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As the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) comes to an end, the progress made in the representation of women in film in the celebrated festival has not gone unnoticed.

This year’s festival featured leading ladies in a number of roles — and not just sexualized or supporting ones.

In fact, some of the best films at the festival this year were either led by women on screen or else led by women behind the camera.

Take Action: When it Comes to Gender Equality, #WeSeeEqual

Fig Tree, directed by Aäläm-Wärqe Davidian, was a heart-wrenching and powerful film about a 16-year-old girl living through the Ethiopian Civil War. Matthew Heineman’s A Private War centered around Rosamund Pike as real-life war correspondent Marie Colvin, a fascinating and courageous woman. Elisabeth Moss starred in Alex Ross Perry’s film Her Smell in a punk-rock role often reserved for men on screen. The list of female-fronted films on display continued with Freedom Fields, Colette, Girls of the Sun, The Third Wife, Through Black Spruce — a not-so insignificant collection.

Films by women accounted for 33% of the total at this year's festival, and there were 136 female leads. While that statistic still leaves room for improvement, it at least feels encouraging.

In 2017, TIFF launched Share Her Journey, an initiative aimed at increasing opportunities for women behind and in front of the camera.

At this year’s Share Her Journey rally, speaker Dr. Stacy L. Smith, founder and director of the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, shared her findings on representation of — or lack thereof — women in entertainment.

Smith pulled data from the last 1,100 most popular films made in the United States in the last 11 years. Of those, only 4% had female directors.

Out of 1,223 directors in the same period, only eight were women of colour.

She then looked at the top 100 films in 2017 and found there were only four leading or co-leading characters who were women of colour, all of whom were mixed race, according to CBC.

Smith also did a TEDWomen talk in 2016 about the importance of movies and storytelling, and the representation of women in entertainment.

Prior to this talk, Smith and her colleagues had studied 800 movies from 2007 to 2015.

Her findings were dismal, but unsurprising: Less than a third of roles go to girls and women; women who do get cast are usually white, heterosexual, and able-bodied; women get a leading or even co-leading role only about a third of the time; and females are roughly three times as likely to be sexualized than their male equivalents, according to Women and Hollywood.

In her talk, Smith noted that the simple solution was to — gasp! — hire female directors.

“Turns out, the female directors are associated with, in terms of short films and indie films, more girls and women on-screen, more stories with women in the center, more stories with women 40 years of age or older on-screen… More underrepresented characters in terms of race and ethnicity, and most importantly, more women working behind the camera in key production roles,” she said.

If TIFF 2018 has taught us anything, it’s that this crazy idea of hiring women to make sure women are accurately represented actually works.

It just so happens that, when given the opportunity, women make some pretty incredible films that feature some pretty incredible females.

Out of 12 awards announced on Sept. 16, four of the films were directed by a woman and about a woman. What’s more is that of the 13 winners announced (as one of the films had two directors), seven were women.

Cannes Film Festival is lagging behind when it comes to female filmmakers — the 2018 competition lineup showed 17.6% of films by women, while Sundance Film Festival upped its lineup to 38% in 2018.

With TIFF currently falling between the two festivals, one can only hope its blatant push for equality through initiatives like Share Her Journey will result in gender parity in filmmaking in the coming years.


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