Anti-racism in Canada's TV and film industry

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Gillian Müller has a long history of working as a crew member, particularly an assistant director, in Canada's TV and film industry, and she currently works as a screenwriter. Tony Tran is an actor and writer, and he aspires to one day be a showrunner. Scott Neigh interviews them about their involvement in BIPOC TV and Film, a grassroots organization of Black, Indigenous and people of colour from all sectors of the industry that is dedicated to increasing BIPOC representation both behind and in front of the camera.

It may not be quite as true as it was a generation ago, but the fact is that Canada's television and film industry is really white. Put another way, Black people, Indigenous people, and people of colour -- sometimes referred to as BIPOC -- continue to face major barriers within the industry. This is true for the actors that we see who bring stories to life. This is true of the stories themselves, and the writers who create them. And it is true through all of the many facets of the industry that those of us who consume TV and movies never see and rarely think about.

According to today's guests, there are a lot of reasons why this is the case. For one thing, it remains an industry in which who you know has a great deal to do with who gets funding and who gets hired. This makes racist funding and hiring practices self-perpetuating -- white people were more likely to be funded and hired in the past, so those doing the funding and hiring already know them and are more likely to send resources their way in the future. As well, many of the ways that people have gained experience and, as the saying goes, paid their dues in the industry in the past have been premised on having access to some other source of money, which is disproportionately less true of BIPOC people. Even when all else is equal, there is plenty of data related to employment more generally showing that BIPOC people face more barriers to getting hired and more obstacles on the job. And when it comes to deciding what stories to tell, stories that resemble those that have been told many times before and that feel familiar to the mostly white decision makers are more likely to get a go-ahead than non-stereotypical stories grounded in BIPOC lives.

BIPOC TV and Film exists to push back against these barriers. A lot of what the group does involves hosting events to support BIPOC people in the industry. This includes various kinds of trainings and workshops. It also hosts gatherings for members to get to know each other, panels and speaking events related to the industry, and also networking sessions where members have a chance to get to know more senior people in the industry.

As well, the group engages in advocacy, although until relatively recently they kept that side of their work fairly quiet. They have been working with the various unions and guilds in the industry to address barriers faced by BIPOC workers. They have been working with other kinds of organizations to push back against barriers related to funding and hiring. They have also been active in supporting a project called FilmInColour.ca, a one-stop database of BIPOC people in all parts of the industry, at all levels of experience.

As is true in so many areas, the ongoing, continent-wide uprising against anti-Black racism and police brutality has opened important new space to make change. Organizations across Canada's TV and film industry that have been dragging their feet on these issues for years are now scrambling to do something (or at least to be seen as doing something). BIPOC TV and Film is redoubling its advocacy efforts, and Müller and Tran are hopeful that the changes that are in their early stages now will mean that in a few years time, there is much more BIPOC representation throughout the industry. And also that all of us get to enjoy a much wider range of stories in the TV and film that we watch.

Talking Radical Radio brings you grassroots voices from across Canada, giving you the chance to hear many different people that are facing many different struggles talk about what they do, why they do it, and how they do it, in the belief that such listening is a crucial step in strengthening all of our efforts to change the world. To learn more about the show check out our website here. You can also follow us on Facebook or Twitter, or contact [email protected] to join our weekly email update list.

Talking Radical Radio is brought to you by Scott Neigh, a writer, media producer, and activist based in Hamilton, Ontario, and the author of two books examining Canadian history through the stories of activists.

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