brugel wants us to support female work instead. And for men to start calling each other out. Publicly.
The atmosphere is hopeful. People are ready to keep on fighting for change. But if anyone needed more fuel, the Geena Davis-produced film This Changes Everything screens directly after the rally. Meryl Streep, Natalie Portman, Reese Witherspoon, Cate Blanchett, Tiffany Haddish are some of the women in the business that paints us a picture of a misogynistic reality. Their stories are mixed with sobering facts about the female under-representation in front and behind the camera. Even more frightening are the numbers regarding women of color, which are at times, almost down at zero.
The audience gets a glimpse of how it could be and how it actually was during the silent film era. Women were nearly equal partners in the film industry. Then we moved forward, unfortunately only in time and not in progress, to 1979. The female members of the Directors Guild of America, known by the name the “Original Six”, found that only a half percent of all the jobs went to women. They name all the awards they received but continue to explain how they struggled to get jobs. Because what they really needed was not a prize – it was a penis. Something that makes the audience laugh out loud. And even though we are presented to a lot of frustrating facts, the cinema is filled with laughs and applause. And admiration.
We get the opportunity to follow the director Maria Gieses’ struggle to make an ACLU case out of the gender discrimination in Hollywood. Her determination is admirable and I don’t think I’m the only one feeling a little disappointed that there yet is no result to be shown with the ACLU case. But I guess it’s the perfect cliffhanger. After this film, I have difficulties imagining anyone being opposed to legal actions to this huge problem of discrimination.
But Maria Giese and Geena Davis are not the only activists that brings us hope. The single outlook from the US is to Sweden where we get a glimpse of the work that activist Ellen Tejle has done with the A-rated campaign to create awareness about the importance of representation in film.
At the after-party both Maria Giese and Ellen Tejle are met with praise. It’s obvious that we need activists and that we need each other. The film gave us facts and painted a clear picture of a global problem, but what’s most important is that it gave us inspiration and fuel to be a part of the change. The standing ovations at the end felt like a beginning of more activism. Let’s do this together and let’s do it now.
© Isabell Höjman (9/18/18) FF2 Media
Photos: CHRIS PIZZELLO/THE ASSOCIATED PRESS Actress Geena Davis addresses the crowd at the Share Her Journey Rally for Women in Film during the Toronto International Film Festival on Sept. 8, 2018.