Diana Swain of CBC News talks to CBC TV’s General Manager of Programming Sally Catto, WIFT Toronto’s Executive Director Heather Webb, and Actor/Producer Jennifer Podemski about what it’s like to be a women in Canada’s film and television industry.
The power of film should not be underestimated. Images have been used in countless ways to propogate agenda, political or otherwise. The ability to share your experience translates into a form of freedom. It is the gift of voice, relatability and the right to share perpsective. Autonomy over your own representation is a privilege afforded to few. Mens eyes have been the lens we have viewed women through since the beginning of this artform that has grown into one of the largest and most influential industries in creating culture, norms and standards of beauty. In feminism, we refer to this as the male gaze.
Over the years, this has resulted in comedy and tragedy. Perhaps the latter being more fitting for the implications for women. More often than not, these productions give rise to discomfort and anger within the female viewers choking on unrealistic, derogatory, sexist, representions on screen; we cringe. Looking at the screen, we see the same women appear: the virtuous virgin, the unworthy slut, the beautiful girl with the IQ of a hamburger, the funny fat girl, the sexualization of mentally illness, sexualization of our careers, the sexualization of young girls…. All the sexualization. The ugly one is evil, there’s the angry or ghettoized black girl, the black girl who seems to be there to legitimize the white girl as “diverse” like the sitcom version of saying I’m not racist, I have a black friend. On that note, the story lines of the white woman who single handledly are able to achieve relatability and effectively save the souls of poor ethnic children (perhaps too specific- we know that stories of white savours come in all forms). The countless scenes of date rape disguised as comedy because the men in these writing rooms have no clue! And Oh yea, let’s not forget the hot action side kick with significantly less lines and relevance to the plot. Am I missing any? The good new is, we’re over it. We’re becoming more aware of these problems, though the numbers don’t yet reflect significant progress, we see a dialogue emerging with many celebrities taking centre stage around feminist issues pertaining to representation of women in film.
The numbers are staggering, and to our dismay- sliding backwards. It’s no secret, there’s no debate, the number show gender inequality does exist and it exists in film, television and media production. The film industries reputation for one dimensional sexist representations of women is just one of the symptoms of a lack of females holding positions of influence.
The good news is, the discussion is on the table and women are ready to move and come together on these issues. CBC offers a sit down interview with powerful women working in the Canadian film and television industry. Though numbers are discouraging, these women have risen in ranks in television and film and they sit down in this interview to offer us their insight on industry.
Canadian Women in Film Discuss the Gender in(Equality) Present in Canada’s Film Industry.
They share insight into what they look for when reviewing film project proposals. The women point to shows like GIRLS and Orange is the New Black as being proof that we are on our way, but we need more women show runners.
One important question poised around representation of women on screen was, “How do we move the portrayal of women closer to what we think of as reality?”
Response: It’s getting Women in the Writing room. If you want full dimensional women on screen, it begins in the writing room. You tell stories from your lived experience, from your perspective, so we need more women at the writing table.
Because one writes from their personal understanding and experience, it was reassuring that at least one of these white female film industry experts make mention of the additional barriers that face women of colour. If you think the numbers are bad for representation of women in film, look at the numbers for women of colour, they drop significantly further, even into single digits. As we discuss wanting to characters that more accurately represent women, we must remember that one women’s life does not represent all women’s reality. Yes, we need women in the writing room, but let’s not forget to acknowledge the the reality facing women of colour subjected to not only sexist barriers, but racial too. As white women sitting in positions of power, we need to remember our distinct privilege and be careful not to homogenize all women’s experiences under the same umbrella. We can express unity along points of sexism as women, while maintaining diversity that represents the reality of our different lived experience and privilege.
This is the kind of conversations we hope to cultivate at women’s film collective.