Inside the creation of the Black Screen Office

BSO slide
VIDEO: Five of the architects behind the BSO discuss its progress, timeliness, and the growing importance of having an independent organization that advocates on behalf of Black industry professionals.

In this week’s episode of Playback Sessions, we dive into the launch of the Black Screen Office (BSO). First announced as part of a letter penned to the Department of Canadian Heritage calling for Canada’s screen industry to “remove its systemically racist barriers to access and achievement, and embrace real transformative change,” the BSO aims to foster greater opportunities for above-the-line and below-the-line workers.

Participants in the discussion are: Jennifer Holness, president, partner and producer, Hungry Eyes Media; Sudz Sutherland, writer and director, Hungry Eyes Media; Joan Jenkinson, producer and partner, Artemis Pictures; Damon D’Oliveira, producer and partner at Conquering Lion Pictures; and Maya Annik Bedward, filmmaker, producer and partner, Third Culture Media.

Jennifer Holness on the formation of the BSO: “Off the top, the first thing we talked about was: we want to create a Black Screen Office. We had seen how successful the Indigenous Screen Office was  in terms of presenting the concerns of its community, and we felt very strongly that we had never had a voice advocating for us in this system, and that a Black Screen Office would, first and foremost, do that.”

Damon D’Oliveira on gathering data to support the case for the BSO: “We did some digging to find data, because when you’re presenting a case like this I think the data is really important. And what became explicitly clear to us very quickly was that there was very little data out there, so we started doing some research. 24% of Canada’s population are Indigenous and People of Colour. Where’s the representation on our screens at our national broadcasters? … What we were able to identify is that in the 58 years of broadcasting on television in Canada, there have been five shows that have been commissioned by a major network that have been led by Black creatives. And on this screen I would say we account for three of those five.”

Joan Jenkinson on the BSO’s mandate: “What our focus will be on is development, production, marketing and distribution of Black content. We want to make sure it’s made and seen, not only in Canada, but internationally. And in order to do that, we want to make sure that some of the gatekeepers look like us, because the history has been that you hire who you know, you give advantages to those who are your friends and colleagues, but there are no gatekeepers and decision makers, barely, in this industry, that look like us.”

Maya Annik Bedward on creating more opportunities for the next generation of Black Canadian creatives: “I know so many Black filmmakers who started around the time I did, who are feeling similarly. They’ve made their short films and now they’re looking to make their feature film, and it’s been incredibly difficult for them to enter the world and be seen as a filmmaker that deserves the funding for their visions. I started 10 years ago working with Damon at Conquering Lion Pictures and so I’ve seen that this is something that’s persisted and hasn’t been changing at all. I really feel that something like the Black Screen Office is going to have a huge impact on filmmakers moving forward… I’m very excited about the work we’re going to be doing, and how it’s going to impact a new generation of filmmakers.”

Sudz Sutherland on continuing to move forward: “The amount of abuse that is heaped upon Black folks, Indigenous folks in this country by the police departments across this country makes you feel like giving up hope, but we have to keep fighting. Fill that yellow legal pad every day as much as you can … One of the other things you have to do as an emerging creator, we have to press on. We have to support efforts like the Black Screen Office. We have to hold these people’s feet to the fire – the gatekeepers – and put people that look like us in those positions, because nothing will change unless that changes. Unless someone across the desk says ‘you know what, I think that show could really appeal to this particular group, and also across the board.’”

This episode of Playback Sessions is sponsored by Basin Media Hub