Reporting from the Outside

I am not good at geography or statistics.

Looking at a map or a graph or “STATS” to tell me where things are or what things are or how things are does not make sense to my brain. I don’t know what kind of learner that makes me but I think more than anything it shows me that unless I can see something for myself, experience something for myself…it just doesn’t compute.

Like, I couldn’t really tell how far Japan was from Canada until I got on a flight there. A really long flight. Back when you could smoke on airplanes.  So, unless I can experience something…it can be challenging for me to fully understand it.

Which brings me to this blog post.

A little background…I have recently (in the past 12 months) become involved with the Women’s Committee at my actor’s union UBCP. As part of this commitment I have been taking a look at gender and gender-bias in my field. This blog reflects my own attitudes, opinions, and experience and not that of the committee. Though I hope they would give me their support.

My role is not to make any judgements on gender-bias as it exists in screen based media. And I am not to do anything to “force” the industry to change…but just to take a look. And if something seems or appears to be gender-biased then to have a conversation about it.  Just start talking about it and ask some questions and then see where that goes.

As someone who is GOAL ORIENTED the idea of talking about something to just talk about it without any measurable outcome is, well, NEW(S) TO ME. I did not come up with the idea to start looking at gender-bias in screen-based media. If it was up to only me I would still be living in my world that believed that we are all equal in Canada and that we all have access to the same opportunities.

Before I get attacked for not looking at ALL of the biases in Canada and the world…please know that given the specific work of this specific committee this is what I was looking at. It is what I am continuing to look at. There are a lot of battles to fight and gender-bias is one part of the committee’s work but it is not the only battle, challenge, area for growth.

So here is my little story. My own STATISTIC, if you will.

On July 1st (Canada Day) I went online to look up showtimes for the film THE HEAT. A buddy cop movie with two women as the leads. Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy.  In my opinion, this film could be considered a breakthrough in mainstream film making because mostly all buddy cop movies that I have found are Male/Male (and in two cases Male/Dog).

I do not know if they were Male dogs.

So…I am looking for showtimes for The Heat at Scotiabank Theatres in Vancouver and The Heat was not playing there. Fine. Not all theatres have to show all movies. However, as I scrolled down to see what else was playing I started looking past the titles to the posters for each film.

There were men on the posters, but no women.


I scrolled through the list of 7 movies and out of the 7 movies listed and the 7 posters there was a total of 13men and 0 women. Let me write that again 13 men and 0 women.

And something clicked.

I understood in that moment something that I had felt in my bones, my heart, my spirit…something that I could never really put into words.

Even though I am trying. 

I understood why I do not know how to visualize (eg. see an image of your clean house and then do the work to get that house clean…unless you have a toddler then all bets are off) myself being a lead in a feature film. Actually, I don’t even visualize myself as a supporting player in a feature film. I have a healthy self image, healthy self esteem, a strong work ethic, and a solid acting resume. There is no good reason that I could not achieve something I set my heart and mind and body to.

Except there is. A reason.

The experience of seeing 7 movie posters with 13 men and zero women damaged me. It made me believe and see and accept that there just isn’t a place for me in mainstream movies. And reflecting back on the experience I have an attitude of grace toward myself and the journey I am on. I now have an attitude of understanding of why visualizing myself in feature films and then working towards what I see, has felt impossible. 

Because gender equality does not, as a whole, exist in my industry. 

In front of the camera and behind it.

And not being able to visualize myself as the lead or supporting lead in a feature is not because I have not tried. Or have not worked. Hard. It is because just 30days ago a movie theatre in my neighbourhood, in a major urban centre in a democratic country in 2013 put into it’s theatres 7 movies that did not appear to include any women as central players. I have a much better understanding of why it has been so hard to see myself on the front lines. 

Speaking from experience, it is really really hard to work towards something that on some days in some places just does not exist.

Looking through the filter of gender-bias…Scotiabank Theatres on July 1, 2013 proclaimed to the city of Vancouver that movies are about men and ONLY men. That seems biased to me.  It is not that we cannot have bias (we are human and imperfect) it is that we work towards “knowing what those biases are, striving to set them aside, and requesting outside perspectives as needed.”

This is my outside perspective. My one stat. Reporting from the outside of the one place I really want to be let into. The Movies.

Please take a look at this report


A few nights ago I attended the opening night of “Ceramics on the Edge 5” with my mother in law Rosella Leslie.

The show celebrates 14 Sunshine Coast Ceramic Artists. The work at the show was broken down into three categories: Innovative, Functional and Functional/Innovative. For example a bowl is functional, a statue of a moose with leaves for antlers is innovative and a sculpture of a tattooed dog that functions as a teapot could be seen as functional/innovative.

After the opening festivities and public critiques, I had the opportunity to speak with the juror of the show Debra Sloan. It can take years for a potter to find their style. And even when they know their style, or their passion, or where they are skilled, it is impossible to predict exactly how a piece will turn out. Once a potter finds what works for them they can start to reproduce with some consistency. They can figure out what tools work best for them and add them to their toolkit.

And even then, there are no guarantees.

I told Debra I am an actor.  She explained to me, in her opinion,  the difference between what she does and what I do. As a potter she can hide in her basement and work on, perfect, create, discover her art for years and years if she likes. There is no time limit or time restrictions when you are a potter. Then she can send her work out into the world. In a gallery, into a store, where the work is hopefully bought. After it is bought the work can be given as gifts or put on a shelf or used everyday. Then maybe it gets sold at a garage sale, or a second hand shop, or given away. And maybe it keeps making the rounds.

Unless, of course, it gets broken.

As an actor, she says, your work is much more immediate. The time is always RIGHT NOW. Your work has to work NOW, it has to happen NOW, you have to be the right fit for something NOW. If you have to perform, it has to happen NOW. An actor cannot sit in her basement working on her craft and then send out a finished product. It requires community and collaboration, and engaging in the world. NOW. Acting is a craft that requires a lot of outward input but it also requires a lot of inner work. And a lot of Luck. And then, after all that, an actor can find success. And then, after all that, time is on the actor’s side.

Unless I get broken, I say to Debra.

She laughs. Not at me…but she laughs with the knowledge that, I believe, all artists have…that yes…we do what we do with the understanding that there is a very real possibility that the work could break.  The fire could be too hot, the material too thin, the environment too hostile. We could be dropped, chipped, broken.

And we often are.

There is a style of sculpture creation that requires the sculptor to build the whole piece from a solid block of clay and then cut it apart piece by piece and hollow it out then put it all back together again. Debra expresses just how terrifying this is for the sculptor. They finally get the piece finished and then they have to start slicing it up. And the panic sets in. It will never work. It will never be put back together. It is ruined!! But it is not ruined. It works. It can always (ALWAYS) be put back together.

I can relate.

Some of the work that we do as actors is functional, some innovative and some bridge the two.

Here are a few examples from film:

Functional…think the barista, the mother, the teacher, the lawyer, the news reporter in a film…all these serve a functional role in the film as a whole. The work may not be groundbreaking or earth shattering or Oscar making but it has to function or else the plot doesn’t move forward, the story cannot be told without these functional pieces/actors.

Now think innovative…as in the most dominant quality of the work being artistic expression (story???what story???) Think Jenny McCarthy in Dirty Love or Jim Carrey in pretty much anything.

Then there is the functional innovative. How about Marilyn Monroe in The Misfits or Amy Adams in The Fighter or Meryl Streep in pretty much everything. Service to the story (function) with a high regard for expression of that specific artist (innovation).

It is comforting to know that regardless of the discipline…there is the opportunity for connection and understanding and growth.  I have learned to appreciate and honor and respect that moment when I say words like “UNLESS I GET BROKEN” and I hear the laugh of recognition. The laugh from the artist on the other side of the sculpture/stage/screen/canvas/piano that says I GET IT.