Festivals are an important battleground in the fight for gender parity, and one that's been strewn with casualties. The 2018 Venice Film Festival, which wrapped earlier this week, came under fire for including only one female director in its main competition lineup. And inequality wasn't the only problem plaguing the festival. Jennifer Kent, whose film, The Nightingale, won the festival's Special Jury Prize, had to contend with verbal abuse from a male journalist during a screening. Likewise, the Cannes Film Festival has also been subject to fierce criticism for its treatment of women, leading to a headline-grabbing moment earlier this year when a group of 82 women, including Cate Blanchett, Ava DuVernay and Kristen Stewart, marched up the steps to the Grand Palais in protest.
Still, it’s not all bad news. The Toronto International Film Festival is one encouraging example of a festival that has made steady gains in terms of the percentage of women directors selected to participate. In 2013, only 22% of festival films were directed by women. In 2018, that number has jumped to 36%. What's more, festival organizers — acting on a pledge made with their Sundance counterparts earlier this year — made efforts to increase the amount of press credentials issued to underrepresented writers by 20%. And while it's still far from the gender parity goal, things are moving in the right direction.
This past weekend, Refinery29 partnered with TIFF to not only address the systemic inequalities faced by women in the movie industry, but also plot a concrete course of action, setting the tone for the next stage of the struggle.
Hundreds of people gathered on Festival Street on Saturday support the Share Her Journey women's rally. The Share Her Journey campaign was launched by TIFF in 2017 and seeks raise $3 million in funding to offer residency programs for women creators, and vows to “prioritize gender parity with a focus on mentorship, skills development, media literacy, and activity for young people.”
In the moments before the rally, TIFF Artistic Director Cameron Bailey signed a gender parity pledge called 50/50 x 2020, first introduced at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year.
Refinery29 kicked off the day with a pre-rally breakfast, held in the Refinery29 Festival Rooftop at the TIFF Bell Lightbox.
Among those taking the stage at the rally were Geena Davis, Oscar-winning actress and founder of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media; director Amma Asante; director and actress Nandita Das; actress Mia Kirshner, co-founder of #AfterMeToo; Keri Putnam, Executive Director of Sundance Institute; actress Amanda Brugel; Cathy Schulman, president of Welle Entertainment; Zavia Forrest, TIFF Next Wave Committee member; and Dr. Stacy L. Smith, founder and director director of the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative.
Smith highlighted the ongoing lack of representation at all levels of the industry. Only four percent of 1,100 of the most popular films made in Hollywood in the last 11 years have female directors. Of the directors counted, only eight were women of color.
"We need to never give up because our North star is not diversity, it is not inclusion, but it is belonging," she said. "We all must feel as if our voices and our stories matter."
Davis called for filmmakers and producers to do a "gender pass" to ensure their projects are balanced. "Change a bunch of first names," she said. "If it says a crowd gathers, write in the script, comma, 'which is half female.' This is easy, it's fun, it's inspiring and creative to do."
Das, who presented her second film, Manto, at the festival this year, shared her desire for women to take pride in themselves, and their achievements. "I just wanted to be treated as a person, but sadly there is no mistaking identity," she said. "I used to be upset with how they called me a 'woman director,' but for the past few years I have begun owning it."
In partnership with Turner Network Television, this year's shorts are directed by Yara Shahidi, Gillian Jacobs, Gilly Barnes, Jessica Sanders, Allana Harkin, Ivy Agregan, A.M. Lukas, and Janine Sherman Barrois. The films made their debut on September 8, and are available to view on TNT’s digital platforms.
Women make up half the U.S. population, but in 2017, women directed only 8 percent of the top 100 films. Shatterbox, a film series from TNT and Refinery29, provides a platform for the next cycle of female storytellers to create short films that redefine identity, imagination and storytelling through the female lens.
The screening was followed by a reception in Refinery29's rooftop event space hosted by Amy Emmerich, Chief Content Officer at Refinery29 and Sarah Aubrey, executive vice president of original programming for TNT, with banners reminding attendees that "Everyone is welcome at the top." Attendees were also invited to celebrate Shatterbox’s new ad campaign, “You Don’t Know the Half of It,” with a black and white photo booth that blurred out half of its subject. On Sunday, Refinery29 partnered with LGBTQ+ film organization Inside Out to host their annual Queer Brunch.
Still, there remains a lot of work to be done. Kirshner decried the lack of structural change in the industry to prevent sexual assault, and introduced a new digital platform that #AfterMeToo will launch to help connect survivors of sexual assault and harassment with resources. Mere blocks away, actress Olivia Munn was being being shunned by her Predator co-stars for speaking out about her struggle to get a scene featuring a sex offender cut from the movie. On Sunday, CBS Corporation Chairman Les Moonves resigned after the publication of a New Yorker article containing accusations of sexual harassment and assault from six more women.
"When I peel back the layers over the course of the year and I look at specific change to the mechanisms around investigating sexual violence, workplace sexual violence in terms of what exists for survivors and bystanders, there is no change," Kirshner said on Saturday. "That's not good enough. We can do better and we will."