Toronto: Geena Davis Leads Time's Up Rally, Says Gender Inequality Onscreen "Can Be Fixed Overnight"

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Geena Davis

The 'Thelma and Louise' star and social activist told a women's rally in Toronto that Hollywood can easily get to 50-50 gender representation.

Geena Davis on Saturday told a Time's Up rally at the Toronto International Film Festival that Hollywood can easily get to equal male and female representation onscreen to help achieve gender equality in the wider society.

"Of all the tremendous gender inequality in the world, the one area that can be fixed overnight is onscreen. The next movie, the next TV show to be made can be gender-balanced," the actress and activist said during TIFF's Share Her Journey rally. She told roughly 500 fest-goers in the John Street audience that equal representation could come even quicker in kids shows to give young people a sense of the possibilities for societal gender balance in their later lives.

"This is the easiest fix. It's the lowest-hanging fruit in the problems we have and the most urgent," Davis said of efforts to uncover and erase gender bias in kids content, before adding: "Onscreen representation is the most urgent — why are we training kids to have unconscious gender bias at an early age, when we know it's so hard to get rid of?"

Earlier women's marches at rival film festivals included the Respect Rally at Sundance and Cannes Film Festival jury president Cate Blanchett leading a women's march up the steps of the Palais in Cannes. Bollywood actress Nandita Das, who walked the Palais steps earlier this year, recalled that event during her own appearance at the TIFF rally.

"There were women who I didn't know around me, and women were crying and we were hugging strangers. What is this that brings us together? It's the connected will to see the world as a more equal and peaceful place, and it's possible," Das said. 

Canadian actress and #AfterMeToo co-founder Mia Kirshner used her speech to call on ACTRA, Canada's actors union, to work more closely with her and her campaign to launch a single digital platform to report allegations of sexual harassment and sexual assault in the Canadian film and TV industry, and to provide legal and mental health resources for survivors.

"We have a patchwork of legal systems and systems in which we can bring a claim forward of sexual violence — it’s scattered over the web," Kirshner, who had her own sexual harassment ordeal with Harvey Weinstein, told the women's rally. "We need to do better. ... I don't want people to go through these web searches anymore," she added.

Kirshner criticized leaders of Canadian industry guilds, unions and associations for drawing up codes of conduct and other measures to address #MeToo movement concerns and then doing little to investigate sexual misconduct allegations.

"When you stand with me, when you have zero tolerance, does that mean you are going to have third-party, arm's length investigation for each case?" she asked.

Also on Saturday, Keri Putnam, executive director of the Sundance Institute, told the rally a cultural change was required for women directors in Hollywood to achieve their potential.

"I noticed that white male directors got new assignments even when their work was mediocre, while most women struggled to build their careers," Putnam told the TIFF forum.

The Share Her Journey rally followed festival artistic director Cameron Bailey signing an equality charter at a morning breakfast, a move that commits TIFF to providing demographic data on its drive towards gender parity and inclusion by 2020.

Surrounded by Share Her Journey speakers such as The Handmaid's Tale star Amanda Brugel, director Amma Asante and Das, Bailey held up an oversized version of the pledge and quipped, "I think all I need is a pen, right?"

Following the brief ceremony, Bailey told The Hollywood Reporter that TIFF recognizes the “need for change in the film industry" and is doing its part to “bring more equity and more parity to the stories that we see on screens, and who gets to tell these stories."

Toronto will follow Cannes and Venice in committing its festival organization to gender parity and inclusion, in part by compiling and releasing statistics on the gender and race of its film submissions, including their directors and, where applicable, the cast and crew.

TIFF will also make public the gender and race of its film selectors and programmers and its executive board members as it aims at gender parity and inclusion in their ranks. With recent hires, the fest currently has 13 women and nine men working as film programmers ahead of its 43rd edition.

This story also appears in The Hollywood Reporter's Sept. 9 daily issue at the Toronto International Film Festival.