Why TIFF matters

At their core, film festivals are a platform for small, independent film makers

Why TIFF matters

There are approximately 3,000 film festivals every year, with the most renowned being the Sundance, Cannes, Berlinale, Hong Kong International Film Festivals, and of course, our very own Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF).

Every September, the City of Toronto hosts a 10-day event — with a plethora of actors, directors, and writers coming to the festival to discuss their art. Alongside the other international festivals, TIFF provides a platform for the films that do not fulfil the formulaic patterns of American studios like Hollywood.

Over the last 10 years, the cost of producing and promoting films has skyrocketed — meaning that independent creators are reliant on film festivals to exhibit and promote their work.

Film festivals enable artists to share their art without the monetary constraints. However, it is ironic that festivals, by upholding their curatorial responsibilities toward arts and culture, have evolved into a multi-million-dollar industry.

The relationship between large film companies and film festivals is often finely balanced between complementary and uneasy. This is because the lifeline of the festivals is the celebrities who star in the films. The celebrities attract media coverage, which in turn results in sponsors and funding.

This means that the already unstable relationship between art and business — which defines the whole film industry — is particularly strained at film festivals.

Unlike blockbusters — where their success is controlled by funding and release strategies — indie films are largely dependent on the reactions of festival directors, the response of the audience, and how much sleep critics can grab in between the midnight and 8:00 am screenings.

Living in Toronto, we have the privilege of an international film festival right on our doorstep. The festival even occurs before the semester is in full swing, so we truly have an abundance of time to amble along King Street West and enjoy the culture that is the driving force behind one of the world’s leading film festivals.

Time is running out for Harvey Weinstein and his ilk

The producer's recent scandal is representative of an endemic problem in Hollywood

Time is running out for Harvey Weinstein and his ilk

The story sounds like one out of the kind of award-winning film that Harvey Weinstein has been known to put out: a powerful Hollywood executive is brought down by a bombshell article claiming he sexually assaulted and harassed legions of women who had worked with and for him.

Unfortunately for Weinstein, this is not one of his prestigious projects with A-list stars signing on. It is a disturbing, real-life scandal that has turned him, as one of the industry’s most respected moguls, into a media pariah. Ever since a New York Times investigation published on October 5 revealed over three decades of previously undisclosed incidents of Weinstein’s sexual harassment and abuses of power over women, Hollywood has been roiling with fury and disgust. Five days later, The New Yorker published a similar investigation that contained a damning audio recording, captured during a New York Police Department sting operation, of Weinstein admitting to groping model Ambra Battilana Gutierrez.

The 65-year-old producer, known for his fiery temper, has since been fired from his self-named company, which he founded in 2005 with his brother Bob following their departure from formerly Disney-owned Miramax.

The elites of Hollywood, from George Clooney to Angelina Jolie, have been turning their backs against Weinstein, and others have come out with stories of similar encounters. Among his accusers are actresses Gwyneth Paltrow, Ashley Judd, Kate Beckinsale, and Rose McGowan.

McGowan in particular has been blunt about the mogul’s illicit activities. Through her Twitter account, the former Charmed star refused to mince words, claiming that Weinstein raped her at the 1997 Sundance Film Festival. Other allegations made by the dozens of women who have come forward include similar elements: Weinstein demanding the women massage him, watch him shower, or undress him.

The allegations against Weinstein have already triggered accusations against other stars. After Ben Affleck released a statement condemning Weinstein, other women came forward accusing Affleck himself of sexual harassment. Actress Hilarie Burton brought up an incident in which Affleck groped her on a 2003 appearance on MTV’s Total Request Live, while makeup artist Annamarie Tendler accused Affleck of groping her at a 2014 Golden Globes party.

As disturbing as these allegations are in our progressive era, this is only the tip of the iceberg with regard to a trend that has sadly been far too prevalent in the film industry and society in general: the abuse of power that executives, mostly male, can impose on their employees, whether those are movie stars or interns.

Despite these incidents occurring over a period of 30 years, they are only now being revealed to the public. This is not only because Weinstein’s accusers were unable to disclose the incidents at the time, but also because so many enabled him and turned a blind eye to his behaviour, whether it was his former partners at Disney or the numerous stars and filmmakers with whom he developed strong working relationships, such as Affleck and director Quentin Tarantino.

Sadly, this has only enabled Weinstein and others of his ilk to use their authority to control women. They feel invincible thanks to their success, and they feel that nothing can bring them down. Prolific comedy director Judd Apatow agreed in an interview with the  Los Angeles Times that abuse is common in the industry and that many don’t realize this mistreatment immediately. “Young actresses are mistreated in all sorts of ways by powerful men who can dangle jobs or access to exciting parts of show business,” said Apatow. Putting their livelihoods at risk, he explained, is the reason Weinstein has been able to “operate like this for so many decades.”

One of the worst aspects of this scandal is that it has been par for the course in Hollywood since the Golden Age of the studio system in the 1930s and ’40s, when studio moguls such as Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s Louis B Mayer and 20th Century Fox’s Daryl F Zanuck were notorious for giving promising female stars coveted roles in exchange for sex. Marilyn Monroe was once quoted as saying, “I’ve slept with producers… If you didn’t go along, there were 25 girls who would.”

It is disheartening that an industry known for its progressiveness in technology and filmmaking, and one that brings us joy and entertainment, has not changed in terms of its treatment of vulnerable women. Beckinsale is right to call Weinstein “an emblem of a system that is sick.”

In order for there to be a real shift in how women in Hollywood are treated, the circle of silence and denial will need to end. It is not just the victims who will need to be brave and speak out — it is also crucial for those who have stood on the sidelines and enabled this behaviour to come forward and end these abuses of power. To those executives who have committed sins akin to Weinstein’s, I hope you are ready for what’s to come, because your time is running out.

Hollywood must make room for more women of colour on screen

Despite efforts to improve gender representation in sci-fi and fantasy, mainstream media remains overwhelmingly white

Hollywood must make room for more women of colour on screen

From superheroes to elves to dragons, there is ample imagination that goes into the creation of science fiction and fantasy stories. Yet when it comes to envisioning people of colour at the forefront of these stories, it seems that sense of imagination is lacking.

For the first time in its over-50-year history, the upcoming season of popular sci-fi series Doctor Who will feature a female Doctor, the lead character in the show. Nerd women everywhere celebrated the news as an important leap in representation within the sci-fi and fantasy genre — a genre that often excludes women from leading roles. In 2016, for instance, the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film found that only 29 per cent of the top 100 grossing science fiction films in Hollywood featured female protagonists.

It is therefore encouraging that franchises like Doctor Who — as well as films like Atomic Blonde, Mad Max: Fury Road, Wonder Woman, and Ghostbusters — have carved out more space for women to take on starring roles. What’s not so encouraging is the overwhelming proportion of white women featured in the mainstream film and television industry.

Representation of people of colour remains a significant issue for mainstream cinema. As of 2016, 76 per cent of female characters in the top 100 films were white, compared to 14 per cent Black, six per cent Asian, and three per cent Latina.

Representation of marginalized people in the media is important: it can reduce racial bias, and it increases confidence and self-esteem among racial minority audiences. Portraying women of colour in film and television helps to normalize their experiences — and when women and people of colour don’t see themselves on screen, it sends the unfortunate message that their experiences are invalid or not as important as those of white actors, both male and female.

The sidelining of women of colour in favour of white women is nothing new. Historically, feminism has excluded women of colour and prioritized the needs of cisgender, heterosexual white women above everyone else. White feminism — the insidious brand of feminism that favours the needs of white women over those of women of colour and thereby upholds white supremacy — contributes to the push for more inclusion in mainstream media.

To the extent that celebrations of gender diversity in Hollywood predominantly focus on white women, gains made in this area remain mostly superficial. Though Wonder Woman is widely publicized as a groundbreaking feminist movie, it still lacks substantial casting of women of colour. Conceptualizing feminism in such a unidimensional way is reminiscent of Lena Dunham’s Girls, which has received similar praise despite not including women of colour in lead roles.

The infamous controversy about the movie Ghost in the Shell also exemplifies how white feminism can be weaponized against women of colour. Given that the film is based on an original Japanese franchise, it would have made sense to cast a Japanese actress in the starring role. Instead, white actress Scarlett Johansson was hired to play the protagonist, which offended many in light of the general scarcity of Asian actors featured in Hollywood movies.

Fortunately, a number of upcoming sci-fi and fantasy releases seem to be more sensitive to the scarcity of roles for women of colour in Hollywood. In the upcoming Marvel film Black Panther, 90 per cent of the cast is Black, and Black women have been cast in leading roles, making it one of the most diverse movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Women of colour have also been cast in other upcoming movies: Zazie Beetz will play Domino in the Deadpool sequel, and the upcoming movie adaptation of A Wrinkle in Time will feature Mindy Kaling and Oprah Winfrey.

Although increased diversity appears to be on its way to the big screen, more work still needs to be done to ensure women of colour are granted the visibility they deserve. As strides are being made to include women in the sci-fi and fantasy genres, additional attention should be paid to inclusivity for racialized women; having truly diverse casts means being sensitive to racism as well as sexism.

 

Oreoluwa Adara is an incoming second-year student at Innis College studying Political Science and Equity Studies.

 

The art of suppressing art

Hollywood's whitewashing days ought to be left in the past

The art of suppressing art

Socially-conscious Twitter users joined digital strategist William Yu in his online crusade for Asian-American representation in Hollywood. The 25-year-old combined the hashtag #StarringJohnCho with Photoshopped images of the Star Trek actor as the lead in several big budget films, such as The Martian and Spectre.

Shortly afterwards, the hashtag #StarringConstanceWu became popularized, as similar images rose up featuring the Fresh Off the Boat actress as the protagonist in films that had originally cast white female leads.

Critics, artists, and fans alike have commented for years on the inequality of representation in Hollywood. Shows like Friends set all-white casts in diverse cities like New York and have the characters engage with other white characters, practically erasing the existence of people of colour (POC) in these proposed universes. 

 Time and again, stories that rely on the characters textually being of one race or another are put through the Hollywood assembly line and standardized — that is to say, flour-dusted and dyed blonde. 

In other cases, Hollywood bestows the roles of the dutifully sassy, sexy, brainy, or funny friend of the protagonist onto the black, Hispanic, Asian, and Indian acting communities. These characters serve as static stereotypes of their race, acting as the backboard of the multidimensional white protagonist jokes, values, and intricacies. 

Recently, Hollywood’s lens has seemed to turn towards telling stories about POC, without allowing those people to take up space in their own narratives. The examples run from Emma Stone’s portrayal of a Hawaiian and Asian woman in Aloha to casting decisions made in films like Gods of Egypt and The Last Airbender.

Time and again, stories that rely on the characters textually being of one race or another are put through the Hollywood assembly line and standardized — that is to say, flour-dusted and dyed blonde. Rightfully incensed, many supporters of the Asian-American community took to Twitter to support the notion of casting Asian actors more frequently as leads in films.

The rage does not come, as some suggest, from a desire to have everything for everyone and everything all at once. It’s the commonplace annoyance one might feel when a colleague who may or may not work as hard as you is constantly handed the best projects, the most lucrative deals, and the most rewarding opportunities.

To work in Hollywood and be denied the ability to tell compelling, diverse, and interesting stories is a self-inflicted wound in the entertainment industry. As times and people change, certain tropes and standards will have to be pushed aside to make way for the sheer creative genius that lies ahead — which, in many cases, lies in the heads and hearts of POC.

Even so, Hollywood thrives off of romanticizing the past and rejecting change. The advancements made in technology, however, have made this impossible to uphold. Audiences that watch Hollywood films, television shows, and music videos engage with art in ways inconceivable to the world that existed a mere ten years ago.

The narrow frame that Hollywood insists on fitting to every work they produce ostracizes those who do not fit the mould and weakens the foundation on which Hollywood is built.

In 2016, audiences can stream their favourite shows on Netflix while they tweet a Drake meme directly to their favourite athlete. The audience now wields more power than they had previously, and this power can be used to not only address the lack of representation in Hollywood, but to hold that previously unimpeachable body accountable too.

Art should ideally reflect the world and the people in it. Art does not have to be beautiful, elegant, or reminiscent of some past glory in order for it to be meaningful. The narrow frame that Hollywood insists on fitting to every work they produce ostracizes those who do not fit the mold and weakens the foundation on which Hollywood is built.

When people do not see themselves in the images projected on movie theatre screens, they are driven to create. Be it through hashtags, memes, fanfictions, or even their own scripts, audience members wield their own creativity when they are shunned from artistic content that is available.

There is no longer such a thing as an idle audience member; an idea and an internet connection can signal a virtual battalion of like-minded individuals. So, Hollywood had better make room at the dinner table for those they’ve rejected — before the tables turn.

Jenisse Minott is a second-year UTM student studying Communication, Culture, Information, and Technology.