The #MeToo movement began taking off several weeks after the Toronto International Film Festival last year, which meant that North America's pre-eminent movie gathering and the unofficial start of Oscar season did not include one of Hollywood's most important debates in decades.

It will make up for that this year.

Toronto's slate in 2018 will feature a crop of movies with gender on their minds, according to an announcement made by organisers Tuesday morning. Many of those films will be loaded up for Academy Award runs, ensuring that a debate that happened largely off-screen last year could well also be happening cinematically this year.

Among the more notable of these selections is the world premiere of Steve McQueen's Widows, which examines four women who decide to take control of their destinies after their husbands are killed in a heist. The movie, which stars Viola Davis and Michelle Rodriguez, is the director's latest socially minded effort since he galvanised the debate about slavery and race with 2014 best-picture winner 12 Years a Slave.

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The Toronto slate also includes If Beale Street Could Talk and Life Itself. The former comes from Moonlight director Barry Jenkins and is based on James Baldwin's novel about a man imprisoned for rape and the wife he leaves behind. (Like Jenkins' previous work, it's also expected to look at masculinity and race.) Meanwhile, Life, from This Is Us creator Dan Fogelman, examines the complexities of male-female relationships, among others.

Toronto executives say they didn't actively seek out tales that bring up gender issues, but they imagine that the screenings will become hotbeds of discussion just the same.

"Gender equity is in the air and in the zeitgeist," Cameron Bailey, the festival's artistic director and co-head, told The Washington Post. "We won't all have the same response to the movies, but that's the point - a lot of debate."

The Toronto festival, which takes place in early September, is a key part of a wave of film gatherings in the late summer and early fall at which movies debut for the media and early audiences while stars stump for their films. How a movie is presented and received goes a long way toward determining its fate both at the box office and the Oscar podium in the months following.

Social justice generally will be in the spotlight at Toronto this year, as Oscar hopefuls The Public, Emilio Estevez's movie about an Occupy-like protest, and The Hate U Give, George Tillman Jr.'s film about a racially charged police shooting, will both debut, organisers said Tuesday.

Two years ago, Toronto became an unintentional flash point for a #MeToo movement that had yet to coalesce when actor-director Nate Parker appeared to promote his film The Birth of a Nation and, in a bizarre press conference, sought to steer the conversation away from allegations of past sexual assault.

Some of the Toronto movies with strong female performances at their center will have a celebratory air this year - particularly A Star is Born, in which Lady Gaga anchors a remake in the role previously inhabited by Judy Garland and, later, Barbra Streisand. And new films from leading female filmmakers such as Nicole Holofcener and Mia Hansen-Love will continue pushing at the directorial glass ceiling that Lady Bird director Greta Gerwig helped crack last year.

But delicate moments will play out as well. Casey Affleck is expected to attend for The Old Man & the Gun, his 2018-2019 Oscar hopeful from best-picture powerhouse Fox Searchlight.

Affleck's appearance at Toronto will be his first since he was there two years ago to promote Manchester by the Sea - and one of his first major public appearances since bowing out of this year's Oscar ceremony in the wake of the #MeToo movement and questions about his own past behavior with women.