Black Canadian producers, creators call for ‘transformative change’

More than 50 professionals in the screen sector have co-signed a letter to Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault, calling for, among other things, the creation of a Black Screen Office.

A group of more than 50 Black Canadian professionals in the domestic screen sector have co-signed a letter to Minister of Canadian Heritage Steven Guilbeault, calling for the country’s cultural and screen-based industries to “remove its systemically racist barriers to access and achievement, and embrace real transformative change.”

Foremost among its proposals, the letter – signed by Jennifer Holness, Damon D’Oliveira, Joan Jenkinson, Floyd Kane, Tonya Williams, Maya Annik Bedward, Sudz Sutherland, Charles Officer and Clement Virgo, and endorsed by more than 50 other black screen sector professionals – suggests the creation of a Canadian Black Screen Office to help foster greater opportunities for above-the-line and below-the-line workers.

The purpose of the Office, which would have a similar mandate to the Indigenous Screen office but for the Black community, is to identify the “structures and practices within the screen-based industries that negatively impact Black Canadians and impede our success,” said the letter, with personnel tasked with lobbying for policy changes and making recommendations for targeted funding investments.

Committed funding for Black producers and creatives is central to the proposal, which argues the metrics that trigger funding for Black-led projects at agencies including CMF, Telefilm CAVCO, CBC and NFB need to be re-examined. “Our collective experience has shown that ‘the level playing field’ is not level,” said the letter.

“At every level, systems are in place to under-finance and under-support our projects. We believe this is largely because the systemically racist policies governing our industry leaves Black writers, showrunners, directors and producers unable to make a decent living in this country,” it continued.

It also argued that Black communities are being left out of programs and initiatives that aim to create parity for underrepresented groups. The letter highlighted the recent selection of 14 films by CBC Films (formerly Breaking Barriers Film Fund), which it said backed projects from 13 white female directors and one South Asian. Meanwhile, it said the most recent cohort of Telefilm’s Talent to Watch selected two Black directors out of 40 funded projects. “This is what diversity looks like in Canada when Black filmmakers are not specifically targeted, and this is not acceptable,” it said, arguing that a distinction needs to be made between the experiences of the Black community and other racialized and underrepresented communities in Canada.

“This is not to minimize the racism experienced by other groups or to negate the value of the initiatives directed to inclusion, diversity and BIPOC, but a distinction need to be made of the complex, multi-generational historic and contemporary experiences and stories of Black Canadians.”

The group also requested a meeting with Guilbeault and his team within the next two weeks to discuss the issues faced by Black Canadian professionals in the domestic industry. “We believe unfair policies and practices that disenfranchise and discriminate against Black Canadian creators and producers are embedded in the film and TV industry. We want to bring this to your attention and impress on you that much change is needed.”

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