With phrases like “Doing it for the ‘gram,” apps made to whiten teeth and endless products to help one achieve the perfect pout, the best angle and optimal selfie, social media can easily run the world when it comes to determining one’s self-worth. It’s an unfortunate reality that is leaving a lasting impression on women around the world – especially young girls. Recognizing the need to empower women through stories that demonstrate real strength, Edmonton-based director and producer Sheena Wheadon set out on a mission to create her documentary series, No Filter.
No Filter is a web series that profiles women and organizations that are dedicated to building a safe community where girls are inspired and supported to be who they are and to feel comfortable in their own skin. In celebration of International Day of the Girl, The Ace Class is profiling strong, real and fierce women who are encouraging girls to rise up and reach their full potential. A powerful storyteller who is paving the way for young girls to turn self-doubt into real self-love, we’d say Sheena Wheadon is taking serious action – both on and off camera.
ACE: International Day of the Girl aims to highlight and address the needs and challenges girls face, while promoting girls’ empowerment and the fulfillment of their human rights – what do you think are the best strategies to empower girls?
Sheena Wheadon: “It’s all about creating safe spaces for girls to express themselves in ways that work for them… so that could be through sport, various art forms like music or film, science, or other common interests. It’s crucial to have somewhere – whether it's an online space or a physical space – where girls feel comfortable taking healthy risks, making mistakes and learning how to build their confidence with peers and mentors.”
ACE: You recently pitched your film series No Filter to TELUS STORYHIVE. Tell us about this series and what inspired you to speak about this topic.
SW: “Yes – and we were lucky enough to be successful in that pitch! It was such an adventure meeting women and girls around BC and Alberta while we created No Filter. I have always been passionate about empowering girls as a volunteer with Big Brothers Big Sisters Boys and Girls Club of Edmonton & Area, so when I met Sophie Gray and learned about the journey she was on, I knew there was a story there. Sophie and I had a prior relationship; which was key to her being willing to share her story in such an honest, open and unapologetic way.”
ACE: A 2017 study conducted by the Canadian Media Producers Association (CMPA) and Canada Media Fund (CMF) found that nearly 90 per cent of women respondents working in Canada’s screen-based media sector, report facing gender-based obstacles to advancement in their career. How do you think gender parity in the entertainment industry can be improved?
SW: “I think steps are being taken in Canada – such as CMF introducing a solid framework for funding projects that feature women in key roles. Locally here in Edmonton, it seems like more women are starting to experience success in creative roles – including traditionally male-dominated trades like cinematography and visual effects. And the fact that funders are outright requiring females in certain roles likely has a lot to do with that.”
“I sit on the industry advisory committee for the post secondary program I graduated from, and I am looking forward to delving into this issue with them as well – how to get more females into the media programs and keeping them engaged and employed.”
ACE: Many studies have found Instagram to be the worst social media app for young people’s mental health – specifically young girls. Some organizations suggest that warnings should be placed on images that have been digitally manipulated, what are your thoughts on this? How do you think Instagram can be used to empower women?
SW: “I definitely agree with that idea. I have friends in their 30s who still get lost in what they see on Instagram, so I can’t even imagine what this is doing to young girls. To not be able to post a goofy photo without filtering it just right, whitening your teeth, tagging whatever store your outfit is from… is just so sad and we need to make big changes.”
“I like to think of Instagram as a personal scrapbook to look back upon one day – and try not to worry about the number of likes and comments. Networks like The Ace Class that bring women together are using Instagram to spread positive messages, so there is always room for more groups like you!”
ACE: Which women inspire you and why?
SW: “The ones who are going after what they want and following their passions, often with no recognition or spotlight. I also can't miss the opportunity to mention my idol Ellen DeGeneres. She is such a positive force and a risk-taker – I just adore Ellen.”
ACE: When it comes to gender equality, what keeps you hopeful?
SW: “The fact that we are talking about it EVERYWHERE these days, including in mainstream media, keeps me hopeful. The silence is gone – but now let’s turn this talk into action.”