The year 2020 has great significance to the women’s movement in our Canadian screen industries.
The tag line 50/50 by 2020 was a gender parity commitment made by the Canada Media Fund, Telefilm, the National Film Board and other organizations.
How 2019 unfolds will massively impact the future of women’s parity and advancement in Canada’s screen-based industries.
It is critical that we take stock before, and as we enter the fiscal year 2020 to see where we are in reaching those commitments.
This important moment has a long history. It didn’t just happen overnight.
Our goal, when WIFTV was established in 1988, was to network, educate and celebrate women working in the film and television industry in Vancouver and British Columbia.
Back then, we all thought the organization would only be in existence for a few years, maybe a decade until women had achieved equity.
At that time women (at least white women) had begun making strides up the ladder at broadcasting and independent production companies and while there was sexism and harassment along the way, we felt we were making progress. And once more women were in charge, things would change.
On our 15th Anniversary, in 2004, we realized to our horror that while there were a LOT more women in the industry, they appeared to be concentrated in entry-level positions and were only securing a tiny fragment of available financing in a rapidly expanding industry. Progress seemed to have stalled out and even be moving backwards.
We realized we needed hard data to determine the scale and depth of the problem.
A group of WIFTV past presidents formed an industry-wide committee to conduct a detailed study of women working in BC’s film industry. The study took two years to complete and revealed massive gender inequality at all levels in BCs industry, both in hiring and industry funding.
This, despite the fact that the study also revealed women were graduating at the same rate as men from publicly funded film schools and women working in the industry were consistently more highly trained than their male counterparts.
WIFTV’s initial naïve optimism shifted overnight. It was clear to us that no amount of training, networking and celebrating was going to change what was obviously a deeply entrenched and systemic bias against women working in our industry.
If the current system of employment and financing wouldn’t change to include women equitably we decided we needed to actively engage in changing the system.
But these were the Stephen Harper years so it wasn’t easy. Appeals to industry organizations and funding agencies to address the inequity revealed in the study fell on deaf ears.
Fortunately, other women’s media groups and union women’s committees started springing up across the country and around the world and we continued to push forward together with our research, a major conference organized by Women in View in 2010, and a range of other initiatives.
This work culminated in 2014 when the St. John’s International Women’s Film Festival and Women in View hosted a summit of women’s media groups and women’s committees of the main film unions and associations representing over 40,000 people. There, we ratified a list of key principles for promoting gender equity in our industry at a systemic and structural level. Again, the industry and government response to our press release about these principles was muted at best.
Shortly afterward, however, things finally began to change. In Vancouver, WIFTV met with Claude Joli-Coeur, Government Film Commissioner and Chair of the NFB and presented him with the latest Women in View statistics and the St. John’s summit recommendations.
Joli-Coeur undertook an internal audit to see how the NFB stacked u0p for gender equity, and then made an announcement at the WIFTV Festival in March 2016 committing the NFB to equity by 2020 in the hiring of directors and the allocation of funding to the projects directed by women. This announcement made international headlines, bringing the issue of gender inequality in Canada’s media industries to national and world attention.
That fall, the Trudeau Liberal government was elected with a gender-balanced Cabinet, again drawing international attention to the need to promote gender equality in Canadian society.
It had finally come to public and industry consciousness that as women were more than 50% of the population and, in relation to our industry, therefore were entitled to 50% of public funding in our film and television sectors.
Given Canadian employment equity legislation and, as stated specifically in the Broadcasting Act, the system in Canada had to represent and provide equal opportunities for employment and to receive benefits from the Canadian system. Mic drop!
After these two breakthroughs, WIFTV renewed our approaches to the industry and agencies, urging them to follow the NFB’s example. We were joined by many other women’s screen organizations from the St. Johns Summit.
Subsequently, Telefilm and the Canada Media Fund announced their commitment to 50/50 by 2020 in all their funding programs. Telefilm set up a Gender Parity working committee and we were invited to participate and we are having ongoing conversations with the CMF staff regarding targets and programs.
At WIFTV, we then realized we needed to address the issues with our large private broadcasting companies as well. They were the gatekeepers to CMF funding and do had a great deal of control over key creative decisions etc. We drafted a comprehensive submission, quoting the Broadcasting Act, and flew to Ottawa to look the Commission in the eye. We almost had the energy of zealots. We had right on our side.
Our presentation pointed out that according to the Broadcasting Act, the Canadian broadcasting system should:
The result was that the Commission agreed with us, there are issues with the broadcasters and the programs they commission. We needed these private broadcast companies to be held to account as well.
The Commission has called the broadcasters to a private hearing next month to which they are to bring voluntary measures for improving gender balance in key creative roles in the programming they commission.
Advocates for gender parity in Canada’s screen industries such as we at WIFTV, have moved from being lone voices in the wilderness to part of a growing and powerful alliance advocating for change.
There is also a growing awareness in the industry of the huge risk of complacency and ennui setting in before systemic change can be achieved. Vigilance and a sense of urgency is required.
As we look to the future, we need to remember that gender parity in our industry is everyone’s responsibility. Women did not create this problem, we can’t be the only ones fighting for a solution.
We need everyone in our industry to strive for excellence through developing a wider talent pool and more diverse storytelling in a more equitable and inclusive environment.
And at WIFTV we are committed to expanding our efforts to work toward:
We are proud to have been one of the most active women’s groups in the country championing for gender equity within the Canadian funding and broadcasting systems and we look forward to the next chapter of this important movement.
Shift is happening and it’s positive but so much more to be done to get to the root of the problem.