TORONTO — Red carpet glitz and celebrity ogling were momentarily supplanted by chants of "Women rock!" at the Toronto International Film Festival on Saturday, when hundreds of film fans and filmmakers gathered to demand gender parity at a rousing street rally.
Speakers including actress and activist Geena Davis, inclusion expert Dr. Stacy L. Smith, actress Amanda Brugel and actress and #AfterMeToo co-founder Mia Kirshner issued a clarion call to directors, producers, writers, financiers and executives to support female voices.
Davis expressed delight at looking into an audience that appeared to be half men before detailing how the early viewing choices of her daughter inspired the work she does through her research-based group, the Geena Davis Institute of Gender in Media.
The "Thelma and Louise" star told the Share Her Journey rally that she began pushing for gender-balanced representation in media for little kids because of the dearth of female characters when her daughter was a toddler.
"This is the easiest fix — it's the lowest hanging fruit in all the panoply of problems that we have and it's also the most urgent because why are we teaching kids something that we try so hard to get rid of later on?" she said to applause and hoots from a crowd that included veteran Canadian indie director Ingrid Veninger.
"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?"
While there are many instances of gender inequity, Davis said the one area that can be fixed overnight is onscreen representation.
"The very next project somebody makes, the next TV show, the next movie can be gender-balanced. It can be fixed absolutely instantly," she said, calling for "no more missed opportunities."
"If you're involved in any way in any production of a movie or a TV show, you have a chance to change it and make it gender-balanced.... Don't let it get cast or shot until somebody looks at it and you go through it and you say: Who here can become female?"
Brugel directed her call-to-arms at the men in the audience, noting that her approach has been largely shaped by the fact she has two sons. She called herself not a male sympathizer but a "male mobilizer."
"This is a global problem and it requires the effort of every gender and identification to fix it," said the "Handmaid's Tale" actress.
She called on male allies to champion female work, to listen to women's stories and validate their experiences, and to not support film or TV projects from anyone found guilty of sexual assault.
Men can also lead by example, and speak out when they see something offensive, she said.
"You can call each other out. If you hear something or see something or notice something inappropriate then say something because when it offends you, I can promise you it offends me," she said.
"Build us up, lift us up, make a conscious effort to share our voices with the same frequency that you share your own."
Smith, who is credited with introducing the "inclusion rider" concept made famous by Frances McDormand at this year's Oscars, provided stark numbers about underrepresented racial and ethnic groups in the industry, while Kirshner urged for more social, legal and mental-health supports for survivors of sexual violence.
Events began with a pre-rally breakfast, where TIFF co-head Cameron Bailey pledged the fest's commitment to joining a broader industry campaign of reaching 50/50 gender parity by 2020.
Change is hard, but necessary, Bailey said, of the movement that started in France.
Meanwhile, the Directors Guild of Canada announced its "So Not Cool" campaign, in which it urges cast and crew members to speak out whenever they witness harassment, bullying and violence on a set.
Cassandra Szklarski, The Canadian Press