Canada's feminists get face time in NFB film

March 8, 2013

Canada's feminist movement is explored in a dramatic and comprehensive treatment in the National Film Board's latest offering Status Quo? The unfinished business of feminism in Canada.

"It affected women across all different races and classes. Feminism changed the landscape of our country."

Weaving archival material with present-day stories, Montreal director Karen Cho uses the documentary format to explore the consequences of the movement and its reverberations on contemporary issues. Status Quo? screens online for free from Friday — International Women's Day — through Sunday on

"It's like opening a Pandora's Box," Cho told CBC News. "I really connected to the stuff I was researching and finding out. We're in the process of regressing."

Status Quo? focuses on key concerns that were raised 45 years ago: universal childcare, violence against women and access to abortion. The documentary juxtaposes two events: the 1967 landmark Royal Commission on the Status of Women and the present-day RebELLEs movement in Quebec.

Cho says she didn't want the film to be about "a bunch of angry women" — an image of the feminist movement she admits she grew up with. "But you know," she added, "women have a lot to be angry about!"

In the film, these primary concerns from the past are brought into present-day with a variety of contemporary scenes: a support group for abused women, a vigil for 500 murdered or missing Aboriginal women, and women sharing their personal stories at the Morgentaler Clinic in Fredericton.

"The fact is that in 2012 in Canada, women in New Brunswick can't get an abortion,"said the 34-year-old filmmaker.

"In 2012, most of the abuse shelters across the country are full and overflowing."

Cho, whose 2004 NFB documentary In the Shadow of Gold Mountain examined the legacy of the Chinese Head Tax and Exclusion Act, said she wanted to take on the task of making Status Quo? because of how "prolific" the women's movement was.

"It affected women across all different races and classes. Feminism changed the landscape of our country."

'The personal is political'

When delving into feminism's history and its undercurrents today, Cho said she uncovered some disturbing things.

"The word 'equality' has been taken out of the mandate of Status of Women Canada,"noted Cho.

"So there are tons of women's groups that would usually get funding for research, education or advocacy that can no longer get funding."

In the end, Cho wants her film to serve as both an inspiration and a wake-up call.

"[The film] points back to this really rich history [and] how the Canadian feminist movement surpassed the American movement. Just look at our maternity leave."

She added that she'd like younger women to take up the cause as fiercely as their predecessors did.

"Feminism came out from the living rooms across Canada when women got together. Coming together and talking is a way of moving forward," she said. "The personal is political. Status Quo? is about how real change can be made."

That said, Cho feels her film is for everyone.

"Women's issues benefit all people. When we talk about childcare — it's for men, for children, for women. Or combating violence — it's for a better society."

In addition to the free online screening this weekend, Status Quo? will also be featured at more than 60 events across Canada in the coming months with support by the YWCA, the Canadian Federation of University Women, Cinema Politica and public libraries.