Ellen Page, who just premiered her feature film directorial debut “There’s Something in the Water” at the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival, said she would be “thrilled” to only play queer roles from now on, explaining that she’s been asked several times whether she might be typecast since coming out as gay five years ago.
“The (one) thing I get a lot is, ‘Are you worried about being typecast about playing queer?’ Because that’s what I play mostly,” she said at TheWrap’s Power Women Toronto panel Monday night at the Thompson Hotel with fellow directors Kasi Lemmons (“Harriet”) and Halina Reijn (“Instinct”). “You would never ask a heterosexual actress that, as being typecast as straight. Why would I not want to play those roles? Quite frankly, I would be thrilled if it’s every role I ever played again!”
Page, whose documentary focuses on the injuries caused by environmental racism inflicted on the communities in her home province in Canada, continued: “I came out when I was 27 years old. Like, what? I wasn’t talking about who I was and being my authentic self because I was an actress in Hollywood.. That’s absurd — We need to look at these things as absurd! Since I’ve been out — not that it should matter — the things that have been said to me that would be seen as progressive is really appalling to me.”
The panel, moderated by TheWrap founder and Editor in Chief Sharon Waxman, also discussed the challenges for female filmmakers at the festival — where a record 36% of this year’s films, including shorts, were directed by women this year, up from 35% a year ago.
“I do think the landscape has changed, but I’ve been optimistic before where I thought we were on the brink of change and it hasn’t happened,” said Lemmons, who came to Toronto with her directorial debut, “Eve’s Bayou,” in 1997. “The statistic you mentioned, that’s progress we can see and feel. It’s really great and I’m thrilled to be working in this new world that I do believe we’re in which is much more inclusive and still has a long way to go, but it feels like it’s headed in the right direction.”
Lemmons also described how the timing is right for “Harriet,” which is about American abolitionist and political activist Harriet Tubman: “I do think it’s a moment in time where we can deal with a black female protagonist in a period drama. A real hero. A superhero.”
Reijn’s “Instinct,” which was shot for €1 million in just 23 days, is another fact-based film, starring Carice Van Houten as a psychologist who falls in love with one of her patients, who was admitted to her care as a serial rapist. The film has received some backlash from men, she said, but she regards the project as an abstract story about sexuality and power — there is no female nudity in her film, while the men are naked.
“I understand it’s really provocative, but I didn’t mean to provoke,” she said. “It’s about my real struggle with intimacy, my struggle with who I am as a woman. We don’t know anything about ourselves, and there’s still a long way to go, and if you want to explore female identity, you need to have the courage to look at what you don’t want to look at, and the shame. And if you want to divide the people into the good and evil, that’s very dangerous.”
The Dutch actress-turned-filmmaker said she has received negative reactions from people who are afraid of the subject matter in light of the #MeToo movement. But as an artist, she feels it’s important to make these films to promote conversation and discussion about topics that are in a gray area.
“An artist should always look at the gray areas,” she said. “It’s not just about telling Disney stories about good and evil.”
Lemmons agreed: “We have to explore the gray areas because that’s where most people exist,” adding that her experience working on “Harriet” “enriched” her life.
“It was an incredible journey to go on,” Lemmons said. “I don’t think I’ve ever done anything quite like it in my life… It’s not that she wasn’t afraid, it’s that her courage overcame her fear. That’s a message for our time… life is very frightening right now.”
About “Instinct,” Reijn said: “When you make something like a movie, there are angels’ and demons’ choices, and what I learned is that it boils down to is, what is your intention? I always go back and think, ‘What is my intention?’ and it was to bring to light the things I’m ashamed of, the things that grow in me in the dark. If you try that, and if you are trying to build up the courage to do that, there is comfort in that and it will connect us all.”
TheWrap’s Power Women events are dedicated to bringing prominent women across numerous industries together to network and discuss topics related to women’s equality and empowerment.