The 2017 Toronto International Film Festival took place just weeks before the New York Times released its report on Harvey Weinstein’s decades of sexual harassment, followed by a deluge of ongoing revelations about rampant sexual harassment and assault in the entertainment industry. This year’s festival arrives a year after #MeToo became a hashtag, then a movement. It’s been almost as long since the founding of Time’s Up, an organization created by women in the entertainment industry to support female-identifying actors, writers, critics, and other industry members.
In that vein, the festival has made public strides to provide a platform for the issues faced by women in film, and to work toward promoting change. Thirty four percent of the films at this year’s festival come from female directors. As an organization, TIFF has made a five-year commitment to increasing opportunities for women in film by creating mentorships, skills development opportunities, and education initiatives. They’ve even expanded that commitment to women working in the media, with a push to invite female critics and reporters — as well as people of color — to cover the festival.
These are admirable initiatives. But institutionally, how much has really changed over the last year? What needs to happen to make sure industry gatekeepers follow through on their promises, and that the changes continue? That was the theme of TIFF’s Share Her Journey rally on Saturday. At the event, a panel of speakers — including actors and activists Geena Davis and Mia Kirshner and USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative founder Dr. Stacy L. Smith — spoke to an enthusiastic crowd about the road ahead after #MeToo.
What the speakers shared was revealing and empowering, if not exactly celebratory. “Over the past year, we’ve learned a little bit about the conditions of work in our industry. The conditions that allowed for sexual impunity to continue, the indifference of institutions … the lack of action,” Kirshner told the crowd at the event. “We have heard many leaders saying over the course of the year ‘We stand by you. We have zero tolerance.’ But what do you mean? Because 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 … in terms of what exists for survivors and bystanders, there is no change. That’s not good enough. We can do better, and we will.”
As Kirshner spoke, evidence of this lack of change was exploding all over social media. One of the biggest stories to emerge from this year’s TIFF has been The Predator star Olivia Munn’s experience learning that an actor she shared a scene with was a registered sex offender, information not shared with the cast by director Shane Black, who was aware of the actor’s past. Fox, the film’s distributor, cut the scene from the film after Munn brought it up, but she’s received no support from her male co-stars at the festival when speaking to the press about the situation.
This was further backed up by Smith, who praised the commitments made by organizations like TIFF and WarnerMedia in working towards gender parity, noting that there’s a lot of ground still to be covered. “If we think about the 1100 films over the last 11 years, the most popular in the U.S., only four percent have female directors,” Smith said. “And you can’t use the word ‘female’ in Hollywood anymore, because that’s a buzzword for a white woman. Out of 1,223 directors across 11 years, only eight were women of color. Four were black women, and three were Asian women. Actually, it’s only two, because one Asian woman worked twice. Intersectionality is important in all of the work that we do. Full stop.”
As for how to shift those paltry numbers, Smith had some points of action to share.
“Three words,” she told the crowd. “The first is accountability. Companies need to set target inclusion goals above the line, below the line, in distribution and exhibition. And we need the public to hold those companies accountable. Second is community … When we’re in community, we have to do one thing: lift all voices … all voices need to be lifted up through an intersectional lens.”
Smith’s final word for the crowd was tenacity, reminding those gathered that there’s plenty of hope for the future, but only if those committed to the cause of representation cause keep pushing the needle forward. “We need to never give up,” Smith said. “Because our north star is not diversity. It is not inclusion. But it is belonging. We must all feel as if our voices and our stories matter.”