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Feminist in Law

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Darlene Tonelli, founder of Inter Alia law. Photo provided.

Darlene Tonelli founded Inter Alia Law seven years ago. The boutique firm specializes in tech, media and entertainment law. She also co-hosts Lawyer Life Podcast, which explores the personal, political and professional lives of lawyers. We spoke with Tonelli about her journey into law and feminism.

 

LiisBeth: How did you get into law?

I grew up in a small town, and am the first kid in my extended family of many, many, many, people to go to law school or any kind of professional school. I was a figure skater in my youth, which was a good training ground for competition; individual sports helped shape my discipline and sort of going after things that I was interested in doing. I went through political science at the University of Calgary (1994-1998), and most of my work there [was] on feminist issues. I wrote almost every single paper on the looming dangers of pornography to women and the movement. It wasn’t a very popular position at the time, but I certainly wish I had kept working on it because it’s now an epidemic. But it wasn’t clear then what a big thing it was going to become. When I went to law school, I just took a big corporate job to pay off my student debt.

 

LiisBeth: How did you come to create your own law firm?

I did work in a traditional law firm setting for two summers and three years. It wasn’t a structure that made sense to me for the things that I wanted to have in my life. I wanted freedom over my time—I didn’t mind working long hours, but I didn’t want to be in a position where I couldn’t call my own schedule for like 10 to 15 years, which is the model and how it works. I was also lucky to get on a file early on that was really on the wrong side of my principles. Working for a big corporate law firm, I would not be able to honour my own values all the time. You have to work on what you’re given, and that that wasn’t something that I was cool with.

I transitioned through [working] in house at a record label, which I loved. Through that experience, I realized that [I didn’t want to] work for these big organisations where I was just a cog in the wheel. [I wanted] to create my own organisation where I could really shape the culture, the people, the projects that we took on, the approach that we take. So when I started Inter Alia law, I was really just trying to make a law firm that I wanted to work at.

There are now 10 of us, and we focus very much on creating a real sustainable life of authenticity. We focus on giving clients a level of service that comes from empathy and emotional intelligence to get better results for them.

 

LiisBeth: What are some of the gaps in Canadian law that you’re trying to fill?

I think there are a couple of big issues in law, and we’re addressing two of them. One is the cost of legal services, which is very, very high. There are statistics, something like 80 per cent of people who need access to lawyers don’t have it for financial or other reasons, so we try to make our services pretty accessible.

We’re also very affordable in a range of other things, which is facilitated by the type of model we run, which is a low overhead where everyone has a predictable share of revenues. So a normal model is a partnership where you buy in and you get to work your way up the ranks, and the higher up you are, the more business you bring in, the more money you make. We definitely reward in our model; for example, high performance is something that’s rewarded, but we don’t set it up so that, if you’re not a partner, the way you make money is by oppressing other people. That’s a very standard feature of the current legal landscape.

The second thing is we’re very focused on taking an educational approach with our clients. So, we don’t talk to them like they don’t know what they’re doing and we’re the gurus; we talk to them about what their needs are, what they would like to see out of a situation. And we try to get to know them as people, to help them get a better result that actually fits with what they need. We’re sensitive to what they need in a way that I think is increasingly important, but I don’t think is yet the norm.

 

LiisBeth: How do you embed feminist practices in the work you’re doing?

I would say it’s not been by design, it’s been more by accident. We don’t, for example, define ourselves as a feminist law firm. We are five men, five women, very gender balanced. But I would say we have real allies on the team for feminism, who really support a different way of doing things and understand the challenges that we experience.

And as far as influences, just to give a little bit of a shout out to some of the stuff that LiisBeth publisher PK Mutch and feminist author CV Harquail are doing, in educating women about being part of a bigger ecosystem of entrepreneurs. I built Inter Alia on my own and then I encountered CV and PK maybe a year ago and I thought, ‘Oh, [Inter Alia] is a feminist business.’ I didn’t realize that prior to meeting them. I think there are a lot of us out here doing what we do, just understanding that things are still quite oppressive in the workforce for a lot of people. And I think that the women who are building businesses from scratch are taking a really different approach—it might not be the one that you read about a lot in the press, but we’re out here.

I also think the general feedback that you get from people in traditional business models is that feminist business is not about profit maximizing. My answer is that feminist business is profitable, but not to the exclusion of people. I don’t want to make my profit by hurting other people, and I think that a lot of women share that approach.

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Has Feminist Organizing Stalled?

Firebrand author Nora Loreto thinks feminism needs to get its act together, that is, in terms of bringing various strands of thought and action into a coordinated organization to advance the cause.

The author of Take Back the Fight: Organizing Feminism for the Digital Age (Fernwood Publishing, 2020) made the argument as a featured guest in November 2020, on The Fine Print, a conversation series with contemporary feminist authors hosted by Lana Pesch in the Feminist Enterprise Commons (FEC).

She writes in her book that “a new feminist movement” needs locations to debate new definitions and theories of feminism in good faith “to correct historical wrongs of mainstream feminism” and “create consensus that can move a diverse movement composed of many different parts towards the same direction.”

During the show, she said that various groups of feminists in Canada and around the globe are working for change and creating knowledge, but that fight is splintered. People are working in silos. Loreto argues that we need to come together to build an inclusive movement that has strength in numbers.

“Just as many feminists are doing, confronting white supremacy within feminist thinking and action is the greatest challenge that a new feminist movement must take on,” Loreto wrote. “We need a space and a structure to help navigate these debates that isn’t simply through social media or the academy.”

She argues that feminists need a place to meet and debate in good faith, find common ground, listen to and show compassion for each other. Such spaces allow activists to develop ideas, sharpen arguments and emerge strong as leaders.

Take Back the Fight is part history lesson and part handbook. Loreto uses feminism as an action verb. The book cites examples of what feminism once was, where is it now, and what it could be. Rabble.ca calls it “mandatory reading for young feminists in Canada”.

Loreto doesn’t claim to have the answers or a solution, but she presents scenarios that require collective debate and discussion. She credits the immigrant labour movement as a source of inspiration of a model that is working. The Migrant Workers Alliance for Change is a collective of disparate workers who share values and are working together for fairness and change. Black Lives Matter, climate justice activists, and Indigenous Land Defender movements like Tiny House Warriors are also groups to watch and learn from.

Read an excerpt from Take Back The Fight: Organizing Feminism for the Digital Age (Fernwood Publishing, 2020) © Nora Loreto 2020 

The Fine Print is hosted and produced by Lana Pesch in the Feminist Enterprise Commons.

For unfiltered political views and commentary, check out Nora and Sandy Talk Politics podcast. Nora discusses pressing issues of our time with Sandy Hudson. They dig deep and swear often, and tackle topics in a way you won’t hear anywhere else.

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Activism & Action

Goodbye Trump. Now what?

Photo by Jon Tyson via Unsplash.

 

Note: At the time of writing this, Trump refuses to accept the results of the US general election. This essay explores the potential and pitfalls of a Biden/Harris Administration.

A reprieve is not a victory.

It’s a pause in the onslaught. It’s a time to catch your breath, gather the wounded and get them to healers, mourn the dead . . . but all the while keeping an eye on the horizon, knowing that the struggle continues.

U.S. feminists have been waging an uphill battle for four years. Halting the backward slide caused by Trump’s bombardment is not insignificant, but it’s not the same as making it to the top of the hill. Even with the Biden-Harris win, we’re still mired in the muck of a slippery slope with an arduous scrabble ahead of us. Trump may not be able to shove us backwards with the full weight of the Oval Office on his side, but we can’t just kick back and lift champagne flutes to shattered glass ceilings. We must still push against the weight of the crises Trump has escalated: climate, pandemic, racism, misogyny, fascism, and economic collapse.

A reprieve is not a victory.

Feminists in the United States are holding a lot of complex and even contradictory emotional responses to the elections. As we should. Our ability to articulate complexity and nuance, especially in such a polarized world, is a strength of feminism. We advance feminism’s non-binary, non-dominator values when we take the time to speak, think, and feel beyond simple sound bites. We embody feminism when we’re able/willing to hold multiple truths and beyond the duality structures of victor/loser or optimistic/pessimistic. We can feel both jubilant that the Orange Menace lost the popular vote and furious that it was a close race at all. We can feel both cautiously hopeful and cynically underwhelmed by the concept of a Biden/Harris administration. We can appreciate that Harris shattered a glass ceiling while also recognizing that non-feminist policies advanced by a female body – or any body – are still not feminist. We can feel both relieved and worried. We can feel let down and uplifted. We can feel frustrated by politics-as-usual and renewed in our commitment to making change. We can feel all of these things and so much more. Feminism is not an either/or equation.

Rivera Sun, Rivera Sun is a change-maker, a cultural creative, and novelist, and an advocate for nonviolence and social justice.

The 2020 Elections reflected this complexity. They delivered a mixture of the good, the bad, and the downright ugly.

Let’s start with the good: The Squad is back and stronger than ever. If there are any politicians aligned with feminist values and policy, it’s the infamous Squad. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez reminded everyone: progressive platforms are winning platforms. Every candidate who backed Medicare For All won their race. All but one of the many candidates who endorsed the Green New Deal was elected to office. Fight For $15 won a number of campaigns to increase the minimum wage. Georgia’s Stacey Abrams tireless work to increase voter registration helped shift Georgia to a swing state. (It’s amazing what’s happens when we stop disenfranchising BIPOC, poor, and marginalized voters.) The Cheyenne Nation elected an all-female government for the first time. New Mexico is sending an all-women-of-color team to the US House of Representatives. Los Angeles County elected an all-female board of county commissioners. LA scored another feminist victory, Measure J, which defunds militarized police (an outgrowth of the racist patriarchy) by funding social services (a policy squarely in-line with feminist values). The Rainbow Wave sent a number of LGBTQIA candidates to public offices. Orange County, Florida, can celebrate one of the most overlooked and impressive feminist achievements: recognizing the Rights of Nature for all of their many waterways. It is crucial to recognize the role of BIPOC women in achieving all of these successes.

The bad news? Biden and Harris are behind the curve of these progressive victories. Given their track records, we know that meaningful change won’t come naturally from the Biden/Harris White House. One of the core challenges of the next four years will be pushing the federal agenda to reflect the solutionary policy proposals being advanced by BIPOC organizers, youth leaders, intergenerational movements, and women. Margaret Flowers, editor of Popular Resistance, points out, “Change doesn’t come from the top, especially within a manipulated ‘democracy’ as exists in the United States. When social transformation occurs, it follows years of educating, organizing and mobilizing at the grassroots. Elected leaders who represent that transformation ride on a wave created by social movements, not the other way around.”

As for the ugly: We know that defeating Trump is not the same thing as defeating Trumpism. And “Trumpism” is just the latest code word to describe racist, sexist, misogynistic, domination-based worldviews that eschew facts and science in order to narcissistically continue their oppression of everyone else. The exit poll statistic that angered and depressed so many feminists was that the majority of white women voted for Trump — representing at least a two-point increase for this demographic since 2016.

Kaylen Ralph said in a recent Teen Vogue article: “If internalized sexism was to blame for white women’s choice in 2016, how to explain 2020, an election in which voters had the choice between two demographically identical old white men? As a voting bloc, white women seemingly doubled down in their support of Trump, opting to align themselves against science, reproductive rights, diplomacy, and economic solvency in support of the spoils they (we?) reap as secondary benefactors of white privilege.”

Dealing with the entwined problems of white supremacy and sexism will be a crucial task for feminists in the coming years (particularly for those who are white). Dismantling the toxic privileges that white women claim through supporting politicians like Trump will take strategy, skillfulness, and focus. But what’s at stake is our collective futures. Many warn that the next fascist white supremacist candidate will be far more dangerous than Donald Trump.

So, we’ve won a reprieve, nothing more. And a reprieve is not a victory.

If we want victories, we’re going to have to take a deep breath, survey the terrain ahead, and boldly push for the change we desperately need. To do this, feminists in the United States could look beyond our borders to feminists advancing causes in powerful ways around the world. Jacinda Ardern of New Zealand won re-election in a landslide, largely because her feminist policies have protected her country from the ravages of COVID-19. In Turkey, the women rose up en masse and stopped the “family values” misogynists from dismantling protections against domestic violence. In Poland, women filled the streets to rebel against attempts to ban abortion. In Chile, the movement that won a gender-equal, citizen-driven process to craft a new constitution did so with the rallying cry, “Never again without women!”

With the Biden/Harris administration, US feminists face a chance to shift gears – not to stop the fight — but to reach with one hand into another toolbox. We can fight, yes, but we can also heal, cultivate, nurture, build, repair, restore, create, and much more. Our diverse capacities have given us the resilience, throughout millennia, to challenge and undo patriarchal injustice. More than ever, we need to utilize these capacities to push forward for meaningful change. Our complexity is our strength. Our ability to work with nuances instead of broad brush strokes is a superpower. The next few years require us to use the many tools at our disposal to ensure that feminist policy and practices are implemented in political policy – and everywhere in our society.

No, a reprieve is not a victory, but it gives us a chance to breathe, strategize, look beyond the immediate, and rise up for change in bold, unexpected, brilliant, and powerful ways.

 

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LiisBeth Playlist #11: ELECTION DAY USA

Need a break from sitting or the news?  We thought you might. So we asked Sue Dunham (ey/em), a writer, musician, and activist who lives in the Midwest to pull together a 10 song playlist that will get you fired up, moving and by the end, hopeful no matter what happens.

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The Complexities of Kinship, Feminism, and Marriage

In September, LiisBeth associate editor Lana Pesch launched The Fine Print: a one-hour, author conversation series in the Feminist Enterprise Commons (FEC). The Fine Print explores the author’s process, purpose and what it means to be a changemaking writer.

In the first episode, Pesch spoke with social worker, activist, and writer Farzana Doctor about her new book Seven—an award-winning novel that explores the tensions between modern and traditional customs, specifically the ritual of khatna (female genital cutting).

Watch our favourite moments from the conversation in this YouTube compilation.


Publisher’s Note: Interested in watching the entire conversation? Easy. Just join the Feminist Enterprise Commons here. Annual fee is $149 USD.  In January, February, and March, The Fine Print will be in conversation with scholar, writer and musician, Leanne Betasamosake Simpson about her latest book, Noopiming: The Cure for White Ladies; author, speaker, and activist, Jael Richardson about her new novel, Gutter Child; and Shaena Lambert, author of Petra.

 

 

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LiisBeth Playlist #11: ELECTION DAY USA

Playlist features 10 bands/musicians including Skunk Anansie, Carolina Chocolate Drops, Jhené Aiko and more…

Happy election day, everyone! Whether you were an early voter or promised yourself that you’d be at the polls today, chances are that you’re feeling some pins and needles right about now. In that spirit, we have crafted a playlist to help get you through one of the most important elections of our lifetimes. Here’s hoping that this playlist will ease your stress, get you through that shift at your local poll station, and remind you that regardless of who wins this round, we’ve got more work to do. Political World – Carolina Chocolate Drops If the prospect of waking up is feeling a little heavy and you need some encouragement to get your butt out of bed, treat yourself to this Carolina Chocolate Drops cover of a Bob Dylan classic. This blue-grassy anthem, underscored with an energetic beat box, is almost as good as caffeine and is sure to help you get this day started. The lyrics are 30 years old, but the vibe is as fresh as ever. Yes, It’s Fucking Political – Skunk Anasie Now that we’re all awake and ready to face the reality of the day, let’s enjoy a heaping earful of Skunk Anasie and remind ourselves that, yes, everything is political. If you find yourself in the middle of a conversation with one of your moderate or apolitical friends today, offer them this slice of 90s grunge and remind them that the only people who can be apolitical are those who aren’t on the wrong end of institutional prejudice. Mask, Gloves, Soap, Scrubs – Todrick Hall hey! Where do you think you’re going? We’re still in the middle of a pandemic here, so we’re going to need you to mask up before you get on with your day. Whether you’re voting, working at your local poll station, or getting in one last round of door-knocking – if you’re out and about jam along with Todrick Hall. This song is a mostly whimsical throwback to what was on our minds at the beginning of the pandemic – and it’s just the boost you’re going to need to walk out the door this morning. And wash up when you get back. <3 My Vote Will Count – YelloPain, Sevyn Streeter YelloPain has reworked his pessimistically titled “My Vote Don’t Count” from earlier this year, renaming it “My Vote Will Count” and adding a stunning vocal feature from Sevyn Streeter. The new track is an abbreviated version of its predecessor, but still has the same basic thesis: vote in every election. YelloPain explains the three branches of the US government and their corresponding responsibilities, explaining the importance of the legislative and judicial branches with relevant, accessible examples. Give it a couple listens and congratulate yourself for researching every seat that was up for elections this year. Vote – Jhené Aiko This chill track is exactly what you are going to want buzzing in your earbuds while you fill out your ballot. You don’t need me to overhype this one. Just get to the ballot. Fill out the ballot. And focus on your vote. Carry Something – Tawny Newsome, Bethany Thomas, feat. Ted Leo As you leave the polls, think about the rest of your day. Do you know anyone who needs a ride to a polling station? Is there a friend stressing about the election who could use a friendly facetime? What can you do to help? While you ponder this question, treat yourself to “Carry Something”. This delightfully literal song is half lo-fi lullaby and half face-melting guitar solo. Equal parts earnest and comedic, this is exactly the palette cleanser you need to get on with your 2020. Americans – Janelle Monae Whether you’re new to the social justice bandwagon or you have been driving this baby around the block for as long as you can remember, take this opportunity to sing along with “Americans”, arguably one of Janelle Monae’s best tracks. Energetic, poppy, and optimistic, Monae lays out the American Catch-22: we love this place and we feel privileged to be Americans, but gosh darn it, this country has a shameful legacy of violence, prejudice, and hatred. Luckily, most of us have agreed that there is no greater patriotism than choosing to stick around and make our country better. We’ll defend our land. La Canción Es Protesta – Yorka Yorka’s bare-bones duet, written in response to the Chilean protests in 2019, is as chilling as it is gorgeous. Lyrically, it is dark and specific, but it also reminds the listener that art is a powerful form of protest. If you’re feeling it, let yourself be artistic today. Remember that you can use your art to call attention to important ideas, to unite like-minded people, or just as a measure of self-care. Even during times as scary as these, our art can be the light that soothes, unites, and inspires us. March March – The Chicks This slow burn of a song is for those of you who are fighting the good fight on your own. Maybe you’re the one person in your town who protested on behalf of black lives, maybe you’re the only house on your block with a Pride flag, or maybe you’re the lone voice at city council meetings demanding that the ICE facility in your town reunite children with their parents. Whatever your battle, and however lonely you feel, let this be your anthem. Brought to us from a group that survived losing everything after speaking truth to power, this percussive, folksy song is a reminder that we can keep marching even when the road is lonely. Revolution Lover – Left at London We did it, fam. The day is over. We exercised our democratic right to vote, we lent a helping hand, we made some art and – goshdarnit – we did it all with ours masks on. Sing yourself out alongside Left at London and remind yourself that no matter how hopeless you’ve been feeling, we’re going to make it out of this one alive. Talk to someone you love or someone who’s been working on the revolution alongside you and let them know how much you appreciate them. And then maybe unplug for the night and spend a little quality time with your revolution lover. Thanks for rocking out alongside us for this election. Let us know what songs you would add in the comments section below. If you were inspired to make any art along the way, we’d love to see it!


Enjoy this list on Spotify here:

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The Telling Stories of Babe Nation

Lindsay Tapscott, left, and Katie Bird Nolan founded female-driven production company Babe Nation six years ago (Photo: Talia Ricci/CBC)

 

INTERIOR. Emily and Lola clothing shop. Montreal. Summer, 2010.


LINDSAY TAPSCOTT (28), an unemployed University of Toronto English literature grad who recently moved to Montreal on a whim, enters the shop to drop off her CV. She is about to depart when the store clerk, KATIE BIRD NOLAN (21), aspiring actor working part-time to pay rent, calls after her: “Wait a sec, is your dad’s name John?” 

Lindsay turns around nodding, and the moment becomes more surreal as Katie announces that her mom is Ingrid Bird, the woman who spent years travelling through Europe with Lindsay’s father, John Tapscott.

CUT TO:

EXTERIOR. Six months later. Balcony of a Mile End apartment in Montreal. 1:30 a.m.
A group of 20-something women are drinking wine, laughing, getting to know each other. Lindsay has moved in with two of Katie’s friends who needed a roommate. Lindsay and Katie discover they both went to theatre school, like the same movies. They laugh about their fluke encounter, as if they were kindred spirits brought together by the magic of Montreal. They joke about growing up listening to stories about each other’s parent, their travel adventures together. Three decades later, John and Ingrid have lost touch so it’s a fun surprise when Lindsay and Katie announce their chance encounter. Both parents insist they had a platonic relationship all those years ago.
Katie: “Can you imagine if we were long lost sisters?”
Lindsay: “Ha! Sounds like something out of a film.”

Is That How Film Companies Launch?

INTERIOR. Next day.
Katie excitedly types on her laptop. She immediately calls Lindsay: “I have a ridiculous idea for a web series. Do you want to write it with me?”
Lindsay, without missing a beat: “Sure. How hard can it be?”

FAST FORWARD three years to 2013. Katie and Lindsay are sharing an apartment in Toronto, dubbed “babe nation” by Katie’s boyfriend. They are writing and making short films on microbudgets of $2,500 or less, either crowdfunded or paid for out of pocket. They try out Babe Nation as the name for their fledgling film company as a semi-joke. But the more they use it, the better it sounds.

Babe Nation: It’s about their deep connection and friendship, their feminist values and work ethic, their off-beat sense of humour, and also their raison d’etre: to focus on women-centred stories and hack away at the disproportionate opportunities that flow to men in the male-dominated industry.

When actor Vanessa Matsui came to them looking for producers for her web series, Ghost BFF, they jumped on board. The tone and subject matter suited Babe Nation: a dark comedy about female friendship and suicide. They learned to raise “real money” by nailing the “Canadian film financing model” — a combination of government funding from places such as Telefilm Canada, Ontario Creates, and often tax credits, presales, grants, and advances. The budget for season one — nearly $250,000 — enabled multi-day shoots, higher production values and a hit show. The budget for season two of the series tripled, with funding coming in from the Bell Fund, Canadian Media Fund (CMF), and a sale to Shaftsbury Films and KindaTV.

Perfectionists by nature, Katie and Lindsay took the first few years to establish their brand and understand the types of stories they wanted to tell. Influences include author Zadie Smith and producers Christine Vachon and Margot Robbie. Katie describes their “brand” stories as “slightly left of centre but with a really strong statement.” Rather than sexy sleepover movies with girls in bikini lingerie, they produce stories for an intelligent female audience. Subject matter includes loss, depression, and belonging. Characters are three-dimensional — both strong and fallible, vulnerable and ballsy, sometimes despicable yet relatable. They are smart and funny, much like the producers. “For us it’s about attaching ourselves to projects that depict female stories the way women want to be depicted, not the way men have been depicting them forever.”

They also learned to trust the “weird particles” that surround their projects, the same energy that brought them together in the first place. And they established one abiding ground rule when choosing projects: Both must love the project to the point of obsession. “Producing is so hard,” says Katie. If you’re not obsessed with the thing, why would you do it?”

How to Fight Sexism in Show Biz?

CUT TO: CLOSE UP: Women in View On Screen 2019 Report. Analyzed data of funded projects finds, surprise, that the way to get more women in film and TV is to support more women producers.  Calling it “The Producer Effect,” the report shows that a producer’s identity impacts who gets hired on a project. Women producers worked with more women on their team; women of colour producers worked with more women of colour; Indigenous producers worked with a far greater percentage of Indigenous women; men producers worked with more men. And male-produced projects received more funding.

Icky insider sexism sheds light on the impact of those stats on women.

Alanna Francis, Sophie Nélisse, Katie Bird Nolan, Aisling Chin-Yee,Heather Graham, Lindsay Tapscott, Jodi Balfour

INTERIOR. 2019. Berlin International Film Festival.

A large conference area bustling with industry types in stylish glasses, fashionable shoes, and egos that struggle to fit through the door.

CUT TO: Private meeting room.
The Babe Nation producers meet with an international SALES AGENT (55), bald, white, male. He stares at Katie’s chest the entire meeting. “I’m normally not interested in Canadian producers but you two look very exciting,” says the agent, his voice dripping with condescension.

Katie fakes a smile. Lindsay tries to tell the agent about their film. The guy cuts her off, his eyes now on Lindsay’s bright red lipstick: “Young ladies like you can have a very bright future you know.”
Lindsay tries to continue her pitch but the guy interrupts her again: “I mean look at you. This is Berlin! This is the big league!”
The two women read each other’s energy: Time to cut this short. “You’re right,” Katie says as they stand up to leave. “And we’re going to see more of the market now, thank you very much.”

CUT TO: INTERIOR. Meeting room. Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), 2019.
Babe Nation has booked a meeting with another sales agent – also white, middle-aged, male. He’s running seriously late.
Katie paces the room: “We could have had another entire meeting with someone else by now.”
Lindsay sighs: “Maybe two! One for each of our films in this festival!”

Finally, a SLICK DUDE IN BLUE JEANS saunters in. He wears a smarmy grin and a shirt unbuttoned at the neck, one button too low. “Well, hello there,” he coos, sliding his glasses to the end of his nose. “Babe Nation, isn’t it?”

This time, the women don’t waste another minute. “Correct,” Katie says, “and we need to be somewhere else.”

CLOSE UP: Gender Parity Action Plan, announced by Telefilm Canada, 2016. Babe Nation seizes opportunity. They enter the industry on a wave of increasing support for women. The Telefilm plan aims to “prioritize projects whose key creatives (director and/or writer and/or producer) reflect the diversity of the country in terms of gender, Indigenous communities or cultural diversity.” Results of its gender parity initiatives for projects funded during the 2019/2020 fiscal year show an increase in funding for projects with women in key roles.

Babe Nation, through their own hustle and networking, sought out incredible mentors in seasoned pros Damon D’Oliveira and Christina Piovesan, who introduced them to financers and became executive producers for their two features, The Rest of Us and White Lie.

How to Level the Playing Field For All?

CLOSE UP: Reelworld Film Festival and Reelworld Screen Institute Changing the Narrative Report: 2020 Status of Canadian Black, Indigenous and People of Colour in Canada’s Screen-Based Production Section. The report suggests a disproportionate amount of funding goes to white creators, while BIPOC creators receive smaller amounts targeted at emerging talent. A lack of BIPOC professionals on selection committees for funding decisions is cited as one reason for the disparity.

Babe Nation took note, recognizing their own white privilege. While they have worked with a number of women of colour, the relationships were unplanned and coincidental. Says Lindsay: “When there’s a sense we’re not doing enough from a creator standpoint we push ourselves further to do more.” They signed the producer pledge to take immediate action to acknowledge and dismantle systemic racism in the Canadian film and television industry, by committing to radical change. For example, when considering a project now, Babe Nation has committed to thinking more critically about the storyteller. Women always take first priority, but they’re now diving deeper and asking, is this someone we haven’t heard from before? Is this a BIPOC artist who is short on opportunities, or a younger woman without a lot of experience? In terms of paying it forward, they are currently mentoring two young producers working on their first feature.

The Feminist Future: Exhausting? Exhilarating?

From L to R: Heather Graham, Alanna Francis, Aisling Chin-Yee, Katie Bird Nolan, Sophie Nélisse, Daniel Grant, Abigail Pniowsky, Jodi Balfour // Photo supplied by Babe Nation

This year marks Babe Nation’s fifth as an incorporated company with substantial successes: two seasons of a major web series, two films at TIFF, two projects in advanced development, and four others in the works, including an adaptation of Bonjour Tristesse, Françoise Sagan’s 1950s controversial novel (it took three years to secure the rights) with Durga Chew-Bose writing the screenplay; and a feature by writer Alanna Francis about coercive abuse within female friendships.

So how are they handling the success? “Little sleep and a lot of anxiety,” Lindsay jokes. They are eager to hire more people, such as a junior producer and a business affairs person, but aren’t quite there, financially. A near goal is to score a studio deal so they can spend more time and energy in creative development instead of crunching numbers.

While the pair never set out to create a feminist company, they believe they grew into one as an extension of their own personal values. For writers and crewing a production, women are their first choice and often become lifelong friends and collaborators. To them, feminism is about equality, working collectively, and providing opportunities for people to voice their opinions in the creative development process. “We hear from the people we work with that our sets are an anomaly, which is equally lovely and horrifying,” says Lindsay.

Keeping their brand feminist-focused requires hands-on involvement in everything: chasing after scripts, optioning material, working on creative development with writers and directors, securing financing, marketing, and meeting with agents to sell their projects. “Our brand is as strong as it is because it is the two of us that have our hand in everything,” says Katie.

Still, their company name has raised eyebrows. How can Babe Nation be a feminist label? To the producers, the name is bold, tongue-in-cheek, even intimidating, invoking a place — a nation — where strong women unite, encourage and support each other. A place where women create generative work together, and tell stories that have gone untold for too long. But do they really want to be called Babe Nation when they’re 75 years old?

The two picture the scene, roaring with laughter.

FLASH FORWARD:

INTERIOR. Cannes Film Festival. 2060.
Katie and Lindsay stand in the wings of a glittering silver stage. They lean on their walkers as they sip champagne. The ANNOUNCER says, “And now, please welcome, the recipient of this year’s lifetime achievement award for change making cinema, Babe Nation!”
Lindsay peers at their company name, in big lights. “Did you really imagine we’d get here?”
Katie pushes a grey lock from her face. “Yes, of course.” Lindsay releases the brakes on her walker. “Me too.”


Publishers Note:  Babe Nation is a participant in Canada’s first feminist accelerator program for womxn in digital media, Fifth Wave Labs. The Fifth Wave is a year-round program offered by CFC Media Lab and its partners to support the growth and development of women entrepreneurs in the digital media sector in southern Ontario. All enterprise founders in the Fifth Wave community are selected for both their potential and commitment toward weaving intersectional feminist ideals of equity and fairness into sustainable and scalable business growth strategies. Fifth Wave Initiative is committed to 30% participation by members of underrepresented groups. The Fifth Wave is a LiisBeth Media partner. 


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Related Reading:

Moving Pictures: What We Learned from Women Filmmakers at TIFF 2019

The Power of Two

The Wages of Tenacity