Celebs Hit the Red Carpet This Weekend, but the Fight for Equality Was the Real Star of TIFF

This past weekend, TIFF organizers signed a pledge to achieve gender parity by 2020—further proving that yes, the future is *finally* female

Ishani Nath
TIFF Artistic Director & Co-Head Cameron Bailey signs the 50x50 by 2020 pledge before the Share Her Journey rally on Sept 8 (Photo: Emma McIntyre/Getty for TIFF)

TIFF Artistic Director & Co-Head Cameron Bailey signs the 50×50 by 2020 pledge before the Share Her Journey rally on Sept 8 (Photo: Emma McIntyre/Getty for TIFF)

Each September, the Toronto International Film Festival takes over the city’s downtown core, filling the streets with red carpets and the hopes of a serendipitous star sighting. The celebrities and the films are the focus—but this year, so was the fight for inclusion and women’s rights.

In the first TIFF since the resurgence of #MeToo, the creation of Time’s Up and the damning allegations against Harvey Weinstein came to light, the festival emphasized its zero tolerance policy for violence, mistreatment and harassment at the annual event, introduced a new toll-free hotline and hosted a women’s empowerment rally calling for equality. For context, consider that last year, one-third of the the top 250 films had one or fewer (a.k.a. zero) woman in behind-the-scenes jobs, not to mention that Weinstein’s alleged sexual misconduct towards Mira Sorvino and Montreal actor Erika Rosenbaum was said to have taken place at past years’ festivals. In fact, the festival is so connected to Hollywood’s reckoning that Scarface director Brian De Palma is reportedly using TIFF as the setting for his upcoming Harvey Weinstein-inspired horror film Predator.

That said, Hollywood has gone through a major shift since TIFF 2017, and that push for change is reflected in this year’s festival—particularly at Saturday’s Share Her Journey rally.

Standing in the middle of Toronto’s King Street W, outside the TIFF Lightbox Theatre on a surprisingly chilly Saturday morning, the crowd at the Share Her Journey rally got rightfully fired up about the stark inequalities that exist in the very industry that was being celebrated all around them.

“I consider myself a feminist. I work behind and in front of the camera and I would like to see representation on both sides. And I draw my strength from crowds of women and that’s not something you can find in everyday life,” said rally participant Becca Grenier.

And with speakers including actor Geena Davis, founder of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, and Canadian actor Mia Kirshner, who co-founded #AfterMeToo—which aims to create safe and equitable workplaces—there was plenty of strength to draw from at the outdoor event. The women on stage outlined the ongoing disparities in the film industry, such as the fact that out of the top 100 films last year, only one-third had a lead or co-lead character who was a woman—and only four were women of colour.

“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,” said professor Stacy L. Smith, the founder and director of USC’s Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, the think tank that compiled the aforementioned data.

In the same way that we saw red carpets turn into protests this past year, festivals like TIFF, which bring together industry leaders, actors, media and filmmakers, have become a battle ground to push for greater representation and opportunities for women. This year’s festival hosted an industry panel on diversity and inclusion within film criticism, and messages about the need for Hollywood to be better for women and POC are become regular talking points of filmmakers on the red carpet and during press conferences.

On the morning of the Share Her Journey rally, artistic director and co-head Cameron Bailey of TIFF signed the 50×50 by 2020 pledge, a commitment to achieve gender parity on the festival’s board of directors and executives in the next two years. TIFF all pledged to disclose key demographic data, sharing the “gender and race of the directors of all the films submitted … and when applicable, to also compile all members of the cast and crew mentioned in the registration process of the film,” according to TheWrap. The 50×50 by 2020 pledge has also been signed at the Venice Film Festival and Cannes. (For a better picture of the role that festivals play in supporting women in film—and how TIFF is *actually* working to move the needle—see this breakdown by IndieWire’s Kate Erbland.)

While the rally and pledge are new at TIFF, Share Her Journey actually kicked off in 2017 and is a five-year initiative toward gender parity through “mentorship, skills development, media literacy and activity for young people.” Filmmaker V.T. Nayani, who recently produced Better Speak, a doc short in partnership with UN Women, attended Saturday’s rally and noted that the program has opened opportunities for her that were previously out of reach.

“Obviously we know that these conversations are really important, but as a woman of colour and a South Asian woman, it’s really important to take up space at these events,” she said. “Share Her Journey is the reason why I’m here, they offered free [TIFF] passes to emerging filmmakers and made it accessible to people like me.”

With initiatives like these, and 122 films at TIFF that are directed or co-directed by women, it feels like the closing words at the Share Her Journey rally *are* ringing true: “The future is female.”

Related: 

All the Celebs Who Are Winning the TIFF 2018 Red Carpet (So Far!)
The #MeToo Men Are Trying to Make Their Comebacks
“I Was Ashamed and Afraid”: Asia Argento’s Accuser Speaks Out About Sexual Assault Allegations

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